The Slatest

Judge Strikes Down Trump Orders Making it Easier to Fire Federal Workers

Demonstrators hold signs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
Demonstrators hold signs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

A federal district judge dealt a setback to President Donald Trump’s efforts to water down the power of public sector unions by nixing several key elements of three executive orders that he signed in late May. The orders would have essentially made it easier to fire federal employees while sharply decreasing the ability of unions to collectively bargain and represent workers.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled that the executive orders “undermine federal employees’ right to bargain collectively.” Under the executive orders, agencies would be able to cut back on the time to allow underperforming workers to show improvement before being terminated, from as many as 120 days to a maximum of 30 days. They would have also forced federal employees who are part of the union leadership to spend less time on union work. Unions immediately objected to the orders, saying that any change in rules must be negotiated between agencies and the labor representatives. Although the president does have the right to issue executive orders relating to the federal workforce, those orders cannot “eviscerate the right to bargain collectively,” Jackson ruled.

“President Trump’s illegal action was a direct assault on the legal rights and protections that Congress specifically guaranteed to the public-sector employees across this country who keep our federal government running every single day,” J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said Saturday.

In justifying the orders, the White House painted a picture of a government that is desperate to cut back on misbehaving federal employees who take advantage of their position and cost taxpayers money. “Tenured Federal employees have stolen agency property, run personal businesses from work, and been arrested for using drugs during lunch breaks and not been fired,” the White House said in a statement in May.

Although experts agree there is a case to be made that it’s sometimes way too difficult to fire underperforming civil servants, the executive orders appeared ot have a broader goal in mind. “Very clearly the administration is trying to do all it can to weaken the role of public employee unions,” Donald F. Kettl, a professor of public policy at the University of Texas at Austin, said. “It’s part of a far broader strategy, that’s in many ways bubbling up from the states, to turn the civil service into at-will employment.”

The Trump administration is likely to appeal the ruling, which comes after a string of losses in the courts for the White House. The New York Times summarizes the recent high-profile battles the White House has lost in the courts recently:

Courts have blocked its effort to shut down a program that shields some 700,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation and to deny federal money to so-called sanctuary cities, which limit cooperation with federal authorities about a person’s immigration status. They have allowed challenges to the administration’s bid to add a question about citizenship to the census to proceed. And they have repeatedly blocked the administration’s attempts to roll back environmental regulations.

An appeals court has stalled the administration’s prohibitions on transgender people serving in the military, and a federal court ruled this year that Mr. Trump violated the Constitution by blocking several people on Twitter.

The administration also lost a series of cases in the lower courts on President Trump’s executive order barring travel from a number of predominantly Muslim nations. But it won a major victory in June when the Supreme Court sustained the order by a 5-to-4 vote.