Workforce

EEOC cancels official time for union reps in discrimination complaints

EEOC logo. Shutterstock Image # 1236087784 By Vitalii Vodolazskyi 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cemented a Trump administration rule change on Thursday that limits the use of official time for federal employees in the filing of discrimination complaints.

The change limits the ability of those filing a complaint to choose a union representative to help them before the EEOC by excluding union members that serve an "officer, steward or otherwise in an official capacity" from the use of official time in the process.

The previous EEOC rule required federal agencies to allow employees to use a "reasonable amount of official time," to file discrimination complaints. It also gave the complainant the right to be accompanied or advised by their choice of representative.

Commissioner Charlotte Burrows, initially nominated by President Barack Obama and then re-nominated for a second term by Trump, also referenced recent events as she remarked on her opposition to the rule change.

"We have seen what partisan overreach looks like in the ugliest possible way yesterday at the U.S. Capitol. I do not understand why we would be doing this now, particularly given that, as Commissioner [ Jocelyn] Samuels points out, [President Trump's] days are numbered," Burrows said. "This proposal is on the wrong side of history."

Supporters said the rule clarifies the use of official time.

"Agencies will be better able to plan and forecast staffing needs based on the agreements negotiated during collective bargaining," said commissioner Andrea Lucas, a Republican nominee. "This is a reasonable rule that will bring clarity and efficiency by harmonizing EEOC regulations with the [Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute] and will ensure that our regulations do not infringe on the statutory scheme laid out by Congress."

Opponents countered that the new rule could create a chilling effect on the complaint process.

"This rule will undoubtedly discourage union officials from serving as representatives," said Samuels, who worked in the Obama administration. "And it is all done to advance the current administration's anti-union posture."

Since its proposal in in Dec. 2019, the rule has garnered over 1,800 comments during two posting periods in the Federal Register, as well as attention on Capitol Hill on the potential impact of the changes.

National Treasury Employees Union President Anthony Reardon said in a comment that the change only affects the use of official time by union officials.

"The proposed rule targets no other group of potential representatives," he said. "Those union officials are, of course, the very people that an employee might naturally seek out for help in combatting illegal discrimination."

The comments included input from 185 members of Congress, led by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who is a former chair of the EEOC. The lawmakers wrote that the proposed rule would "undermine the rights of federal employees" and "harm the mission" of the EEOC.

"This is an outrageous and hypocritical position for EEOC to take during this national reckoning of racial injustice. EEOC should focus on robust civil rights enforcement, not create roadblocks for federal workers who raise internal discrimination complaints," said Everett Kelley, American Federation of Government Employees National President, in an AFGE press release on the rule change.

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.

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