In a directive whose impact is yet to be determined but could be wide, President Trump has authorized DoD to exclude, on national security grounds, certain subcomponents from bargaining and other union rights under federal labor-management law.
“The national security interests of the United States require expedient and efficient decision making,” a memo to the department says. “When new missions emerge or existing ones evolve, the Department of Defense requires maximum flexibility to respond to threats to carry out its mission of protecting the American people.”
It continues: “This flexibility requires that military and civilian leadership manage their organizations to cultivate a lethal, agile force adaptive to new technologies and posture changes. Where collective bargaining is incompatible with these organizations’ missions, the Department of Defense should not be forced to sacrifice its national security mission and, instead, seek relief through third parties and administrative fora.”
The memo gives that power to the department secretary, currently Mark Esper, who in turn could delegate it to any lower political appointee who is subject to Senate confirmation.
By referencing new missions and responsibilities, the memo could be laying the groundwork for restricting union rights of civilian employees who will be transferred into the Space Force, which is being set up as a new branch of the military. While the implications for those employees are largely undefined, an analysis for Congress said that the Space Force might adopt personnel policies mirroring those in its intelligence components, where standard union rights do not apply.
The memo does not reference only the Space Force but rather speaks in broad terms that are in line with numerous other administration directives to limit the role of unions in the federal workplace. It could impact a large number of employees since DoD is the largest federal agencies and is among the more heavily unionized. It is not certain how much DoD might use the authority, though; federal labor law already bars negotiations over matters such as work assignments that would directly impact agency operations involving national security and intelligence.