Unions disappointed, but not surprised by Trump decision to disband labor-management forum

After several months of silence on the topic, President Donald Trump did what many federal unions thought was inevitable: He disbanded a formal advisory panel designed to create and foster partnerships between labor and agency management.

His decision to eliminate the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations came late last Friday — just one day before the executive order that created the council was due to expire.

President Barack Obama first signed an executive order that created the council in 2009, calling on agencies to work together with federal employees and unions to improve the delivery of government services to the public. He signed executive orders extending the council for two more years in 2013 and 2015.

Several federal unions said in early September that they’ve had little to no interaction with the Trump administration and hadn’t heard whether the council would continue.

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Renee Johnson, national president of the Federal Managers Association, said she wasn’t surprised by the president’s decision. FMA sat on the council.

“The council provided the chance to learn from others who have found success through labor-management discussions,” Johnson said in a statement. “Additionally, simply having the time together helped each of the organizations on the Council to better understand our colleagues and the challenges their departments and agencies face.”

The National Federation of Federal Employees, similarly, wasn’t shocked by the administration’s decision.

“The Trump administration never displayed any interest in continuing the Labor-Management Council and it remains ignorant of the benefits and successes of its past engagements,” NFFE National President Randy Erwin said. “However, the products of the council will continue through new and existing relationships sought by both management and labor as we share the common goals of an efficient, effective and innovative government.”

Unions say the administration’s decision cuts off a valuable and productive place where agencies and employees had discussed specific challenges, reviewed organizational initiatives and solved workplace issues.

The president’s decision couldn’t have come at a worse time, said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox.

“Federal employees are on the frontlines of hurricane recovery efforts and are taking on increased responsibilities as most of President Trump’s political positions remain unfilled,” he said. “Now is a time for more dialogue between rank-and-file workers, their managers, and administration leadership, not less. Removing opportunities for these conversations to occur is yet another attempt to silence the voice of working people and their labor representatives.”

Union employees at some agencies have said they’ve felt left in the dark as their departments prepare for the administration’s coming workforce reorganization. The National Treasury Employees Union, in particular, said it was disappointed that few agencies had engaged with NTEU’s ideas for reorganization.

“This is an ominous sign for the future of federal labor-management relations,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement. “For an administration that is trying to reduce operational costs and make agencies run more efficiently, to state that it is too time-consuming and costly to meet with its own employees is self-defeating.”

Labor-management relationships weren’t always perfect during the Obama administration, but union leaders have said the partnerships they’ve formed with agency managers have been useful.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission worked with its local NTEU union to form a working group, which offered ideas on how NRC could move personnel to other agency functions to avoid reductions in force.

The NTEU chapter has said that together, NRC employees and agency management found ways to mitigate the impact of RIFs.

Even without a national council in place, agencies can continue their own labor-management forums with local union chapters.

Steve Lenkart, NFFE executive director, said the partnerships top NFFE leadership had created with agency leaders have — and would likely continue — to transcend down to local chapters.

Before the president’s decision, many agencies had already decided to continue their own forums. Both the Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments have continued meetings with union chapters, Jacque Simon, public policy director for AFGE, said last month.  DHS and union members formed a working group over the summer to discuss overtime pay challenges at the Secret Service.