WASHINGTON (CN) – An anti-union push by the Trump administration was struck down as unconstitutional on Saturday by a federal judge.
“The judge rightly found that the president is not above the law and cannot, through these blatantly anti-union and anti-worker executive orders, eviscerate employee rights and undermine the collective bargaining process established by Congress,” National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said in a statement. “Today’s ruling is a resounding victory for all who want a fair and effective civil service.”
Reardon’s had been one of 17 federal employee unions to file suit after President Donald Trump signed three executive orders in May that included profound changes to how public workers could collectively bargain.
In a 122-page summary judgment Saturday, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson found that the orders served as an impermissible end-run on the 1978 Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Act.
That the president has the authority to affect federal labor relations via executive order is immaterial, Jackson said, where “it is undisputed that no such orders can operate to eviscerate the right to bargain collectively as envisioned in the FSLMRS.”
“In this court’s view, the challenged provisions of the executive orders at issue have that cumulative effect,” Jackson wrote.
“Viewed collectively,” Jackson added, “the challenged executive orders reflect a decidedly different policy choice; namely, the president’s stated view that federal employees’ right to engage in collective bargaining over the conditions of their employment is not apropos of an “effective and efficient government,’ and should be rendered subordinate to the agencies’ interest ‘in developing efficient, effective, and cost-reducing collective bargaining agreements.’”
Jackson also rejected a claim that the government had made at a July 25 hearing, that the unions should have taken their claims first to the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
“Congress did not intend for union challenges to the validity of executive orders that threaten such collective bargaining rights to be funneled to the FLRA,” the opinion says.
Among the challenged provisions that Jackson invalidated and blocked was a 25 percent cap on the use of official time federal unions can devote to union activities, including helping employees file grievances and appeal disciplinary actions.
Jackson also enjoined provisions of the executive orders that limited union use of agency facilities, prohibited unions from petitioning Congress, and excluded challenges to incentive pay and performance ratings.
Such rules, the unions had argued, were to be ironed out between the unions and the federal agencies; the executive orders threw that long-standing cooperation into disarray. Here too the unions struck a chord with Jackson.
“This court has concluded that many of the challenged provisions of the orders at issue here effectively reduce the scope of the right to bargain collectively as Congress has crafted it, or impair the ability of agency officials to bargain in good faith as Congress has directed, and therefore cannot be sustained,” the ruling says.
The Trump administration had argued that the executive orders merely streamlined the collective-bargaining process, and allowed for more efficient removal of poorly performing employees.
“We are disappointed in the ruling and are considering the appropriate next steps to ensure the president is able to fulfill his constitutional duties, run an effective and efficient government, and protect taxpayers from waste and abuse,” Justice Department spokesman Andy Reuss said in a statement Monday.
Saturday’s ruling came as another blow to the Trump administration, which has suffered several high-profile court defeats that blocked its efforts to shutter a program giving temporary protection to young undocumented immigrants, and requiring the government to reunite families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border as a result of the administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.