Defiant DeVos Ignores Judge’s Order, Ends Union Release Time

Plans to Unilaterally Ban Telecommuting Option For Employees

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BETSY DeVOS
BETSY DeVOS: A law unto herself?

Despite the ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson that struck down President Trump’s May Executive Orders seeking to force Federal unions out of the workplace, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is doubling down in her effort to make the Department of Education a “no-union” zone, according to officials with the American Federation of Government Employees.

As a result, the union said, by Oct. 1 its 4,000 members employed by the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. and 10 satellite offices will lose the option of telecommuting that’s been available for years.

A Do-It-Herself Pact

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Ms. DeVos in March unilaterally declared an impasse and imposed what her agency called “a collective-bargaining agreement” that covered the unionized workers in her agency without negotiating with the union.

The AFGE filed a complaint with the Federal Labor Relations Authority and prevailed in July. The FLRA Regional Director agreed with the union that Ms. DeVos had engaged in an unfair labor practice when her management team walked away from the bargaining table and imposed its “contract.”

But the FLRA currently lack enforcement powers because President Trump has not appointed its General Counsel, who is required to present the FLRA findings to the agency’s full board for final approval.

‘DOE More Recalcitrant’

“Despite the FLRA finding, and now Judge Jackson’s ruling, there’s been no change from the DOE—if anything they have become more recalcitrant,” said Cathie McQuiston, deputy general counsel of AFGE. “They threw us out of the offices and ended official release time so we could represent our members. Ironically, Trump’s Executive Order was less draconian.”

Ms. McQuiston said that many of the 4,000 members of its DOE bargaining unit work on Federal Student Aid programs or as lawyers for the Office of Civil Rights, which oversees the enforcement of Title 9.

“That telework option with its life/work balance was a big selling point for this workforce, and it had been around so long that the agency realized savings by reducing the office footprint,” she said. “Now, there will be no place for these people to work.”

She continued, “They are just stonewalling to shove through all these changes until some third party stops them, and at that point they are likely to say it’s too onerous to reverse course.”

An email query to the DOE got no response.

In the rest of the Federal Government, Judge Jackson’s ruling striking down Mr. Trump’s anti-union Executive Orders appeared to register. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff T.H. Pon issued a memorandum to every Federal agency instructing them to abide by Ms. Jackson’s ruling.

‘Will Fully Comply’

“OPM will fully comply with Judge Jackson’s Order and encourages other agencies to consult with their offices of human resources and general counsel to determine proper compliance measures based on the Order,” Mr. Pon wrote Aug. 29. “OPM will work with the U.S. Department of Justice to evaluate next steps in this litigation and will provide additional guidance to agencies as appropriate.”

“AFGE is proud to have led the way in this legal victory for Federal employees and the unions that represent them,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “We are continually resolved in our conviction to protect and preserve critical government services and functions for all Americans. We will not let up this fight until all Federal employees are given the workplace protections and conditions they deserve.”

After Mr. Trump signed the Executive Orders, several agencies, including the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs, moved quickly to implement them. That included kicking union representatives out of their offices and prohibiting them from using official time to meet their obligations to rank-and-file workers.

Mixed Responses

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“After the court ruling, some VA facilities immediately restored official time for union reps and returned them to their union offices,” according to an AGFE press statement. “The majority, however, did not, saying they were waiting for guidance from VA Central Office.”

The union reported that prior to the OPM directive “the Social Security Administration appeared to be continuing implementation of the Executive Orders despite the court ruling.”

The Department of Defense made some isolated changes in line with Mr. Trump’s directives “but it was overall very limited, as they had been largely waiting for the outcome of the lawsuits,” according to the AFGE.

Under Judge Jackson’s ruling, agencies cannot implement Mr. Trump’s imposition of a 25-percent cap on the use of official time or enforce his call to place limits on the unions’ customary use of agency facilities, office space and computers.

Relaxed Discipline Rules

The ruling did leave portions of his Executive Orders intact that directed agencies to closely document and rein in the use of official release time, as well as lifting any previous requirement that agencies use “progressive discipline” prior to firing a Federal employee.

The National Treasury Employees Union said in a statement that after Judge Jackson’s decision, Federal agencies “responded with mixed messages.”

“Several agencies had taken actions of varying degrees to carry out the executive orders,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. “With the judge’s decision unequivocal in affirming the agency obligation of good-faith bargaining, it is time for agencies to fulfill that obligation.”

 

 

 

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‘New NAFTA’: Union leaders warn Trump against bad deal

‘New NAFTA’: Union leaders warn Trump against bad deal

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, left, is warning President Donald Trump over what gets included in the new NAFTA. | AP

WASHINGTON—With U.S.-Mexico talks on a “new NAFTA” hearing up—and facing a deadline to send a pact to Capitol Hill—union leaders met President Donald Trump at the White House on August 21 to warn him against making a bad deal.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka led the delegation, which included Steelworkers President Leo Gerard. Trumka issued a warning flag for Trump in advance, and the others stayed mum. The AFL-CIO communications staff did not return either a call or an e-mail seeking names of other participants.

“NAFTA has wreaked havoc on our families and communities for decades,” Trumka said before the union leaders met Trump. “Renegotiation is a massive undertaking that must be done with care and precision in order to create jobs and raise wages. From what we have seen up to this point, it is clear this administration has made some progress, yet there is more that must be done.”

“We are meeting with the president to reaffirm what a good deal for working people really looks like, starting with strong workers’ rights backed up by effective enforcement tools unlike those that have failed in that past and led to the unrelenting outsourcing of work to Mexico, eliminating corporate courts and new rules of origin that are fair to America’s workers,” he added.

