Federal workers under attack

Congress has unleashed a number of right-wing bills that would erode job security, pay, and, for federal workers, the very right to join and be represented by a union. One of the more restrictive attempts at union busting is cutting down the right of union representatives to use what is called “official time” to both represent and negotiate labor contracts for workers. Official time simply means that union representatives can take time to represent and negotiate for an employee, on their regular pay, without taking their own leave time.

The proposed legislation also demands that agencies that have unions in place report the amount of official time taken by union officers to assist and bargain for federal workers. The purpose of this demand is to slam unions by restricting if not eliminating official time and to convince the public that it is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Without the right to official time, unions cannot effectively defend workers against arbitrary and capricious discipline, unjust firings and reduction in pay.

afge_0414The president of an American Federation of Government Employees local told Workers World of yet another attempt at union busting: “AFGE is the largest union representing federal workers (600,000); however, a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals narrows the definition of who can be protected by a union, by reclassifying employees as ‘security sensitive’ the same way that the National Security Agency, the FBI, and the CIA classifies those employees as ‘critically sensitive’ and thus prevented from exercising their union rights. Therefore, those employees would have no appeal rights.”

The Obama administration is also proposing legislation that would change the definition of what a “security, and/or a critically sensitive position” is.

In the Aug. 21, 2013, edition of the Washington Post, the paper’s expert on federal employees, Joe Davidson, referred to the absurdity of these rulings regarding “critically-sensitive” positions, especially for civilians who work at military bases. In the court ruling referenced above, a low-grade worker who managed inventory at a commissary, which is basically a supermarket, was described as in a “critically-sensitive position.”

In the same article, Davidson writes that, according to Tom Devine, legal director of the nonprofit Government Accountability Project, “The worker is defenseless.” The court backed the Obama administration’s argument that the Merit Systems Protection Board, which hears appeal rights from federal workers, cannot review or overturn an agency’s decision to take disciplinary or adverse actions against an employee’s sensitive position. Meanwhile, Devine added, the administration is proposing regulations that would make nearly all federal jobs eligible for a sensitive designation.

In summation, unions in the federal sector are hampered by a myriad of federal and agency laws, rules regulations and policy that restrict the rights and activities of federal workers.