Federal employees protest Trump's executive orders in Detroit

Blake Alsup
The Detroit News
American Federation of Government Employees hold a rally Wednesday in front of the McNamara Federal Building in Detroit concerning President Trump's executive orders.

Detroit — Dozens of federal workers protested three executive orders issued by President Donald Trump in late May at a rally Wednesday in the city's downtown.

More than 100 protesters were demonstrating outside the McNamara Federal Building as part of a rally hosted by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

The three orders allegedly causing federal workers problems were issued on May 25. They deal with issues ranging from employees with disabilities, training and overtime to employees’ rights to protection against retaliation and discrimination.

Participants Wednesday wore red shirts while holding signs and posters, many with the hashtag "#RedForFeds" written at the bottom. Chants of "Hey hey, ho ho, union busting has got to go" and a "show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!" call and response were led by organizers with megaphones.

Jeffrey White, an employee at the VA Medical Center in Ann Arbor and president of the AFGE local 2092 chapter, led many of the chants. He represents 2,400 bargaining employees and said the executive orders take away the union's right to represent during duty time.

"This normally goes through legislation and Congress, and we vote on this," White said. "It’s been a long time coming that we were able to represent our employees, and for it to just be taken away with the stroke of a pen and an executive order, we don't’ think that’s the way it should happen."

The AFGE said the orders are "removing checks and balances in the federal civil service and opening employees up to retaliation, discrimination and unjust termination" in a post on their website.

They affect "official time" union representatives can use in the workplace, collective bargaining and removal procedure/merit principles which AFGE said "targets employees’ rights to protection against retaliation, discrimination and unfair termination, suspension and performance evaluation."

One of Trump's orders deals with collective bargaining. According to the AFGE, it targets how unions negotiate workplace protocols such as reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, employee training, overtime, working from home and flexible work schedules.

Another order is about transparency, accountability and efficiency of taxpayer-funded union time use. According to AFGE, that one limits the legally mandated representation of employees in the workplace, such as filing a grievance on an employee's behalf challenging an unfair termination.

The third order makes changes to removal procedures and merit principles. It targets employees’ rights to protection against retaliation, discrimination and unfair termination, suspension, and performance evaluation, which essentially gives managers the authority to discriminate and retaliate, according to AFGE.

Arthur Wheaton, director of Western New York Labor and Environmental Programs for the Worker Institute at Cornell University, said managers, not lower-level employees, benefit from the executive orders.

"I do not believe they are beneficial to workers in any way, shape or form," he said.

Wheaton said he thinks Trump has proven to be against unions in his own business dealings and that is part of the rationale behind signing these orders.

"He’s run into issues in the past where he tends to want to order people to do whatever he wants for whatever reason he wants," Wheaton said. 

Paul Veselnak, president of the local 1658 chapter of AFGE in Warren, represents more than 4,000 Department of Defense employees in southeastern Michigan.

One of the biggest issues is the order limiting the amount of time used for union work while on duty.

"What these executive orders do is say ‘OK, you’re still required to represent everybody, but you can’t use official time to do that,'" Veselnak said. "So when do we do that? Saturdays, Sundays, weekends?"

Veselnak said union business basically has to happen on the workers' own time now. Each worker present on Wednesday was there on their own time, as well, and Veselnak stressed that the rally was not a strike. 

"We’re not on government time right now," Veselnak said. "We’re on our own time, on public property expressing our First Amendments rights."

Most of the employees requested the day off or stopped by on their lunch breaks.

Monique Buchanan works for the Social Security Administration in downtown Detroit. She used a vacation day to attend the rally.

"It is important that federal workers have the ability to perform their duties without being concerned about termination at any point and their union reps not being able to represent them," Buchanan said.

She pointed out the important services the Social Security Administration provides such as providing benefit payments, issuing and replacing social security cards and providing benefits/Medicare services to children and the elderly. Buchanan said the federal workforce is important and should be focused on work rather than the executive orders' effects.

"The executive orders that were implemented are illegal," Buchanan said. "It hurts federal workers. It hinders our ability to perform our duties and our duties consist of serving the public of this country."