Pushback on Trump's DOD union policy hits bipartisan stride

A key Republican lawmaker joined Democratic colleagues in opposing a policy that could spell doom for civilian unions at the Defense Department.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is pushing back on a Trump administration move to give the Defense Department the authority to eliminate collective bargaining at defense agencies.

In a memo published in the Federal Register on Feb. 21, President Donald Trump delegated authority to exempt Defense Department agencies and subdivisions from the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations law -- essentially the power to eliminate unions that represent many of DOD's 700,000 civilian workers.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper testified at a recent hearing before the House Armed Services Committee that he had not sought the authority: "The memo [did] not come to me with any recommendations or analysis."

The president can suspend collective bargaining if it impedes national security, an authority that was included in a 1978 law. In a Feb. 27 letter, Collins along with five Democratic colleagues, argued that such exemptions to federal workers' labor rights should be used only in the narrowest of circumstances.

"No President has found it necessary to issue a blanket exemption of all Department of Defense employees from collective bargaining since enactment of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978," the letter stated. "Instead, previous use of this authority has been crafted as narrowly as possible."

Collins, whose state is home to thousands of Navy civilian and contractor jobs, had pledged to fight the policy in a speech at a recent public sector union conference.

"Please know that I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to protect the rights of DOD civilian employees to engage in collective bargaining," she said at the event hosted by the American Federation of Public Employees.

Collins also pushed back on the claim in the administration memorandum that collective bargaining could inhibit the flexibility of DOD to respond to security challenges.

"We all agree that the Department of Defense requires flexibility to respond to the challenges that our nation faces. However, collective bargaining is not only compatible with this needed flexibility but is a key component in preserving flexibility by giving employees a voice in the system and providing avenues for management to receive feedback," the letter states.

Other senators joined Collins in signing the letter, including Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

This article first appeared on FCW, a partner site with Defense Systems. 

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