Workforce

Federal unions face a busy 2019 in Congress and in the courts

employee data (kentoh/Shutterstock.com)

One of the federal government's largest unions laid out its legislative wish list for 2019, and much of it -- as well as its judicial agenda -- consists of fighting against workforce changes proposed in the first two years of the Trump administration.

Over the next several months, the National Treasury Employees Union will be pushing for legislative measures to make sure civilian agencies have enough money to operate and retain staff and can protect bargaining and employee rights as well  retirement, family and health benefits.

NTEU, which represents feds across 33 agencies, is also aiming to secure a 3.6 percent federal pay raise in 2020. In the meantime, NTEU National President Tony Reardon said he wants answers about when federal employees will receive their 1.9 percent pay raise approved for 2019, which retroactively applies to January and February.

Ahead of the budget's expected release March 11, Reardon said he was "concerned" civilian employees would face not just cuts to their agencies, but renewed attempts to freeze their pay and reduce benefits.

"I'm concerned we're going to see much of the same," he said. "I think there is an appetite to freeze the pay, and they want to look at a different way to go about paying employees. But I do believe the shutdown had a real impact on the view of how the American people view federal employees."

So far this year, there have been fewer efforts to reduce pay, benefits and the size of the workforce, and the proposals that have been introduced are less of a threat to become law in the divided Congress, NTEU Legislative and Political Director Kata Sybenga said.

Reardon did, however, lament the lack of communication and limited relationship the administration has with federal unions. And while he said he didn't know much about Dale Cabaniss, the newly nominated candidate to head the Office of Personnel Management, he said his expectations of her compared to Jeff Pon and Margaret Weichert are "much of the same."

"I suspect that's precisely why she was selected," he said. "That's what I anticipate."

Reardon also said the actions of the Federal Labor Relations Authority -- and the inaction of the now-memberless Merit Systems Protection Board -- have not been giving federal employees "a fair shake."

The union also has various ongoing lawsuits against the administration, challenging employees' going unpaid during the shutdown as well as the three executive orders issued in May 2018 aimed at curtailing union influence.

On the shutdown lawsuits, NTEU Assistant Counsel Paras Shah said that the next step is that the government will file a motion to dismiss the suit, and if that is not accepted, a ruling could come by mid-September, ahead of another potential shutdown.

The end-game in the lawsuits challenging the shutdown, Reardon said, is "to do everything in my power to find an avenue to bring shutdowns to an end."

"So the thought behind it is, if you don't have the appropriation in place to pay employees, then they don't work," he said. "My bet is that Congress is going to do what they've got to to make sure there are appropriations in place so we do not have shutdowns."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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