The pact must also have “a sunset provision to ensure these changes work for working people,” Trumka said. That’s a sticking point for Canada—and for corporate interests now pushing “new NAFTA” hard.

“The labor movement has a plan to fix NAFTA, and working people have told us they will not settle for anything less. We will be closely reviewing the final text as soon as it is available,” Trumka concluded.

Trump’s trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, has been in talks for three weeks with Mexican negotiators over a “new NAFTA.” Key issues appear to be domestic content on cars and limits on U.S. exports of farm goods to Mexico. Worker rights went unmentioned in various reports on the U.S.-Mexico talks.

The third partner in NAFTA, Canada, has been left on the sidelines.

Both the U.S. and Mexico appear to be rushing to complete a “new NAFTA” to replace the 24-year-old pact, which the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations passed over strenuous labor objections and lobbying.

Workers and their allies forecast the current NAFTA would cost tens of thousands of jobs and subsequent studies proved them right: Companies relocated between 700,000 and 1 million jobs, from Oreo cookie and Ford car factories to newspaper call centers, south of the border. There, workers earn pennies an hour and have few rights.

Now Trump wants to send the new NAFTA to Congress before Labor Day, otherwise it would get pushed into the incoming Congress—where pro-worker forces could conceivably take over the U.S. House, noted worker ally Lori Wallach, a former trade lawyer who heads Public Citizen’s Trade Watch.

And Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the first progressive president in almost a century, wants to put the talks—and responsibility for any new NAFTA—on lame-duck President Enrique Peña Nieto. The latter’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) works hand-in-glove with Mexican oligarchs to suppress wages and workers’ rights.

Trump, Lighthizer, and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, a Peña Nieto cabinet member, have not only left the Canadians in the dark, but the U.S. Congress, too.

A month ago, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a pro-worker leader in Congress on trade issues—and one of Capitol Hill’s best nose-counters on votes—joined Machinists official Owen Herrnstadt and other lawmakers in reiterating where labor and its congressional allies stand on any new NAFTA.

“The IAM and other members of Congress are demanding an end to outsourcing by fighting for strong, enforceable labor standards within a renegotiated NAFTA,” the union said in a statement. “Low wages, a lack of independent unions, and an inability for workers to collectively bargain in Mexico have led to the outsourcing of good-paying American jobs to Mexico and low wage growth.”

“IAM members know how important trade is to our jobs and to our economy” said Herrnstadt, the Machinists’ Chief of Staff and Director of Trade and Globalization. “After all, IAM members produce, manufacture, service, assemble, and transport the goods that make up the global economy. IAM members know when trade works, and IAM members know when trade doesn’t work.”

Meanwhile, Canada may be frozen out of the U.S.-Mexico “new NAFTA” talks, but Canadians appear not to mind. A check of the websites of both the Canadian Labour Congress—their equivalent of the AFL-CIO—and Unifor, the union which represents Canadian auto workers, disclosed no recent statements on the new NAFTA.

Last year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at first put a change in U.S. worker rights—repeal of right to work laws—on the table, but he’s been notably silent on that ever since. And the latest public opinion poll in Canada showed 55 percent of 1,227 adults surveyed will support a new NAFTA deal only if it requires making only moderate or minor concessions to the U.S., compared to 11 percent backing major concessions.

Trump and Lighthizer apparently believe they can force Canada into accepting whatever the U.S. and Mexico come up with—at least according to the dialogue in a Cabinet meeting before the U.S. union leaders arrived.

“We’re not negotiating with Canada right now,” said Trump. “Their tariffs are too high, their barriers are too strong, so we’re not even talking to them right now. But we’ll see how that works out. It will only work out to our favor.”

“I’m hopeful with Mexico, and then I hope once we get one with Mexico that Canada will come along,” Lighthizer replied.

 

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Baltimore Marriott Waterfront employees picket for right to establish union

Updated: 11:21 PM EDT Aug 9, 2018
Vanessa Herring
News Reporter
BALTIMORE —Employees at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront were on the picket line Thursday night. They want to establish a process for workers to decide whether they want a union.

Unite Here Local 7, a labor union that represents thousands of hotel workers, helped organize the rally. It said Marriott is the city’s largest hotel operator and many employees are struggling to make ends meet. Marriott employees said one job should be enough.

“I’ve been with the Marriott for three-and-half years now. I was hired as a full-time associate. Lately we haven’t been getting full-time hours, and as such, they’ve cut our benefits, cut our (paid time off), so it makes it kind of hard to get by,” said banquet server Charles Altvater.

Altvater said he is working 20 hours on average per week.

“It has affected me personally because I need health insurance. I have different medical problems and Marriott said, ‘If you don’t work 30 hours within a three-month period, you’re considered a part-time associate,’ which, I was hired as full-time. I’m always available. I have 100 percent availability and I’m not able to accrue full-time hours,” Altvater said.

Frustrated employees took their message to the streets, picketing in front of the hotel. They are demanding a fair process for workers to decide whether they want a union.

“We want a process where workers feel like they can organize free from intimidation and harassment, where the company agrees to be neutral,” said Tracy Lingo, staff director for Unite Here Local 7.

In a statement, a Marriott spokesperson said, “Marriott believes the secret ballot election process administered by the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) provides a fair process for employees to decide whether they want to be represented by a labor union or not. We will continue to respect our employees’ right to choose.”

“Marriott is the leader in the hospitality industry. They’re clearly the largest, so they have a responsibility, we feel like, to set the standard and make sure one job is enough for all hotel workers across the globe,” Lingo said.

It is not clear if or when both sides could agree on a process for employees to determine if they want a union.

 

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