How the Trump Administration Is Reining in the EPA’s Union

WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES - 2018/11/12: The Environmental Protection Agency building in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Writing for Mother Jones, Kevin Drum takes issue with my Corner post from earlier this week on the recent Gallup survey showing a short-term increase in Americans who describe themselves as “pro-life.” Drum notes that Gallup’s own analysis of the survey states, “Little has changed over the past year, or even over the past 10 years, in Americans’ basic outlook on abortion.” He also argues that public opinion toward life issues has remained fairly constant since the 1970s, concluding that “nothing is changing, and there’s no special reason to think it ever will.”

Drum’s analysis contains a few key flaws. For one thing, Gallup and other research groups are not always objective analysts of public-opinion trends, and they don’t always choose the best questions to accurately represent and quantify the complexity of public attitudes on abortion. Pollsters frequently ask about attitudes toward the Roe v. Wade decision, the responses to which make it appear as if Americans are more supportive of legal abortion than they are based on their responses to other questions. Polling groups nearly always ask respondents to identify as either “pro-life” or “pro-choice” — and up until ten years ago “pro-choice” nearly always outpolled “pro-life” — but they ask questions about incremental pro-life policies, such as limiting late-term abortions, considerably less often. Those types of policies tend to receive broad public support.

Meanwhile, it’s important to note how the politics and policy of abortion have changed considerably over the last 45 years, so it’s not easy to compare public attitudes today with public opinion in the 1970s. Instead, public opinion beginning in the early 1990s is an important benchmark, because it was an historic low point for the pro-life movement. In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and failed to overturn Roe v. Wade. Later that year, Bill Clinton, who supported legal abortion, was elected president. Polls showed that the pro-life position was losing ground in the court of public opinion, and many on the right called for the Republican party to abandon its platform plank opposing abortion. Some Republicans believed that pro-choice GOP governors such as Bill Weld, Christine Todd Whitman, and Pete Wilson were the future of the party.

Much has changed in the past 25 years. Now, the GOP is almost uniformly pro-life at the federal level, and there is no discussion of removing the pro-life plank from the party platform. Over the same time period, the number of abortion facilities decreased, while the number of pregnancy-resource centers has increased. The abortion rate in the United States has fallen by 44 percent since 1991, in part because a higher percentage of unintended pregnancies are being carried to term. And data from a number of surveys including Gallup and the General Social Survey (GSS) show long-term, durable gains in pro-life sentiment.

Beginning in the 2000s, for instance, the GSS has found that young adults are the age demographic least supportive of legal abortion, and survey research more broadly indicates that younger Americans are more likely than older Americans to support pro-life laws such as 20-week abortion bans. Even the short-term gain in Americans identifying as “pro-life” in this year’s Gallup poll is noteworthy, examined in the context of this year’s policy debates.4

Several states, including Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri, have passed legislation providing substantive legal protection for unborn human beings. Meanwhile, states such as New York, Vermont, and Illinois have enacted laws making abortion more widely accessible later in pregnancy, in some cases even defining it as a “fundamental right.” Nearly every Democratic presidential candidate has publicly opposed the Hyde amendment, which limits direct funding of abortion with taxpayer dollars. The fact that more Americans are calling themselves “pro-life” while the abortion issue is receiving so much attention in public discussion might well be evidence that arguments against abortion are resonating with the pu

With the upcoming White House-sponsored ceremony honoring the U.S. military on the National Mall, this Independence Day will look a little different in Washington, D.C.

A quick scan of headlines, opinion columns, and social media shows this is apparently quite upsetting to many in the political class. But to borrow the oft-used social media exclamation, “I’m sorry, I thought this was America.”

The reaction to the president’s Fourth of July plans has been a textbook case illustrating the disconnect between the “elites” and the majority of Americans.

In addition to the usual festivities on the National Mall, the White House is hosting “Salute to America,” an event specially focused on honoring the military, which will feature flyovers by the F-22 Raptor, the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, and the Navy’s Blue Angels; various armored vehicles stationed around the area for tourists to see up-close; and remarks from the president himself.

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Controversial, right?

The political commentariat seems to think so. “The president is fulfilling, sort of scratching, a long-term itch to have a military parade on the taxpayer dime,” opined John Avlon on CNN Wednesday morning.

The Washington Post’s James Hohmann claims, “This is not the first federal holiday Trump has politicized,” while drawing a not-so-subtle comparison between the event and the antics of adversarial dictators:

Trump seems to sincerely believe that tanks, jets and brute force are what make a country great. … The hard truth is that even the most odious regimes in the world are perfectly capable of rolling tanks into their capitals.

The bad takes don’t stop there, however. Responding to a photo of several armored vehicles being trucked into D.C. for the event, former CIA analyst Nada Bakos tweeted late Wednesday, “In a democracy, a military show of force is an indicator things aren’t going well.”

>>> It’s Actually OK to Be Proud of the Military on Independence Day

Not to be outdone, Sarah McLaughlin of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education tweeted, “Nothing signifies celebration of a holiday about breaking free from an oppressive government better than ‘tanks in the streets.’”

These examples of partisan sniping raise the simple question: What exactly is wrong with such a celebration?

Tuesday’s USA Today headline sums it up perfectly: “Trump’s 4th of July military show has visitors pumped, but critics slam it as an ego trip.”

It might be easy for those in “the swamp” to take for granted what the military does every day, and how they do it. As a veteran, the same is sometimes true for me.

