Trump’s fight with federal employee unions gets real on Monday

July 8 at 8:03 PM 
Read the full article on the Washington Post here.

Federal agencies on Monday begin implementing executive orders from President Trump on how to confront employee unions, following strict guidelines likely to escalate tensions that have been building since the president took office.

The administration describes Trump’s new rules, issued in May, as an effort to streamline a bloated bureaucracy and improve accountability within the federal workforce of 2.1 million. The unions counter that the orders are only the latest in Trump’s aggressive actions intended to weaken their bargaining power and make it easier to fire government workers.

Jeff Pon, chief of the Office of Personnel Management, gave agencies details late last week for implementing the presidential orders.

The administration wants agencies to reopen collective bargaining agreements to reduce the on-duty time union representatives spend representing employees. Managers are directed to “monitor and carefully report” on the time and make the information publicly available. And agencies are directed to move swiftly to fire poor performers, renegotiating any contracts that allow for progressive discipline.

The conflict appears headed for a showdown, either in federal court, where the unions have filed numerous lawsuits challenging the orders, or in Congress. The administration and the unions have courted Capitol Hill allies, with Republicans supporting Trump’s tactics and Democrats backing the unions, a key constituency.

Trump’s executive orders represent a broadening of the get-tough initiativesthat have played out in individual agencies since he took office, including recent efforts to force unions to move out of government-paid office space and to rein in the use of official work time by union representatives who deal with employee grievances and disciplinary matters.

Furious union leaders have sued the president, charging that he exceeded his authority and broke the law guaranteeing federal workers union representation. A judge is expected to consider all of the lawsuits later this month.

“Candidly, I find it reprehensible,” said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 employees. “Why are the president and the administration continually on the attack against working-class Americans who are simply doing a job they’re proud to do?”

For decades, unions have had vast power over the federal workforce, demanding a voice in almost every workplace issue except pay, which is set by Congress. Federal employee union membership is growing, even as private sector union enrollment declines. And efforts by previous Republican administrations to diminish union power have been piecemeal.

But since his 2016 election, Trump has made clear that he considers unions to be major contributors in driving up costs and paralyzing agencies in their attempts to discipline poor performers.

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“President Trump has been very clear since the campaign trail that he wants to go after waste and fraud in government. Reforming the federal workforce is a giant step in ensuring more accountability for the government’s use of American taxpayer dollars,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement.

A key player for Trump

Many of the efforts have been overseen by James Sherk, a former Heritage Foundation labor economist who joined Trump’s transition team to tackle labor challenges. He now sits on the low-profile Domestic Policy Council. The White House declined to make him available for an interview.

Over a decade at Heritage, a leading conservative think tank, Sherk, 37, wrote policy papers on the need to roll back public employee labor rights. He helped Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) engineer a plan to bust the state’s employee unions in 2011. He argued for freezing federal salaries to bring them in line with the private sector and said in a 2007 video that the landmark 1993 law granting unpaid family and medical leave encourages employee timecard abuses.

Since Trump took office, Sherk’s hard-line stance has helped guide the ongoing power struggles with the unions, according to Trump advisers.

In quick succession, federal employees have been subjected to budget cuts, a hiring freeze, a proposed pay freeze and $143 billion in proposed cuts to retirement benefits.

The administration worked through Congress last year to push a precedent-setting bipartisan law clearing the way for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire problematic employees.

In June, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney proposed a government reorganization that the unions branded as a thinly disguised effort to slash jobs.

And Trump officials have cracked down on day-to-day work practices that had been in place for years, severely restricting telecommuting at some agencies, for example, and forcing union representatives to give up free office space and even parking spaces.

The new rules also restrict working conditions that can be bargained over. They give poor performers 30 days to show improvement rather than the current 120 days. They make performance a key factor, rather than seniority, when layoffs are on the table.

The administration signaled its hard-line posture in March when the Education Department imposed its own contract after months of bargaining with the American Federation of Government Employees broke down.

Education officials, meanwhile, are enforcing the contract. The union has been kicked out of its small offices at the agency’s Washington headquarters and its regional offices and told it must pay rent.

Last month, management sharply curtailed telework to one day a week, a benefit pushed by the Obama administration as a way to save expensive office lease costs and keep cars off the road. Agriculture and some Commerce Department offices also have slashed telework, a practice Trump officials have said they suspect leads employees to slack off.

Education officials also are insisting that union representatives take time off to represent employees, instead of carving out a portion of their workweek for what is known as “official time” to represent employees who have filed workplace grievances. The AFGE is temporarily sending lawyers from its national office to step in for local representatives.

