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Public Employee Unions Evicted From Offices As Result Of Trump's Executive Orders


In federal government buildings across the country, public employee unions are being kicked out of offices where they meet with the workers they represent. It's the result of a set of executive orders issued by President Trump in May. Federal unions say the move is aimed at weakening them, and Democrats in Congress agree. NPR's Brian Naylor begins his report with what happened at Local 2809 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The eviction notice went out in early July. Barri Sue Bryant, the local's president, says the union was told to vacate its office at the end of the month. The union represents some 1,200 workers at the Social Security office in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Even their bulletin board had to come down. And while the union knew this was coming, Bryant says workers are confused.

BARRI SUE BRYANT: Now they have to tell their supervisor if they want to talk to a union representative. When we had our office, they would just stop in on their breaks and lunches. So now management knows if they want to seek advice from the union office.

NAYLOR: Bryant says she can still meet with members in the cafeteria, but that's hardly private. The union has offered to rent the office from the government but has not heard back. She says it makes it nearly impossible to represent workers.

BRYANT: Every single day I feel like I'm failing somebody because I know how much interaction I had with the employees before this happened, and I know I have practically none with them now.

NAYLOR: It's not just the Social Security Administration. Unions representing federal agencies across government are facing similar restrictions on their ability to represent workers who may have beefs with their boss or concerns about working conditions or hours. And Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen says the implications go beyond the nation's 2 million or so federal workers.

CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: I think everybody should be concerned about this because over the decades, in fact for a long period of time, one of the things that has distinguished the U.S. government in a positive way has been our professional civil service, who are there to carry out their duties and responsibilities from president to president. And you want to protect the integrity of that process.

NAYLOR: Van Hollen is from Maryland, home to Social Security's headquarters and where many other federal workers live. He says the Social Security Administration went beyond what the president's executive order authorized and broke the contract the union had negotiated.

VAN HOLLEN: At the Social Security Administration the union, the people representing the workers at Social Security Administration, had negotiated for the use of the space so that they could do their job. And the Social Security Administration ripped up that agreement and just ignored it.

NAYLOR: In a statement, the Social Security Administration said it provided each union with appropriate notice and the opportunity to bargain the impact and implementation of the executive orders and that it's working closely with the unions. University of Texas public affairs professor Donald Kettl says the civil service system clearly needs reforms. But Kettl says the Trump administration is also lodging what he calls a frontal assault on public employee unions that benefits no one, least of all taxpayers.

DONALD KETTL: Too often what's happened is that the process of trying to get government's work done has instead degenerated into a kind of nasty trench warfare where the ultimate goals of what we as citizens care about get pushed off to the side in favor of trench warfare battles that in the end nobody's going to win.

NAYLOR: Kettl says instead of picking battles with federal workers, the administration should focus on making it easier to hire new employees and to realign the federal workforce that he says is out of sync with what the government needs. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.