We make a grave mistake, however, when we assume that Americans as a whole—indeed, those who make up the “true” America outside the Beltway—aren’t interested. We are wrong to assume they don’t appreciate every chance to show their gratitude for what the military does on a daily basis.

Part of the rich American tradition is celebrating those who not only secured our freedom more than two centuries ago, but who have stood up every day and every night since to maintain it.

>>> America’s Long History of Military Parades

It is wholly appropriate to emphasize the military’s vital role in our ongoing independence, and to give Americans the opportunity to see for themselves what our service members are doing with their tax dollars.

Indeed, while Washington Post’s Hohmann is correct that military might alone does not a great nation make, a strong and vibrant military—under the leadership of a commander in chief elected by the people—is the first line of defense against all threats to our nation and our Constitution, and a deterrent to an array of evils abroad.

That’s why the meltdown over “Salute to America” is so dissonant. Not only has our nation’s capital hosted numerous such celebrations of our military before—as CBS’ Maj. Mike Lyons points out—but getting so stridently upset just because Trump is doing so lacks a certain sense of perspective:

If you are losing your mind and your 4th of July is ‘ruined’ because two tanks, a Bradley, a recovery vehicle and maybe a few HUMVEEs are going to be on the National Mall tomorrow, just stay in bed under the covers until it’s over.

“But Trump is politicizing the military,” some argue.

This makes little sense. Is the president truly supposed to remain silent on the day most central to our national identity? Is it wrong for his administration to take the initiative in emphasizing the military’s importance to that identity?

If this was truly just a political stunt, one would expect a far more robust list of assets on display, or even a true military parade, like those in France every Bastille Day.

“Salute to America” is about one thing: reminding our nation of those who stand vigilant in defense of our liberty. It’s about honoring those who have given, and continue to give, so much for our nation. And it’s about remembering why we can celebrate this day year after year.

Instead of making it political, let’s focus on those things.


The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new collective bargaining agreement last week that has outraged the main labor union representing EPA employees.

According to the president of the union—the American Federation of Government Employees—the EPA is “trampling on federal employees’ rights and ignoring the law” with the new agreement.

So what are the draconian provisions that have the union so exercised?

Well, perhaps the biggest change is that EPA employees will have an automatic right to work from home only one day a week instead of two. But the reason the union is up in arms has less to do with working conditions and more to do with losing its own taxpayer-financed perks.

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Unlike private-sector unions, which have to charge their members (including some forced members) full price in order to finance themselves, federal employee unions are in large part financed by taxpayers who pay for all sorts of things, such as union office space within government buildings.

Tax dollars have even paid for federal workers to spend up to 100% of their time working for their union.

The new collective bargaining agreement brings an end to that. It cuts union office space in federal buildings and the use of conference rooms, internet, and other amenities, all of which the union used to receive totally free of charge.

The Trump administration is also taking on the EPA union’s most generous subsidy: taxpayer-funded manpower.

Under the old collective bargaining agreement, the EPA allowed employees to conduct union business during regular working hours while being compensated at their regular wage—a practice that is common throughout the federal government, called “official time.” 

Indeed, many employees spend their entire workday doing union business and never doing what their actual job title suggests. These employees are, for all intents and purposes, full-time union reps being paid a government wage to not do their job.

Often, the employees that do this are among the most highly trained and highly paid. For instance, until recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs paid 400physicians, dentists, nurses, and physician assistants to work for the union instead of helping veterans.

The new agreement between the EPA and the employee union does not completely do away with official time, but it does curtail it significantly.

Employees at the agency will now be required to do the job they were hired to perform 75% of the time they are on the clock. And, to prevent the union from simply spreading the same amount of official time across more employees, the new agreement caps the agency-wide total of official time as well.

The agreement also limits the sort of activities federal employees can do while on official time. Under the new agreement, employees will not be able to use official time to combat disciplinary actions taken by EPA management and supervisors unless they are defending themselves.

This does not mean the union can’t defend its members. It just means it has to spend its own membership dues, rather than taxpayer dollars, to perform these services.

Of course, the American Federation of Government Employees—the largest federal employee union, which donated $9.5 million to Democrats in the 2016 election cycle compared to only $100,000 for Republicans—would prefer to use its membership dues for other things.

The union complains that all of these provisions were unilaterally imposed by the administration. And to some extent, it’s right. It did not agree to these terms. But that’s because it walked away from the negotiating table years ago.

Federal law demands that both the agency and the union engage in collective bargaining in a good-faith effort to reach an agreement. In this case, the union did not even come close.

In fact, the union walked away from negotiations before they even began, refusing to negotiate unless the agency accepted a set of “ground rules” that protected every substantive provision of the old agreement. That was unrealistic and hardly in good faith.

This is becoming a familiar story by now. Federal employee unions are currently in the midst of legal battles over collective bargaining agreements at the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Social Security Administration.

If they get in front of the right judge, they just might win. Even when the law isn’t on their side, they have a strong track record of winning in front of activist Obama-appointed judges.

But, in the long run, the union’s all-or-nothing tactics are doomed to fail. Public-sector unions in general, and the American Federation of Government Employees in particular, do their members no favors by refusing to engage in any serious conversation with agency leadership about the state of the civil service.

Good government groups on both sides of the political aisle are dialoguing about how to update a decades-old bureaucracy built for a bygone era. Not since the 1970s has there been more bipartisan agreement that serious reform is needed.

Labor unions are not part of this exchange, however, because they prefer to throw bombs and cold water than offer any practical solutions. The reform agenda that is currently galvanizing in their absence will soon blindside them.

The climate has changed, and the EPA fight is just the beginning.

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