Trump Orders Reverberate at Agencies, Union Officials Say (1)

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By Louis C. LaBrecque

Implementation of three executive orders aimed at federal employees is causing “chaos” at federal agencies, a union leader said July 12.

“This week, union officials at the Social Security Administration were stripped of access, including telephones, internet, and even bulletin boards,” J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told reporters at a mid-afternoon news conference. The changes were made in response to one of the orders that said government property should no longer be used by union officials, he said.

The orders issued by President Donald Trump in May make it easier to fire federal workers, require the government to review its collective bargaining agreements for cost savings, and address the issue of federal employees spending more than 25 percent of their work hours on union representation issues.

Union officials at SSA field offices are being told to leave government-provided offices by the end of July, said Katrina Lopez, first vice president of AFGE Council 220.

The AFGE, an AFL-CIO affiliate, represents about 700,000 federal and District of Columbia government employees. The union was the first to sue the administration over the executive orders and likely will continue to play an outsized role in the legal battle ahead.

OPM Says It’s Protecting Taxpayers

The head of the Office of Personnel Management, the government’s central HR office, talked to Bloomberg Law earlier in the day about the orders.

“A lot of the things that we’re trying to do right now is to make sure that we’re stewards of taxpayers’ dollars,” OPM Director Jeff Pon said.

“There are a lot of people that are on full-time union time, taxpayer funded time, and they’re honestly not doing the jobs that the government has hired them to do. There are full-time, 100 percent union leaders that are doctors, that are nurses, and I don’t think the average American taxpayer understands why we have that,” Pon said.

“I can understand representation, and 25 percent of their time can be committed to that. Just don’t do it full time,” he said.

Guidance issued by the OPM instructed agencies to begin complying with some portions of the orders by July 9.

The Social Security Administration began implementing provisions of the executive orders July 9, SSA spokeswoman Nicole Tiggemann told Bloomberg Law.

The changes “include modifications to union travel, taxpayer funded union time, union office space, use of agency equipment, and employee performance management,” Tiggemann said.

The agency “provided each union with appropriate notice and the opportunity to bargain the impact and implementation” of the orders, she said. The agency “is working closely with the unions to ensure an orderly implementation supporting the vital missions we perform for the American public,” Tiggemann said.

Employees Being Squelched, Union Says

AFGE Local 3969 President John Kostelnik, who represents employees at the Bureau of Prisons, said during the news briefing that the order limiting the ability of federal employees who are also union officials to act on behalf of BOP employees is endangering the workers.

“These orders have attempted to silence us. The union’s voice is related to the safety of the staff,” Kostelnik said.

The BOP declined to comment July 12.

Pon declined to comment on the lawsuits filed by federal employee unions against the orders. The lawsuits were consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on June 18. The district court scheduled a hearing for July 25 on the consolidated lawsuit.

“My outlook is that we’re doing the right thing for taxpayers, we’re doing the right thing for managers and employees, and I’m going to continue to do the right thing until someone says otherwise,” Pon said.

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