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Washington – Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and 42 of their colleagues in a letter requesting that Senate leadership and appropriations conferees include provisions to protect federal employees’ collective bargaining rights in any appropriations legislation Congress passes.

“Robust labor unions are a hallmark of competitive workplaces – they lead the fight for better benefits, protections, and working conditions. The Trump Administration’s anti-union agenda undermines the government’s ability to attract talented workers and demoralizes workers currently in public service” wrote the senators. “At a time when the right to unionize in both the public and private sectors is increasingly under attack, we must affirm our support for workers and labor rights.”

Earlier this year, the House passed the FY 2020 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill with a provision to prevent agencies from implementing any labor agreement that has not been agreed to by all parties or was not the result of binding arbitration. This provision restores the collective bargaining process and requires agencies to return to the bargaining table to engage in good-faith negotiations. Without this protection, unions will be locked into unreasonable and unfair contracts for the foreseeable future.

Senators Feinstein and Peters were joined in requesting the provisions by Senators Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Angus King (I-Maine), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

The text of the letter is copied below and available here

November 20, 2019

The Honorable Mitch McConnell                                      The Honorable Charles E. Schumer

Majority Leader                                                                 Minority Leader

United States Senate                                                          United States Senate

317 Russell Senate Office Building                                  322 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510                                                   Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Richard Shelby                                         The Honorable Patrick Leahy

Chairman                                                                            Vice Chairman

Senate Committee on Appropriations                                Senate Committee on Appropriations

Room S-128, U.S. Capitol                                                 Room S-146A, U.S. Capitol

Washington, D.C. 20510                                                   Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable John Kennedy                                           The Honorable Christopher A. Coons

Chairman                                                                            Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Financial Services and                         Subcommittee on Financial Services and

General Government                                                         General Government

133 Dirksen Senate Office Building                                  125 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510                                                   Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Leader McConnell, Chairman Shelby, Chairman Kennedy, Leader Schumer, Vice Chairman Leahy, and Ranking Member Coons:

As you finalize appropriations legislation for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020) and begin conference discussions with your House counterparts, we respectfully ask that you accede to Section 749 of the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act (H.R.3351), which provides an essential safeguard for federal employees’ collective bargaining rights in response to the Trump Administration’s sustained attacks on the federal workforce.

The Civil Service Reform Act (the Act) of 1978 codified federal employees’ rights to form and join unions and engage in collective bargaining, stating that “labor organizations and collective bargaining in the civil service are in the public interest.” Unfortunately, over the past two years, the Trump Administration has sought to dismantle federal employee rights. In May 2018, President Trump issued three Executive Orders aimed at reducing official time, restricting collective bargaining, and obstructing the union grievance process. After an initial District Court ruling enjoining many of the Executive Order provisions, the D.C. Circuit Court overruled the decision, holding that unions must first exhaust administrative remedies through the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). The Circuit Court denied a request to rehear the case, and the District Court’s injunction on the Executive Orders expired on October 2, 2019, leaving agencies free to implement the contested provisions.

Even before the injunction expired, OPM guidance encouraged agencies to bargain for proposals similar to the enjoined provisions. In order to do so, many agencies have resorted to circumventing the collective bargaining process altogether by engaging in “surface” bargaining – going through the bargaining process without meaningfully participating in negotiations – to reach the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP), where the Trump-appointed panel has disproportionately ruled in favor of management.

Other agencies have refused to negotiate outright. While unions challenged these and other bad-faith bargaining techniques, the Trump Administration has curtailed many of their remedies. For example, there is no General Counsel at FLRA to prosecute unfair labor practice charges. President Trump’s nominee to fill the position is significantly underqualified and has a history of crafting anti-union policies at the Department of Health and Human Services. Therefore, the Circuit Court’s ruling makes it unlikely that federal employee unions will receive meaningful or timely relief from the Trump Administration’s policies.

In June, the House passed its appropriations package with a provision to retroactively block agencies from implementing any collective bargaining agreement that has not been mutually and voluntarily agreed to by all parties, unless it was the result of binding arbitration. This will restore the collective bargaining process and require agencies to return to the bargaining table to engage in good-faith negotiations. Without this protection, unions will be locked into unreasonable and unfair contracts for the foreseeable future.

These actions are poised to cause long-term damage to the foundations of our civil service. With almost a third of federal workers eligible to retire in the next five years, it is more important than ever that the federal government focus on recruiting and retaining the best employees. Robust labor unions are a hallmark of competitive workplaces – they lead the fight for better benefits, protections, and working conditions. The Trump Administration’s anti-union agenda undermines the government’s ability to attract talented workers and demoralizes workers currently in public service. The Administration’s actions also imperil scientific integrity across agencies – lack of adequate union representation makes it easier for agencies to politicize scientific roles and silence dissenting opinions.

Furthermore, as the country’s largest unionized employer, the federal government sets the tone for labor-management relations across the country. At a time when the right to unionize in both the public and private sectors is increasingly under attack, we must affirm our support for workers and labor rights.

We appreciate your attention to this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or require additional information.

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