AFGE sues Trump administration over recent executive order

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The American Federation of Government Employees is suing the Trump administration over the president’s executive order limiting official time.

AFGE filed a lawsuit late Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The defendants include President Donald Trump, the Office of Personnel Management and OPM Director Jeff Pon.

The union has criticized all three of the president’s recent executive orders, but the lawsuit solely focuses on the official time EO, which AFGE said has violated the First Amendment.

Specifically, the order limits the amount of total hours that employees of any agency can spend on official time. It also restricts individual employees from spending more than a quarter of their work hours on official time, and it restricts union representatives from using official time to prepare, file and pursue negotiated employee grievances.

“Without any valid jurisdiction, it singles out labor organizations and their representatives for disparate, negative treatment as compared to individuals,” AFGE’s said of the executive order. “In so doing, the official time order restrains and retaliates against AFGE and its union-member employee representatives in and for the exercise of their respective rights to expressive association.”

The official time order also violates both the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute and separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution, AFGE said, because the order “seeks to vest agencies with unilateral authority to determine whether a particular amount of official time is reasonable, necessary and in the public interest.”

AFGE National President J. David Cox had hinted his organization may take legal action in an interview Wednesday on Your Turn with Mike Causey.

“They have woke up a sleeping giant in AFGE,” he said.

The National Treasury Employees Union is also considering its legal options.

“I certainly have not ruled it out,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in an interview Wednesday with Federal News Radio. “If there is an option available to us for legal action, then I most definitely will direct that we take that opportunity.”

As of Wednesday, NTEU said it was dissecting every word of the president’s three EOs. The orders are complex and detailed, and NTEU, along with other federal labor organizations, didn’t receive the text of the EOs until after 6 p.m. last Friday.

Both Reardon and Cox said they didn’t hear from the Trump administration about these new orders until late Friday afternoon — after senior White House officials had briefed the media about their plans at 3 p.m.

OPM held a call with federal unions at 5:15 that afternoon, which Reardon described as short and “perfunctory.”

“I was stunned that the media was provided with a call and some information about two hours and 15 minutes earlier than the actual organizations that represent these employees that were going to have to deal with these executive orders,” he said. “I thought that was in poor taste.”

As lawmakers and the administration have brought debate on the topic to focus in recent weeks, AFGE and other federal labor unions have argued official time helps agencies resolve problems before they fester and grow throughout the organization.

“When workplace disputes don’t get resolved, problems don’t get managed, when there’s not some orderly flow as to how labor relations can go on in the federal government, then those disputes continue to surface up,” Cox said in the interview. “They go into [equal employment opportunity] arenas, they go into whistleblower arenas [and] they go into more lengthy litigation. Frequently,  like with anything, it’s better resolve a problem at the lowest level and get it fixed and put it to rest than to allow it to continue to go.”