Washington, D.C. – Today, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) filed a lawsuit challenging provisions in two of the three executive orders issued a week ago by President Donald Trump.
“NTEU believes the president exceeded his authority in several provisions of his executive orders,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. “The president cannot unilaterally change federal law.”
Specifically, the NTEU suit challenges provisions in two of the three executive orders that conflict with the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA).
The executive order relating to the use of official time by labor organization attempts to paint a picture, through rhetoric and misleading characterizations, that such time is not used for furthering the effective operations of a federal agency. In fact, the CSRA expressly provides that a union and an agency should negotiate for official time that is “reasonable, necessary and in the public interest.”
In the federal sector, such time allows employees to fight harassment, discrimination and unsafe working conditions. These are examples of situations that were resolved using official time and illustrate why representation for federal employees is critical:
- Ensuring that deaf and hard of hearing and visually impaired employees have the equipment they need to perform their jobs as customer service representatives;
- Securing time of protections for overworked Customs and Border Protection Officers, so that they can get needed rest to properly enforce border security and have time to spend with their families;
- Negotiating and enforcing fair promotion procedures so that employees can fairly compete for advancement opportunities based on their qualifications, not other non-merit factors, like their relationship to or with someone, ensuring that federal agencies are not engaging in nepotism and that the public can be assured that those selected to implement our federal laws and programs are qualified;
- Battling race and age discrimination in the federal workplace;
- Challenging government efforts to intrude on employees’ privacy; and
- Demanding that the government safeguard the personal information provided to it.
Despite the numerous ways the use of official time safeguards the nation’s federal civil service, the executive order attempts to place arbitrary limits on its use. Such a directive conflicts with Chapter 71 of the CSRA which allows for the negotiation of reasonable amounts of official time as negotiated between an agency and a labor organization.
“Official time ensures frontline employees have a safe place to go to report on the job harassment, discrimination, unfair retaliation and if they seek to disclose waste, fraud and abuse that is occurring internally at agencies,” Reardon said. “It provides a check and balance on agency leadership, allowing frontline workers to have the ability to seek accountability from agencies, and ensuring they operate in a legal, transparent and fair manner on behalf of the public in implementing and administering federal laws and programs.”
There is a second section in that same executive order that attempts to prohibit an employee on official time from speaking to their members of Congress to share their perspectives and ideas to improve workplace conditions and agency operations for the public.
“The law specifically gives federal employees the right to share their concerns and workplace perspectives with Congress, and any attempt to ban that flow of information cannot stand,” Reardon said.
The NTEU suit maintains that such a prohibition is contrary to Chapter 71 of the statute which permits unions to bargain for official time to direct their concerns directly to lawmakers.
In the executive order regarding the removal of federal employees, the president once again exceeded his authority in the provision calling for a performance improvement period of no more than 30 days. Chapter 43 of the CSRA requires a reasonable period for an employee to improve, and the length of that period is tied to the type of job and the nature of the alleged poor performance involved.
“The idea that these executive orders will make the workforce more efficient, cost-effective to taxpayers and improve the morale of federal employees is absurd,” President Reardon said. “Any organization’s success is dependent on a workplace where employees feel valued and respected, and the president’s orders show that in his administration federal workers are neither.”
NTEU’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and asks the court to declare these portions of the orders unlawful and to enjoin the president and his subordinates, including the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, from enforcing them.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 32 federal agencies and departments.