EDITORIAL: Government unions sue to block Donald Trump’s federal workforce reforms

The labor group that represents nearly one-fifth of the nation’s 3.5 million federal workers has concocted a novel legal theory. According to the American Federation of Government Employees, the Constitution demands that American taxpayers pay government workers when they are carrying out union duties. Who knew?

In late May, Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders concerning the federal workforce. The reforms were intended to make it easier to dismiss poorly performing bureaucrats, to encourage managers to consider competency instead of seniority when mulling layoffs and to restrict how much time federal employees could spend on union activities while on the job.

Commonsense and long overdue reforms, all.

Federal union bosses, however, have been fuming over the proposals. Last Friday, the AFGE filed a lawsuit challenging the order directed at curtailing on-the-clock union business. Its lawyers argue the provision violates the First Amendment’s right to freedom of association, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“We will not allow this or any other administration,” said David Borer, general counsel for AFGE, “to trample on the constitutional rights of federal workers.”

That’s certainly a noble objective. But the claim in question should be laughed out of court.

Nobody is denying workers their right to free association. Under the Trump executive order, federal employees remain free to join a labor organization if they so desire and to conduct whatever duties they choose for that outfit. That’s as it should be. But nowhere in the First Amendment’s concise 45 words does it mandate that taxpayers must pay bureaucrats to conduct union business.

Government workers should be free to use accrued paid time off to break from their day jobs in service to their union. At that point, however, the labor organization — not the taxpayers — should be responsible for their compensation. Let’s remember that if public-sector functionaries are carrying out union activities, they aren’t doing the jobs taxpayers are paying them to do.

“Federal employer-employee relations activities,” the administration noted, “currently consume considerable management time and taxpayer resources and may negatively impact efficiency, effectiveness, cost of operations and employee accountability and performance.”

The lawsuit is especially audacious given that labor organizations around the country have traditionally thumbed their noses at protections for freedom of association by vehemently resisting right-to work laws that restrict compulsory union membership. The AFGE’s sudden concern for the right to freely associate is self-serving and selective, to say the least.

The lawsuit is just one of a series of legal efforts by labor groups representing federal workers to challenge the president’s sensible union reforms. In this case, let’s hope the federal courts recognize that U.S. taxpayers have no obligation to subsidize private union activity.

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