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New restrictions on federal unions attacked in court

The current presidential administration has hit unions pretty hard -- but one is now hitting back in court in order to defend the rights of federal employees.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest union of its kind, has filed a lawsuit over a new executive order that limits the activities of its union representatives during the workday. AFGE's spokesperson says that the order is in violation of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment and Separation of Powers clause. In essence, it destroys the ability of the union to provide effective representation to many federal employees.

This is not the first time that anti-union policies and orders by the current administration have come under fire, but this particular order affects a large body of active union members -- and the fight has just really started.

Under the new orders, a union representative will only be allowed to spend a maximum of one-fourth of their work hours representing employees in things like disputes over wages, leave policies, disability accommodations and disciplinary measures. In fact, the new rules require the union representatives to allow only one hour of representation per year for each employee they're supposed to represent.

It isn't uncommon for large areas to have a union representative who spends most or all of his or her time navigating the conflict-filled issues between managers and employers -- which isn't unreasonable given the tasks he or she has. A single dispute over disability accommodations, for example, could require multiple meetings with the disabled employee, management and others as suitable accommodations are worked out. Now, that disabled employee would be entitled to exactly one hour of representation every year.

Naturally, union reps wouldn't be able to dole out their representation so easily. They'd have to pick and choose which cases to handle based on the number of allowable hours of representation they have -- which would mean many employees would simply not get the representation they need to ensure a fair workplace.

Union representation is about fairness. If representatives are limited in their ability to pursue equal rights for all employees, many more workers will have to seek outside legal representation to protect their interests. That could have negative consequences, in the end, for employers as well.

Source: ThinkProgress.org, "Trump administration sued after trying to gut federal workers' union rights," Danielle McLean, May 31, 2018

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