Some agencies have started taking what they consider to be needed steps to carry out requirements of President Trump’s executive orders as they apply in the labor-management area, steps that unions in turn say could be violations of existing contracts.
For the short run, controversies are focusing on ending the practice of providing free office space and some use of government equipment for unions, which several agencies are moving to carry out first. Longer-run, conflict is virtually assured over other provisions, particularly those instructing agencies to take a hard-line stand on issues including amounts of total official time, amounts of it that any employee with a union role can use, the purposes for which it can be used, coverage of performance and disciplinary matters in negotiated grievance procedures, and the scope of bargaining in general.
Questions are arising regarding whether such matters should be addressed by reopening existing contracts, as the administration is pursuing, or whether changes must wait until contracts expire and new negotiations begin, as the unions argue. Both sides already have raised the prospect of filing unfair labor practice complaints against the other; such complaints can go through a long process at the FLRA and potentially into federal court.
The orders tell agencies to fulfill bargaining obligations under federal labor law but also say that under certain circumstances they should go ahead and impose the agency’s position as policy. That already has been done at least once—before the orders were issued—at the Education Department, which among other things dropped provisions related to telework from the predecessor agreement.
More recently, that department has described implications of that move, saying that as of October 1, employees must be at their regular duty station at least four days a week. That requirement also will apply to employees on alternative work schedules, effectively eliminating a four-day/10 hours per day schedule. Situational telework will remain available but is not to be used to create a second regular telework day within a week on a regular basis. The Agriculture Department previously generally limited employees to two days of regularly scheduled telework per biweekly pay period.
Unions believe that restrictions on telework are just the beginning of potential rollbacks of employee protections that have been negotiated over the years in areas ranging from appeal rights to day to day working conditions. The AFGE union previously filed an unfair labor practice complaint regarding the Education Department contract and several union-sponsored suits arguing that the orders violate federal labor law are already pending in federal court.