Warren Proposes Expanded Collective Bargaining for Federal Employees

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is promising to expand collective bargaining in the federal workforce if elected.

2020 presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is proposing expanding collective bargaining rights for federal employees if she is elected president.

In a recent blog post outlining her campaign platform on the issue, Warren wrote the following:

Guaranteeing public sector workers the right to organize

I will fight to enact the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which ensures that public employees can organize and bargain collectively in every state.

Expanding the rights of federal workers

My administration will immediately rescind the Trump executive orders attacking federal sector unions by restoring the ability to grieve personnel actions, preserving “official time” for unions to represent workers fully, and directing agencies to overturn the limited version of collective bargaining now in place. I will also fight to ensure that federal workers are paid continuously during government shutdowns rather than facing furloughs and no-pay status, and crack down on contracting out services and on the widespread use of temp workers. And I will ensure the right of federal workers to strike.

Ongoing Labor Relations Battles

The labor relations process in the federal workforce has been in the news a lot recently because of President Trump’s three executive orders issued last year.

The court battles have been ongoing with federal employee unions fighting them vociferously since they were issued, however, a federal court recently allowed them to go into effect, and the Office of Personnel Management is encouraging agencies to implement them swiftly. The Department of Veterans Affairs is one agency that has publicly stated it is working on putting them into effect.

Warren said very clearly that she intends to rescind these executive orders if elected. That is, of course, what federal employee unions are hoping for.

By fighting them in court, the unions are hoping they can delay implementing the executive orders at least until the 2020 election on the hope that a Democrat is put into office and the orders are rescinded. If that new president happens to be Elizabeth Warren, then the plan should play out quite nicely for the unions. Not only would these executive orders be eliminated, but she clearly plans to work to expand unionization efforts for the federal workforce, such as giving federal workers the right to strike.

If any of this sounds familiar, it is because it is a similar platform recently espoused by another presidential candidate: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). He supports giving federal employees the right to strike.

The Risks Associated with Striking

Federal employees currently do not have the right to strike and can put their jobs in jeopardy if they were to do so.

One of the most famous incidents that put this to a test was the strike by air traffic controllers within the Federal Aviation Administration in 1981. Almost 13,000 of them went on strike demanding higher pay and fewer work hours, but the move backfired when President Ronald Reagan fired all of them. The FAA began accepting applications for new air-traffic controllers, and the Federal Labor Relations Authority decertified the air traffic controller’s union (PATCO).

The strike also disrupted air travel for obvious reasons, highlighting one potential downside to giving federal workers the right to strike: it can disrupt the day-to-day functions within the federal government if federal employees walk off the job.

It isn’t clear from Warren’s proposal if she has a plan in place to address the economic disruptions that would result if federal employees within an agency or industry were to strike. If anything, she seemed to support the idea of having day-to-day operations disrupted indefinitely within an industry.

In discussion of her support of 20 work stoppages that took place in 2018, she wrote, “My plan builds on these efforts and further empowers workers by: banning the permanent replacement of strikers; protecting the rights of workers to engage in repeated, short-term strikes — sometimes called pattern or intermittent strikes — by appointing NLRB members who recognize that such strikes are legal under the NLRA; and committing to a very high standard for intervening in strikes in all industries.”

Any prospective voters looking for expanded labor relations rights for federal workers will have at least two candidates to consider in next year’s election. Clearly, Warren’s platform is designed to garner support of federal employee unions, and federal employees would see expanded labor relations efforts under her administration.

Do you think that expanding collective bargaining in the federal workforce would be beneficial to federal workers and/or to the rest of the country? Feel free to debate the pros and cons of these proposals in the comments below.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.