Federal employee union members held a silent gathering at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., Feb. 11, to protest the Trump administration’s workforce policies and treatment of federal labor groups.
The event, held by the American Federation of Government Employees, featured 20 minutes of union members standing silently in the atrium of the building in opposition to three union-targeting executive orders issued by the administration.
“These EO’s are intended to keep us silent,” said AFGE National Secretary Treasurer Everett Kelley, explaining that each minute of silence represented the number of months that federal employee unions have had to deal with the executive orders.
President Donald Trump signed three executive orders in May 2018 that called for quicker avenues for firing and disciplining certain employees, more standardization of collective bargaining and restrictions on the time union representatives are allowed to use during the workday to carry out certain union business.
Legal challenges to those orders failed in the appeals courts, due to the avenue that the unions had chosen to protest the orders rather than the orders themselves. Federal unions have since brought challenges to union enforcement of those orders in renegotiating collective bargaining agreements.
“We are fighting for equal rights, fair pay and, for me, environmental protection,” said Gary Morton, president of AFGE council 238. “The EPA has life-saving regulations, not job-killing regulations.”
Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency went so far as to establish a bill of rights to outline what they aim to fight for in their collective bargaining.
“It’s a campaign that we’ve launched to support EPA bargaining. Because senators and congresspeople got together and wrote letters in October and November of 2019 for EPA, the administration was willing to come back to the bargaining table,” said Joyce Howell, vice president of AFGE local 3631.
“What we’ve found is that congressional oversight influences this administration.”
Like its namesake, the EPA workers’ bill of rights sets down 10 provisions that state EPA employees should have the right to: scientific integrity; enforce environmental laws; full budgets and staffing levels; an end of lockouts due to government shutdowns; to pursue climate research and solutions; receive whistleblower protections; a sustainable work-life balance; a fair collective bargaining contract; a hate free and safe workplace; and to work without fear of reprisal.
“There’s a real sense of grief with my colleagues, because they’re seeing the work they’ve dedicated their lives to disappear before their eyes," said Howell.
Attendees also stood in opposition to the White House’s recently proposed budget, which would offer feds a one percent pay raise while also requiring them to contribute more to their retirement.