Employee Union Sues Trump Over Order Reclassifying Portion of Career Federal Workforce

Employee Union Sues Trump Over Order Reclassifying Portion of Career Federal Workforce
President Donald Trump participates in the final presidential debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 22, 2020. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Janita Kan

A federal employee union is suing President Donald Trump over his recent executive order that could see federal workers losing civil service protections.

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents about 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments, on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Trump and Michael Rigas, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The union claims that Trump’s executive order issued on Oct. 21 will “radically reshape the civil service by drastically increasing the number and type of employees who are subject to dismissal without adverse action rights.”

The order creates a new classification of federal workers in the excepted service and reclassifies some workers “in positions of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character” into the new category. Workers that fall under the new category would not be protected from “adverse action procedures“ under law, which effectively allows agencies to dismiss employees without many barriers.

The “adverse action procedures” require agencies to follow an extensive process before taking adverse actions against an employee.

The Trump administration explains that an exemption from the procedures is necessary because these requirements make removing “poorly performing employees difficult.”

“Only a quarter of Federal supervisors are confident that they could remove a poor performer,” the executive order states. “Career employees in confidential, policy-determining, policy‑making, and policy-advocating positions wield significant influence over Government operations and effectiveness. Agencies need the flexibility to expeditiously remove poorly performing employees from these positions without facing extensive delays or litigation.”

The union argued that although the executive order states that the exemption is necessary, “it provides no details, data, or justification for this change to removal procedures.”

“It asserts only generalities such as ‘[s]enior agency officials report that poor performance by career employees in policy-relevant positions has resulted in long delays and substandard-quality work for important agency projects, such as drafting and issuing regulations,’” it stated (pdf).
The administration’s move prompted Federal Salary Council Chair Ron Sanders, a Trump appointee, to resign in protest over the order. Sanders characterized the executive order as “nothing more than a smokescreen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the President, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process,” in his resignation letter obtained by media outlets (pdf).
NTEU National President Tony Reardon also criticized the move, claiming that “the president is attempting to run roughshod over the separation of powers and rewrite the law himself in a way that threatens a critical pillar of our democracy.”

The union argues that the president has exceeded his authority when issuing the order and has asked the court to declare the order unlawful and block the Trump administration from enforcing it.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the lawsuit.

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