Peters, Colleagues Defend the Right of Defense Department Civilian Workers to Engage in Collective Bargaining
WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to stand up for workers’ rights and organized labor, U.S. Senators Gary Peters (MI) and Jack Reed (RI), Ranking Members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Armed Services Committees, led the entire Senate Democratic Caucus in urging Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper to uphold workplace protections and safeguard the collective bargaining rights of Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees. The letter comes on the heels of a Trump Administration Memorandum granting Secretary Esper the power to abolish collective bargaining rights for DoD’s 750,000 civilian workers, which includes a diverse blue collar workforce made up of janitors, firefighters, food service workers, teachers, depot maintenance technicians, welders, and many other professionals.
“We support efforts that strengthen our national security, however this Memorandum represents a serious incursion on federal employees’ collective bargaining rights and sets a dangerous precedent in suggesting that those rights somehow compromise our national security,” the Senators wrote. “We urge you to exercise great restraint in using this new authority and continue to maintain the historically productive relationship that DOD has with its employee unions.”
The Presidential Memorandum, which was signed by President Trump on January 29, suggests that a unionized Defense Department workforce could pose a threat to “national security” and that, if necessary, collective bargaining rights for these employees could be eliminated. Secretary Esper recently testified before the House Armed Services Committee that he did not request this authority, did not know why the White House drafted it, and has never indicated that existing collective bargaining agreements have prevented DoD from carrying out its mission. Despite that, Secretary Esper declined to say how he would wield this new authority, instead saying that he would wait for staff analysis and recommendations.
In their letter, the Senators expressed their disbelief that a unionized workforce had negatively impacted the DoD’s national security mission and argued that unionized workers have actually enhanced the Department’s efforts. The letter states that DoD and its unions have enjoyed a mutually beneficial partnership, drawing attention to health and safety hazards as well as instances of waste, fraud, and abuse on the part of contractors, and allowing DoD to recruit and retain highly-skilled workers.
Text of the letter is copied below and available here:
March 4, 2020
The Honorable Mark T. Esper
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301
Dear Secretary Esper:
We write to express our concerns regarding President Trump’s January 29, 2020 Memorandum to the Department of Defense (DOD), “Delegation of Certain Authority under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute.” We support efforts that strengthen our national security, however this Memorandum represents a serious incursion on federal employees’ collective bargaining rights and sets a dangerous precedent in suggesting that those rights somehow compromise our national security. We urge you to exercise great restraint in using this new authority and continue to maintain the historically productive relationship that DOD has with its employee unions.
DOD has successfully bargained with its unionized workers under various arrangements since 1962, and DOD civilian employees have been included in the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute since its inception in 1978. During that time, America has been engaged in many international conflicts and national emergencies. There is no evidence that the presence of unionized employees has ever had any negative impact on DOD’s national security mission. In fact, DOD and its unions have always had a mutually beneficial partnership. Unions have helped draw attention to health and safety hazards, as well as instances of waste, fraud, and abuse on the part of contractors. Moreover, a unionized workforce allows DOD to recruit and retain highly-skilled employees who might otherwise work elsewhere. In short, we believe that the Department’s unionized workforce has enhanced our security, not detracted from it. President Trump’s Memorandum arbitrarily and needlessly threatens this positive relationship.
The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute of 1978 is the cornerstone of our civil service, and it clearly states that labor organizations and collective bargaining in the federal sector “safeguards the public interest.” Stripping long-included employees of the statute’s protections is counterproductive to DOD’s national security mission, and the President’s Memorandum fails to articulate why such a drastic change is necessary. We strongly discourage you from taking steps to eliminate the statutorily-granted collective bargaining rights of DOD civilians.
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