At the mid-year point, relations between federal employee unions and the Trump administration, never cordial, are continuing to grow more strained as both sides await a court decision on three inter-related executive orders that would weaken the union role in the federal workplace.
Those orders were issued last May but a union-sponsored lawsuit resulted in a federal district court injunction against most of the major provisions last August. Now nearly a year later, a federal circuit court has yet to rule on the administration’s appeal of that decision. That ruling could come at any time, since oral arguments already have been held.
It’s widely expected that the losing side will appeal on to the U.S. Supreme Court, however. While that court is not obligated to hear appeals—by refusing to do so, it leaves a lower court’s opinion in place—if it would accept the case, resolution could be put off until sometime next year.
For the meantime, the House added language to a spending bill (HR-3351) to bar agencies from unilaterally changing terms of contracts by declaring negotiations at an irresolvable impasse—language the administration as quickly opposed. That was a reaction to union complaints that many agencies are continuing to act as if a provision in one of the orders telling agencies to take such steps—one of the provisions barred by the injunction—is in effect.
The latest example involves the EPA, which has told the AFGE union that will impose more restrictive policies starting next week in areas including telework, official time, union access to free working space on agency property, and eliminating numerous side agreements that had built up over the years. A number of other agencies have taken similar actions affecting at least parts of their workforces—including Education, HHS, SSA, Interior and others.