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Trump’s fight against federal workers and the health of labor unions

The Trump administration has been ramping up pressure on organized labor and federal workers lately. The president issued executive orders limiting the activities of the unions that represent them -- which was later blocked by a federal judge -- then eliminated a potential pay hike for federal employees. Yamiche Alcindor takes a look at those stories with Dave Jamieson of HuffPost.

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  • John Yang:

    President Trump marked Labor Day today by attacking the head of America's biggest labor union.

    The president said AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka spoke "so against the working men and women of our country in the success of the U.S. itself, that it's easy to see why unions are doing so poorly."

    Trumka had criticized the president's strategy for renegotiating NAFTA.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor now takes a look at the Trump administration and labor unions.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The Trump administration recently ramped up pressure on organized labor and federal workers.

    First, the president issued executive orders limiting the activities of the unions that represent them. About a week ago, a federal judge blocked that action. Then, last week, President Trump issued a notice to Congress eliminating a potential pay hike for federal employee. That action is also expected to wind up in court.

    Now we take a Labor Day look at those stories and the overall state of collective bargaining with Dave Jamieson, who covers labor issues for HuffPost.

    Thanks so much for being here with me, Dave.

    First question I have, the president said he's canceling pay hikes for government workers. What is that going to actually mean for workers and what's happening now?

  • Dave Jamieson:

    So, this isn't something that the president can do unilaterally.

    There was — in the pay schedule, there was supposed to be a 2 percent, 2.1 percent pay bump for federal workers. The president said he wants to see a zero percent pay increase. That basically kicks the ball over to Congress.

    The Senate has already passed a bill saying they think there should be a 1.9 percent pay increase, whereas the House so far has been mum on this, basically deferring to the president. So this is going to set up a situation in Congress where the Senate and the House are going to have to get together and figure this out. And their options are to simply do nothing, in which case the president's zero percent pay raise would go into effect, or they could try to do some sort of raise.

    Maybe it's 1.9 percent, maybe it's 1, maybe it's lower than that. But then they would send a bill back to the president with a raise that he didn't want to see. And he would have the chance to veto it. But maybe he wouldn't want to blow up a whole budget deal over — over this pay raise.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, as you said, the ball is really in Congress' court now.

    But how much power does Congress have if whatever they pass has to be signed by the president?

  • Dave Jamieson:

    Just to add another wrinkle to this, the president actually said on Friday that he's going to take a close look at the pay raise issue over the holiday weekend. So there is a chance that he comes back after Labor Day and says, you know what, I have changed my mind, maybe I do want to see some kind of raise.

    But, really, I think the ball is what is with the House of Representatives, where you have got a lot of Republicans who normally would want to see a smaller governor, they want to see lower pay for federal workers. And they're going to have to decide, OK, is it worth really bucking the president on this and doing some sort of raise that he doesn't want to see?

    But there's a lot of political — a lot of political movements here where you have got vulnerable Republicans, especially in places like Virginia, Barbara Comstock, vulnerable in a race right now, where she's got a lot of federal workers in her district. So this puts her in an uncomfortable spot where — where, basically, her president is saying no pay raises.

    And so there's going to be quite a bit of pushback on this.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And I want to turn to collective bargaining. The president signed a series of executive orders. Talk to me a little bit about what he did.

  • Dave Jamieson:

    So, earlier this year, the White House issued these three executive orders that were really a broadside on the federal unions.

    One of them would have made it — made it a lot easier to fire underperforming workers. Another would have pared back what's known as official time. This is hours that union representatives can devote to union issues and do grievances while on the clock.

    And these were really seen as an attack on the unions. And so more than a dozen of the unions filed a lawsuit saying that this was against the law. And just the other day, a federal judge agreed, basically said that these agencies, federal agencies are required to bargain in good faith with the unions, and Trump's executive orders would have made that impossible.

    So the key parts of those executive orders have basically been completely knocked down. And now unions are celebrating what is a momentary victory in their fights with Trump on this.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The administration has said that it would appeal. Where does it go next?

  • Dave Jamieson:

    It's not really clear right now.

    On Wednesday, the White House issued guidance saying that, OK, follow the judge's order. But there's been sort of conflicting things coming out of different agencies, where the unions in some cases have said they're not following the judge's order.

    So, in speaking with the union reps recently, they said, hopefully, everyone will come back after the holiday and this will be sorted out and life will go back to normal.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, we know we often talk about federal workers as people that live in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, but where are all these workers that might be impacted by these moves?

  • Dave Jamieson:

    Yes, so President Trump likes to lump in the federal work force into what he calls the swamp. But federal workers are very different from like a fat cat lobbyist in a steak house on K Street.

    Federal workers are all across the country. And, in fact, the vast majority of them are — don't even live in the Washington area. They work for agencies. Like, they work, do Social Security, Medicare, the VA.

    There's not a district in the country that doesn't have some amount of federal workers in it. And most of them are basically making — earning middle-class wages, trying to keep their heads down and do their jobs.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And it's Labor Day 2018. In your view, what's the overall state of collective bargaining in this country?

  • Dave Jamieson:

    I think on paper right now, the labor movement, it looks kind of bleak. Union membership as a share of the overall work force is basically at a historic low right now.

    Just 6.5 percent of workers in the private sector are actually in a union. And unions are fighting battles all over the country. I mean, what's going on in Washington is just one piece of it. There's a lot of fights in statehouses now. So they're having a hard time.

    That said, there are some real bright spots for unions recently. You look at the teacher strikes that swept the country last year, states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona. Teachers basically shut it down, in a lot of cases won meaningful pay raises.

    You have also got the fight for 15. So there's — there's a quite a few victories right now for unions.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, thank you so much, Dave Jamieson, of The HuffPost.

  • Dave Jamieson:

    Thanks for having me.

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