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Trump Imposes One-Sided USDA Union Contract

Refusing to bargain, USDA workforce has few options

Brian Young's picture
Jul 21, 2020

10,000 workers at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be forced to work under a "collective bargaining agreement" (CBA) that is being forced upon them by the Trump administration.

In an effort to sideline the union, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1106, the USDA announced that effective July 20th, a new contract would go into effect. Although the department is calling it a CBA it is not an agreement, but rather a one-sided contract. In a letter from the agency’s general counsel Stephen Vaden, the department claims that the union doesn’t want to agree on a successor deal, so they have no choice but to implement this new CBA.

“It is clear the Union has no intention of ratifying a successor agreement no matter its terms; and no matter whether they are imposed by the Panel or arrived at by the Parties through continued negotiations.”

Vaden goes on to claim that since Trump took over the union has rejected two contract proposals, one in 2018 and one just a week ago.

So, what were the issues that were holding up the contract? Joshua Rider, the President of AFGE Local 1106 told Bloomberg that schedule flexibility, union representation in grievances, and other rights afforded in the prior contract were stripped from the new agreement.

“This is management repudiating the right that unions have under the statute to ratify its agreement. I think it’s been a clear assault across the federal government on union organization and collective bargaining rights,” Rider said.

The workers at USDA aren’t the only ones who are dealing with this. Workers at the Education Department and the VA are dealing with similar issues. The problems stem from an Executive Order that Trump signed ordering Departments to reopen contracts and insert language in them that limited certain union rights including official union time and kicking unions out of their offices on federal property.

Although Trump’s Executive Order was instituted nearly a year ago, Vaden may be acting now because Trump has recently nominated him to be a judge of the U.S. Court of International Trade.

While Trump is trying to institute these agreements across the government, unions are largely blocked from contesting them. This is because their avenue for challenging the move is to go to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). However, the FLRA doesn’t currently have a general counsel, so there is no one at the agency to prosecute the administration for violating the CBA or failing to negotiate in good faith. The general counsel is also appointed by Trump making it unlikely that they would decide to pursue a case against Trump. While Local 1106 could bring the case to the Federal Service Impasses Panel, the union says that they have also been unwilling to reign in the Trump administration.

The real goal of this move is to further weaken federal unions. By unilaterally implementing a contract, Trump is taking away a union’s main power, the right to bargain. This is considered an unprecedented move. Todd Dickey, assistant professor of public administration and international affairs at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, said that he has never seen a federal agency try to unilaterally institute a new contract on their workforce. Trump is clearly trying to see how far he can push his executive power before the courts will stop him. If they don’t, it could mean the end of collective bargaining for federal workers.

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