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President Trump Unilaterally Imposing His Agenda… and Democracy is in Peril

June 1, 2018

Over the past few days I’ve read article after article describing steps the President is taking to deregulate the national and international marketplace and to strip the rights of workers. Yesterday’s Common Dreams had four different articles that exemplify the unilateral actions he is taking. He’s planning to eliminate rules designed to avoid future bank bailouts. He’s backing out of longstanding trade arrangements and, in doing so, arbitrarily picking winners and losers. He’s ignoring requests of regulatory agencies to provide information they request. And, in an action that should cause concern for every worker in our country, he is unilaterally stripping the rights of Federal employees the right to job site representation, a right that is enshrined in labor law.

In the parlance of the business community and anti-union conservatives, “job site representation” often requires the creation of a “do nothing job”. In the parlance of the unions, it provides funding for full-time union official to serve as a liaison between management and the workers and to ensure that the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement are being kept. In reality, the guidelines for the compensation– if any– of the union representative are based on the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) itself.

In public education, the “job site representation” can take several forms. In Northern New England, I’m unaware of any CBAs that provide release time or funding for job site representation. Instead union dues cover the costs of field representatives who handle local labor disputes and provide support in negotiations. In Maryland, where there are larger districts, many are served by a field representative funded by State-wide union dues and a local representative, often a teacher who is released from classroom duties on a full or part-time basis. In the NYS district I led the district provided sufficient funds to cover the cost to backfill a classroom teacher to serve as “job site representative”.

While this model of compensating a “job site representative” seemed unusual to many of the school board members, having worked in the automotive industry as part of my cooperative education program as an undergraduate I recall witnessing the same system at the Rouge Engine Factory of Ford Motor Company. As an innocent college student I heard both sides of the story and could see both the benefits and potential opportunities for corruption and conflict that existed.

The benefits to workers were assurance that someone who had influence with management could forcefully present their side of an argument in a grievance and could bring dangerous working conditions to the attention of foreman without resorting to the grievance process. The opportunities for corruption were that in some cases the “job site representatives” were appointed as a reward for loyalty to a particular faction of the union leadership… and that meant that the level of service varied. On balance, though, the benefits from an employee’s perspective generally outweighed the costs.

The benefits of having a paid job site representative to management are largely abstract. If managers could forge a harmonious working relationship with their job site representative they would have a similarly harmonious working relationship with their workforce and, presumably, productivity would increase. But the costs to underwrite the job site representative seldom matched the benefit, because the costs always came off the bottom line while the benefits could not be readily quantified.

As our private sector workplaces changed over the past several decades, fewer and fewer companies paid for job-site representatives. Indeed, the job site representative role makes more sense in a manufacturing environment than in a service environment and as our manufacturing sector withered so did the role of the job site representative. But the laws that guarantee the opportunity for these positions to be included in CBAs stubbornly remain in place in the private sector even though they have vanished in the private sector. And their perpetuation is a source of resentment among taxpayers who see the position as a “no work” job.

As Common Dreams writer John Queally reports, the union representing the federal employees is pushing back:

The lawsuit (pdf) by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a member of the AFL-CIO which represents approximately 700,000 federal employees, argues that among a slate of anti-worker orders signed by the president last Friday, one of them specifically exceeds the president’s constitutional authority and violates the First Amendment right of workers to freely associate.

“This president seems to think he is above the law, and we are not going to stand by while he tries to shred workers’ rights,” said  AFGE national president J. David Cox Sr., in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “This is a democracy, not a dictatorship. No president should be able to undo a law he doesn’t like through administrative fiat.”

the orders signed by Trump are designed to limit the amount of on-duty time federal workers can spend on union business, make it easier to fire employees, and compel federal agencies throughout the government to forge less-friendly contracts with unions.

This is more than union busting – it’s democracy busting,” Cox said on Friday after the president’s signing of the orders was announced. “These executive orders are a direct assault on the legal rights and protections that Congress has specifically guaranteed to the 2 million public-sector employees across the country who work for the federal government.”

In his statement on Wednesday regarding the AFGE’s lawsuit, Cox said that Congress has laid out clear workplace labor laws to protect organized federal employees in order “to guarantee workers a collective voice in resolving workplace issues and improving the services they deliver to the public every day – whether it’s caring for veterans, ensuring our air and water are safe, preventing illegal weapons and drugs from crossing our borders, or helping communities recover from hurricanes and other disasters.”

The lawsuit, he added, shows that federal employees “will not stand by and let this administration willfully violate the Constitution to score political points.”

Needless to say, many conservative editors and political pundits don’t see it that way. Instead, they claim that these “reforms” are needed to “clean up the mess” in Washington and provide the same degree of “efficiency” that exists in the private sector.

Those elected to Congress are supposed to be our job-site representatives and are supposed to ensure that we are protected by regulations that will help us keep our opportunities in place. Here’s hoping voters can see that the vaunted “efficiency” of the private sector that Mr. Trump and the GOP view as necessary is the cause of off-shoring factor jobs, suppressing wages, and undercutting the opportunities for full-time jobs that provide a living wage and decent benefits.

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