Washington, DC – Federal and DC workers who saw their rights to collective bargaining, due process and workplace representation decimated under Donald Trump’s dictatorial reign have an enormous hill to climb before reclaiming all that they’ve lost.
During his time in office, Trump — who had a decades-long history of sticking it to workers long before entering politics — did everything he possibly could to hurt the federal workforce.
His union-busting executive orders specifically targeting the lives some 700,000 American Federation of Government Employees [AFGE] members working at a variety of government agencies including the Department of Defense [DoD], Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], Social Security Administration [SSA] and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs [VA], were all issued on May 25, 2018.
In addition to gutting essential workplace safety measures vital for combatting COVID-19 and kicking union representatives out of their own offices — Executive Orders 13836, 13837 and 13839, effectively stripped the ability of workers to be represented in grievances and challenge unjust terminations.
“Employees have died because of the protections ripped out of their contract,” AFGE Field Services and Education Director David Cann recently told reporters.
Joe Biden’s presidential action on Friday, January 22, to immediately revoke Trump’s terrible trio of anti-union executive orders was just the first step in helping government workers get back on track. Much more work needs to be done.
“The great majority of contacts have been gutted as result of the Trump executive orders,” Cann said. “We’ve been hamstrung by the outgoing administration to do the mission.”
The Damage Done
Contracts signed under the Trump regime are still in effect and will remain so, until the AFGE has an opportunity to once more reengage management at the bargaining table.
But agencies that spent the Trump era aggressively tuning out it’s employees and their union representatives aren’t immediately rushing to reestablish good communications with AFGE locals now.
“We have not heard from agencies that they are ready to negotiate,” Cann confirmed.
AFGE Local 1410 President Felecia Sharp said that when the pandemic hit, “[Union representatives] were by told [by DoD management], ‘We don’t have to talk to you.’”
AFGE Local 1224 President Linda Ward Smith, believes Trump’s executive orders “emboldened” agency managers to be openly hostile to workers and dismissive of their input and concerns.
“Management decided they didn’t need to talk to the union,” Smith said. “As a union president, I feel like I’ve been fighting a war for the last three years.”
With COVID-19 claiming more than 429,000 American lives and infecting nearly 26 million overall, the need for optimal labor/management relations to ensure workplace safety could not be more vital.
After four years of demented Trumpian rule, however, union leaders fear many of those all-important relationships have been dealt a fatal blow.
“There is a certain amount of trust we need to regain,” Ward-Smith conceded. “Not only trust… but respect.”
AFGE Social Security Administration Council President Ralph De Juliis is much more blunt in his assessment.
“Agency leaders are being given a pass,” he said. “There is no working with these people. Kick them laterally — but get them out of labor relations.”
Fire the Bigwigs
De Juliis maintains that both Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew M. Saul and Deputy Commissioner David F. Black must be replaced.
According to De Juliis, the Trump appointees are responsible for undermining employee morale, creating an anti-union environment and forcing Social Security Administration workers to accept “the worst labor agreement in a decade.”
“They have no respect for SSA public servants,” De Juliis said. “The management/employee relationship is terrible.”
AFGE Local 704 President Nicole Cantello leads a group of some 430 staffers working for the EPA’s Region 5 in Chicago. According to Cantello, the EPA is the agency Trump most wanted to destroy — first appointing notorious climate change denier Scott Pruitt to run the agency 2017, and then stripping EPA workers of their collectively bargained contract and “inserting the worst provisions of [Trump’s] executive orders.”
Regardless, she says, “We kept enough of the agency intact, so that when help came after four years, it could be resurrected. Biden acted quickly to right a wrong. EPA scientists can now put their full weight battling climate change.”
The AFGE is further calling on all federal agencies to “review, suspend and revoke” all the stuff done to “effectuate” Trump’s corrosive executive orders.
“The last four years have been incredibly rough on our civil servants,” AFGE President Everett Kelley said. “Friday, January 22] was a new day of hope — and we are glad to have our seats at the table.”
Overall, the AFGE’s list of priorities to take back to the bargaining table include: restoring due process; increasing representation at work; confronting the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by extending paid leave and making sure remote work is an option; restoring union access to the workplace; building constructive partnerships with management; and establishing fair enforcement of labor law violations.
“We have unfair labor practice charges sitting on the shelf,” said Cann.