Issued August 14, 2019
SEIU Local 200United members who work for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs took legal action Tuesday, challenging three of President Trump’s Executive Orders that seek to dramatically rewrite federal labor laws enacted by Congress to protect federal employees.
Rather than respecting Congressional authority to regulate labor-management relations, President Trump attempted by Executive Order to eliminate federal employees’ right to perform duties related to union representation; to impose unlawful restrictions on collective bargaining; to rewrite rules pertaining to employee discipline; and to direct agencies, contrary to Congress’ intent, to take particular positions in bargaining. Together, these Executive Orders seek to upend labor-management relations and the rights of federal employees with respect to the terms and conditions of their employment, to the detriment of those employees, the agencies for which they work, and the American public they serve.
“These Executive Orders threaten the good working relationship we have here, and I am proud to stand up against them,” said Donald Woodworth, an elected SEIU Union Chairperson, who has worked as a Police Officer at the Canandaigua, New York VA for 19 years.
“I started my career in the federal sector in 1975 at Paris Island as a Marine. Many of my coworkers are also veterans. Those who served our country honorably come to the VA to get the care they deserve,” Woodsworth said. “As federal workers, we need to be united in strong unions to help protect working conditions of employees as we serve those veterans who have served us. Together, in our union, we have a real voice to speak up for staff and for patients in our care.”
The case raises a number of challenges to the unlawful Executive Orders, including that President Trump lacked constitutional authority to issue the orders, and that the specific provisions of the orders violate a variety of federal labor-management statutes, including the Federal Service Labor Management Relations Statute that was written to protect federal employees. Congress enacted this legislation to insulate federal employees from the political whims of any particular administration, so that government works by and for the American people not for the particular political party that happens to be in power.
Years ago, before the United States enacted these protections, government jobs were given as political spoils rather than to qualified candidates and government workers had to toe the party line even if doing so was not in the interests of the American people. The case contends that President Trump has over-stepped the boundaries of Executive power that he is permitted in this realm under the Constitution, and therefore his Orders are illegal must be invalidated.
One of the Executive Orders takes direct aim at the right of federal employees to union representation by imposing new across-the-board requirements for all federal agencies that prohibit the use of paid official time for work related to union representation, something Congress specifically required the federal government to permit. This Order is a transparent attempt to prevent federal employees from being able to spend any time helping their unions collectively bargain, or representing other workers in grievances against their employers.
Another Order rewrites the procedures mandated by Congress for employee performance evaluation and discipline, by prohibiting agencies from including a wide range of matters in those grievance procedures – effectively taking direct aim at the longstanding system of progressive discipline. The final Order takes on collective bargaining directly, and imposes unlawful constraints on federal agencies ability to bargain. Together and separately, these Orders curtail the rights of over the approximately two million federal employees across the country.
SEIU Local 200United and SEIU filed their lawsuit in the Western District of New York, where SEIU Local 200United represents federal employees at the VA Western New York Healthcare System in Buffalo and the Canandaigua VA Medical Center.
In another case brought by different federal employee unions, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia enjoined these three Executive Orders in 2018 as illegal actions in excess of the President’s statutory authority. That injunction was recently overturned in late July of this year by the D.C. Circuit Court on technical grounds, in an opinion that decided that the federal courts lacked jurisdiction to review these challenges. Because of that appellate decision, the Trump administration is poised to put these Orders into action. SEIU Local 200United and SEIU brought this litigation because the Orders are illegal, and because the federal courts do have jurisdiction to rule on these issues. It has long been the role of the federal courts to determine when their co-equal branches of government, including the President, have overstepped the boundaries of authority, and SEIU Local 200UUnited and SEIU hope the federal court in Buffalo will agree that is exactly what President Trump has done here by interfering with the rights of workers like those at the VA facilities in Buffalo.
SEIU’s lawsuit on behalf of federal employees seeks relief for those federal employees in Buffalo, in Canandaigua, and across the country who are subject to these illegal Executive Orders, and asks the court to block the Trump administration from putting these Orders into effect.