As the largest government workers’ union, with 700,000members, the AFGE says management’s contract is illegal — and guts previously negotiated provisions for telework, performance evaluations, work schedules and other protections. The union is awaiting a ruling from the Federal Labor Relations Authority onits complaint of unfair labor practices.

Resolution of the dispute is uncertain, though. Trump has not named a general counsel for the authority, who would have to approve any disposition for labor or management.

Targeting unions

Under Trump, the FLRA has issued a number of anti-union decisions. One reversed years of case law that had allowed unions to bargain over changes to employees’ conditions of employment, such as changes to job duties.

The administration also disbanded advisory labor-management forums at federal agencies created in the Obama era to foster dialogue.

A White House official said the forums were a “waste of resources and sucking up a ton of our time.” But the unions called them valuable tools that improved productivity and resolved disputes before they required costly arbitration.

“Official time” has been a particular target for the White House. Trump’s orders restrict to 25 percent the on-duty time employees may be paid for union work.

“It means greatly diminished representation,” said David Borer, the AFGE’s general counsel, adding, “We’ve never been attacked quite like this before.”

The White House official said that limiting it will serve a purpose. “If they have to pay the costs, then they won’t be bringing Mickey Mouse grievances,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about labor-management issues.

At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, union officials say they have received emails from management recently that strongly suggest they accept limits on official time rather than bargain over the issue.

And management has told the union to stop using agency parking spaces, phones, computers and other resources to which they have long had access. Unions said they expect other agencies to follow suit.

“The agency feels empowered,” said Holly Salamido, president of AFGE Council 222 of HUD locals. The president “can’t just use an executive order to override a contract.”

Trump’s orders can be undone by the next president. But the White House decided that presidential orders were a better path to immediate change than seeking legislation, even in a Republican-controlled Congress, because of the vast political clout of federal workers.

“The administration has played its cards,’’ said Donald F. Kettl, a public affairs professor at the University of Texas at Austin, “and the perception of union-busting has cut off any possibility for bipartisan action on needed reforms to government and the civil service.”

The executive orders have drawn opposition from a majority of Senate Democrats and a bipartisan group in the House, who have written letters to the president. Last week, four current and former House members submitted a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of the unions in their federal court challenge. The brief says the executive orders would open the door to patronage and upend the “merit-based, non-partisan” civil service.

Sherk and the policy council, meanwhile, are awaiting the court’s decision while planning more unspecified workforce changes, administration officials say. The top priority now, the White House official said, is to ensure that the new limits on unions are enforced throughout the government.

Read the full article on the Washington Post here.

Community Service: AFSCME – The Union that Never Quits

Proving that AFSCME Never Quits, AFSCME Local 7 members and volunteers from five Toledo local unions, along with several Toledo Whitmer High School football players, came together over a blistering hot weekend to replace the roof at Mom’s House, a non-profit organization that helps low-income single mothers as they work to achieve the educational goals needed to become effective parents.

Work replacing the 21-year old roof started at 6 in the morning “and ended at 1:30 in the afternoon when roof top temperatures reached 115 degrees,” said Don Czerniak, president of the union for Toledo’s blue-collar city employees.   

“One of the great things about Mom’s House is it affects the lives of two generations by providing education opportunities for both parent and child.  And we think that makes our community stronger,” Czerniak said.

“Everyone here is here on their own time. It’s the hottest day of the year and they’ve made a decision that they’re going to come help us, and for us that means the world. We can’t function without our community,” said Christina Rodriguez, Executive Director of Mom’s House.

In a melting pot of 115 degree heat and 100 percent solidarity, AFSCME Local 7 City of Toledo members joined with members of five other Toledo unions to spend a blistering weekend replacing the aging roof at Mom’s House, a non-profit organization that helps low-income single mothers. Photo: AFSCME Local 7

Catholic bishops are backing AFSCME in U.S. Supreme Court Fair Share Fee Case

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has sided with unions in the Janus vs. AFSCME case now before the U.S Supreme Court. The Bishops submitted an amicus brief in support of public-sector unions and their right to “fair share fees” from nonmembers for the collective bargaining and representation benefitting non-members.

The bishops’ involvement with Janus vs. AFSCME. surprised some. But church leaders made their support clear, taking part in a forum last week on labor and faith at Seton Hall University.

Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin, on stage with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, explained the bishops’ interest in the case saying the church has a long history of supporting workers and unions. “You should not be able to benefit from all the work that unions do to represent workers without paying your fair share,” Cardinal Tobin said.

Pope Francis, who recently told a gathering of union delegates in 2017, “There is no good society without a good union.” He was far from the first Pontif to side with unions and workers. In his 1981 encyclical Pope John Paul II lauded organized labor organizations as “an indispensable element of social life” And in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged the church’s long history of Catholic-labor relations in a lengthy encyclical.

The Bishop’s brief argues that ruling against the unions would “constitutionalize” a national ‘right-to- work’ law. The brief points out that no U.S. bishop ever publicly supported right-to- work laws.

Condensed from a story by Jack Jenkins/Religion News Service

We Never Quit – The Flood of 2018

Heavy rains have caused extensive flooding along the Ohio River and AFSCME Council 8 members in Ohio and West Virginia show they will never quit protecting their cities.

As heavy rain pushed the river above the flood level, the 21,000 residents of Portsmouth, Ohio, called on a team of AFSCME Local 1039 members to protect their city.

The crew began putting up gates on February 21 in preparation for rising water, and as the days of rain continued, they set to work putting up the flood walls.

AFSCME Local 1039 member Mark Puckett, who heads up the city’s flood defense operations, said protecting the city is a team effort.

“It takes all of us to do this and these guys work extremely hard to get the job done. Many of the guys have over 100 hours of overtime during this two-week period,” he said.

A few miles east, in Ironton, Ohio, where the river is expected to crest at 57 feet, AFSCME Local 771 member Rich Jenkins is in charge of flood defense for the city of 12,000.

According to Jenkins, it takes a dozen men 12-16 hours to put the city’s flood walls up.

“This is a team effort. These guys have worked hard around the clock to keep the city safe from the rising water,” Jenkins said.

And the crew knows the job because AFSCME Local 771 has represented city workers for 52 years.

About 50 miles further east and across the river in Huntington, West Virginia, AFSCME Local 598 members are battling to keep the rising river in its banks and out of the city’s streets.

Union President Lee Adams said everyone works together to protect the 50,000 residents of Huntington from major flooding.

AFSCME Local 598 and two other West Virginia AFSCME local unions joined Ohio Council 8 last year after passage of the state’s right-to- work law.

 

Mark Puckett, far left, protecting the
city is a team effort.

Local 598 members never quit protecting
their city from Ohio River flood waters.

Rich Jenkins, far left, we work around the
clock to keep the city safe from the rising water.

Happy Nurses Week from AFSCME Council 8!

During National Nurses week we celebrate and honor the commitment and dedication of our front line health care providers — nurses!
Operating room nurses and techs at Trumbull Memorial Hospital salute their fellow care givers.

“We salute every nurse for their tireless work to meet the needs of their patients,” said AFSCME Ohio Council 8 President John A. Lyall.  “Nurses are passionate about their work because they are also healers, teachers, and leaders during the most trying times of our lives,” he said.

“Nurses are the backbone of the health care industry and I’m proud to be represented by AFSCME Ohio Council 8, said Tom Connelly, president of AFSCME Local 2026, which represents 378 nurses at Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren.

“So proud of all my fellow nurses but most importantly my brothers and sisters from Trumbull Memorial Hospital. You have helped patients enter and exit life and all points in between. Nurses can be found in hospitals, clinics, public health, military service, in the air and on the sea, wherever life and health needs safe guarded!  So proud to be one ! God bless all of you who stand with and for the patient!,” Connelly said.

Each year National Nurses Week is celebrated during the week of May 12 in honor of the founder of modern nursing: Florence Nightingale.

Along with her trail blazing 19th century work in establishing sanitary “proper care” standards, she was also known for her night rounds to aid the wounded during the Crimean War, establishing her image as the “Lady with the Lamp”.

In addition to 311-bed Trumbull Memorial Hospital, Ohio Council 8 also represents health care workers at 69-bed Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Howland.  AFSCME Ohio Council 8 health care worker across the state including Akron City Hospital, Barberton Citizens Hospital, O’Bleness Hospital in Athens, University of Cincinnati Hospital, University of Toledo Medical Center, and MetroHealth System in Cuyahoga County.

Election 2016 Special Event with Special Guests Lee Saunders and Leo W. Gerard

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Come join United Steelworkers and AFSCME  in Cleveland this Friday afternoon to show your support for your union brothers and sisters.

6800 North High Street, Worthington, Ohio, 43085-2512
Phone: 614-841-1918
Fax: 614-841-1299