3/04/2020 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to stand up for workers’ rights and organized labor, the entire Senate Democratic Caucus today sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper urging the Pentagon to uphold workplace protections and safeguard the collective bargaining rights of Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees. 

Led by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, and U.S. Senator Gary C. Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, the letter comes on the heels of a Trump Administration Memorandum granting Secretary Esper the power to abolish collective bargaining rights for DoD’s 750,000 civilian workers, which includes a diverse blue collar workforce made up of janitors, firefighters, food service workers, teachers, depot maintenance technicians, welders, and many other professionals. 

The Presidential Memorandum, which was signed by President Trump on January 29 and first reported by Government Executive on February 8, suggests that a unionized Defense Department workforce could pose a threat to “national security” and that, if necessary, collective bargaining rights for these employees could be eliminated.

And an earlier story published by Politico notes that “A senior White House labor adviser encouraged President Donald Trump to eliminate all job protections for federal workers.”

The 47 Senators write: “We support efforts that strengthen our national security, however this Memorandum represents a serious incursion on federal employees’ collective bargaining rights and sets a dangerous precedent in suggesting that those rights somehow compromise our national security. We urge you to exercise great restraint in using this new authority and continue to maintain the historically productive relationship that DOD has with its employee unions.”

Secretary Esper recently testified before the House Armed Services Committee that he did not request this authority, did not know why the White House drafted it, and has never indicated that existing collective bargaining agreements have prevented DoD from carrying out its mission. 

After the Secretary of Defense declined to say how he would wield this new authority, telling the House Armed Services Committee that he would wait for staff analysis and recommendations, the Senators sent their letter to Secretary Esper flatly stating: “We strongly discourage you from taking steps to eliminate the statutorily-granted collective bargaining rights of DOD civilians.”

In their letter to Secretary Esper, the Senators note that unionized workers have benefited DoD and enhanced national security, writing: “There is no evidence that the presence of unionized employees has ever had any negative impact on DOD’s national security mission. In fact, DOD and its unions have always had a mutually beneficial partnership. Unions have helped draw attention to health and safety hazards, as well as instances of waste, fraud, and abuse on the part of contractors. Moreover, a unionized workforce allows DOD to recruit and retain highly-skilled employees who might otherwise work elsewhere. In short, we believe that the Department’s unionized workforce has enhanced our security, not detracted from it. President Trump’s Memorandum arbitrarily and needlessly threatens this positive relationship.”

Full text of the letter follows:

March 4, 2020

The Honorable Mark T. Esper
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301

Dear Secretary Esper:

We write to express our concerns regarding President Trump’s January 29, 2020 Memorandum to the Department of Defense (DOD), “Delegation of Certain Authority under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute.” We support efforts that strengthen our national security, however this Memorandum represents a serious incursion on federal employees’ collective bargaining rights and sets a dangerous precedent in suggesting that those rights somehow compromise our national security. We urge you to exercise great restraint in using this new authority and continue to maintain the historically productive relationship that DOD has with its employee unions. 

DOD has successfully bargained with its unionized workers under various arrangements since 1962, and DOD civilian employees have been included in the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute since its inception in 1978. During that time, America has been engaged in many international conflicts and national emergencies. There is no evidence that the presence of unionized employees has ever had any negative impact on DOD’s national security mission. In fact, DOD and its unions have always had a mutually beneficial partnership. Unions have helped draw attention to health and safety hazards, as well as instances of waste, fraud, and abuse on the part of contractors. Moreover, a unionized workforce allows DOD to recruit and retain highly-skilled employees who might otherwise work elsewhere. In short, we believe that the Department’s unionized workforce has enhanced our security, not detracted from it. President Trump’s Memorandum arbitrarily and needlessly threatens this positive relationship.

The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute of 1978 is the cornerstone of our civil service, and it clearly states that labor organizations and collective bargaining in the federal sector “safeguards the public interest.” Stripping long-included employees of the statute’s protections is counterproductive to DOD’s national security mission, and the President’s Memorandum fails to articulate why such a drastic change is necessary. We strongly discourage you from taking steps to eliminate the statutorily-granted collective bargaining rights of DOD civilians.

Sincerely,