Trump administration takes another stab at hurting federal workers


The administration is trying to undermine the membership and effectiveness of federal labor unions.

The Trump administration is going after federal unions again.

This time, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is proposing a federal rule that would let federal employees cancel their union dues at any time. This could hurt the ability of unions to represent and protect federal workers.

Federal unions require that members "opt in" — that they affirmatively decide to join the union, rather than needing to opt out if they don't want to join the union. That's one reason why the federal workforce has a relatively low rate of union participation — about 27%. However, if people join the union and then want out, they can only do so at one-year intervals, much like open enrollment for health care.

What OPM is proposing is to let union members opt out at any time throughout the year. This might seem like a small change, but the administration is hoping it has the effect of making more people leave the federal unions more often.

That's exactly what happened in so-called "right-to-work" states like Wisconsin that barred paycheck deductions for union dues.

Robert Tobias, a former president of the National Treasury Employees Union, told Government Executive that when the law was changed in Wisconsin, "the percentage of employees participating went from well over 90% down to around 12%."

Were the new policy to go into effect at the federal level, Tobias said, "unions would be significantly less effective in representing employees in the federal sector."

With Trump in charge, federal employees need all the help they can get. His administration imposed a federal pay freeze for the 2019 budget year, though that was overturned by Congress. He's proposed the same freeze for the 2020 budget. He also wants to shrink the federal workforce, slash their annual leave, and cut other benefits.

This also isn't the first time Trump has tried to use his executive authority to hurt the federal unions, although the administration lost in court the last time they tried.

In May of last year, Trump signed three executive orders that were designed to undermine the power of the unions in multiple ways. One would have capped how much time union officials could spend on union business, another would have accelerated the disciplinary process, and another would have allowed the government to adopt performance-based pay structures.

All of those changes, however, would have amounted to letting the government add new terms to a contract negotiated between management and labor — precisely the sort of thing a union is designed to stop from happening. A federal court struck down most of the executive orders, noting that Trump didn't have the authority to overwrite the collective bargaining process.

Trump doesn't respect federal workers, and he loathes the federal unions. He'll continue trying to weaken the unions so profoundly that they'll be unable to effectively represent employees. Then nothing will stop him from gutting pay, benefits, and the workforce itself.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.