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Trump effort to overhaul bureaucracy dealt legal setback

WASHINGTON — A federal judge dealt a blow Saturday to President Donald Trump’s efforts to “promote more efficient” government, ruling that key provisions of three recent executive orders “undermine federal employees’ right to bargain collectively” under federal law.

U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said Trump had “exceeded his authority” in issuing the orders.

The White House had no comment and referred questions to the Justice Department, which said it was reviewing the judge’s ruling and considering options. Federal worker unions that had sued to block Trump’s use of his executive authority in this area applauded the outcome.

“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,” said J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest of the federal worker unions.

Cox’s organization, which represents about 700,000 of the approximately 2 million-member federal workforce, was first to challenge the executive orders, filing two lawsuits.

The executive orders, issued by the White House in May, covered collective bargaining rights, grievance procedures and use of “official time.”

Andrew Bremberg, the president’s domestic policy adviser, said at the time that the orders would “promote more efficient government” by overhauling civil service rules to make it easier to remove poor-performing employees and ensure that taxpayer dollars are used more efficiently.

Departments and agencies were directed to engage in tougher negotiations over collective bargaining agreements and to conclude talks in under a year to limit the expense of “drawn-out bargaining.” Contracts were to be renegotiated to limit the amount of time authorized employees could spend on union business during official work hours, known as “official time.”

Lobbying and pursuing grievances on taxpayer-funded union time were to be curtailed, and the orders also aimed to streamline the amount of time needed to terminate a federal worker for poor performance or misconduct. The process currently takes between six months and a year, and can last longer if the employee appeals the dismissal.

The unions argued that the executive orders were illegal because federal law requires the government and federal employee unions to negotiate over such changes.

Jackson agreed, ruling that Trump had overstepped his authority. “This Court finds that these provisions conflict with congressional intent in a manner that cannot be sustained,” she wrote in a 122-page opinion. It was unclear Saturday whether the administration planned to appeal.

“In this Court’s view, these directives undermine federal employees’ right to bargain collectively as protected by” federal law, “and as a result, the President must be deemed to have exceeded his authority in issuing them,” the judge wrote.

Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal government employees, said Congress meant for unions and agencies to bargain over the use of official time and grievance procedures.

“The judge rightly found that the president is not above the law and cannot, through these blatantly anti-union and anti-worker executive orders, eviscerate employee rights and undermine the collective bargaining process established by Congress,” Reardon said.

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