In a bold and alarming move, President Donald Trump has given the Department of Defense the power to abolish the collective bargaining rights of its civilian labor unions thereby affecting the rights of the 750,000 workers they represent.
Trump wrote a memo recently, first reported by Government Executive, that gutting the unions would provide “maximum flexibility.”
Trump signed the memo and invoked “national security” granting exemption to the Defense Department, giving all federal workers the right to unionize.
The memo said, “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… Where collective bargaining is incompatible with these organizations’ missions, the Department of Defense should not be forced to sacrifice its national security mission.”
A provision in the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act allows a president to exclude agencies from engaging in collective bargaining with workers in certain circumstances, including those deemed “emergency situations.”
Trump has made his political name on claims of being a champion of the working class but his frequent assault on unions suggests otherwise.
In 2017, a White House memo encouraged “eliminating employee unions” as part of a plan to weaken organized labor and a first look at Trump’s proposed budget for 2021 shows that it would require federal workers to pay more for a cut in retirement benefits.
At this time, Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s response remains unclear, although labor leaders, workers, and various politicians have come out against the declaration.
According to The Washington Post, Everett Kelly, national secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees, said at a legislative conference, “Denying … Defense Department workers the collective bargaining rights guaranteed to them by law since 1962 would be a travesty — and doing it under the guise of ‘national security’ would be a disgrace… This administration will not stop until it takes away all workers’ rights to form and join a union — and we will not stop doing everything we can to prevent that from happening.”