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Biden Signs Order Allowing Unions at Defense Department

This repeals a Trump order that allowed the Defense Secretary to bust unions

Kris LaGrange's picture
Feb 26, 2021

In January of 2020, UCOMM reported on an effort by Trump to exempt certain national security jobs from federal labor law. His order gave the Secretary of Defense the power to decide who was exempt citing the need for “flexibility.”

“When new missions emerge or existing ones evolve, the Department of Defense requires maximum flexibility to respond to threats to carry out its mission of protecting the American people,” the document states. “This flexibility requires that military and civilian leadership manage their organizations to cultivate a lethal, agile force adaptive to new technologies and posture changes. Where collective bargaining is incompatible with these organizations’ missions, the Department of Defense should not be forced to sacrifice its national security mission and, instead, seek relief through third parties and administrative fora.”

With President Joe Biden now in the White House, Biden has decided to rescind that order, stripping Defense Secretary Llyod Austin of the power. Thankfully, like many things Trump attempted to do, stripping Defense Department employees of their bargaining rights never ended up happening.

When Trump issued the order, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told lawmakers that he never asked for the authority Trump granted, likely explaining why he didn’t use it.

The Defense Department employs about 700,000 civilian workers and about half are union. AFGE which represents about 300,000 of them released a statement applauding the move.

“On behalf of the 300,000 DoD civilian employees AFGE represents, I applaud President Biden’s action to revoke the previous administration’s union-busting memorandum. DoD workers have had the right to join a union and bargain collectively since 1962, and since that time they have proudly supported our service members during wartime and peacetime and helped keep our country safe.

“The previous administration’s attempt to strip DoD civilians of their union rights under the guise of national security was a blatant union-busting tactic that was repudiated by lawmakers from both political parties and never acted upon by the Secretary of Defense. President Biden’s decision to revoke this memo ensures that DoD workers will retain the right to join a union and bargain collectively for better working conditions, and it is yet another positive step by his administration to support the working people who serve our country with honor and distinction.”

AFGE represents civilian workers in a number of areas of the Defense Department including the US Coast Guard, Defense Logistics Agency, and the Defense Contract Management Agency. Other job titles, like teachers that work on military bases, are represented by a number of smaller unions.

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