The election of Donald Trump is bringing lots of changes to Washington — many federal workers are contending with a hiring freeze and limits on what they say to the public.
It’s very hard to interview federal workers right now, because they’re afraid of getting reprimanded – even fired. The Environmental Protection Agency told employees to send press inquiries to management, and it froze social media activity. The White House said there’s no official gag order. Still, there’s a lot of fear.
“We’re living in an apprentice reality – you’re fired!" said John O’Grady, a 30-year EPA employee and president of the American Federation of Government Employees’ EPA Council. "Yeah – people are scared, so they’re not going to talk.”
O’Grady said some of these frightened workers who aren’t part of the union are coming to him for advice, and joining the union.
“A lot of them were people that I thought would never join," he said. "But they saw the writing on the wall, and they said, 'You know, I gotta join now.'”
O’Grady said at least 200 EPA employees have joined the union since the election.
National Treasury Employees Union President Anthony Reardon is anticipating an uptick in membership. He said maybe the Trump administration will end up making his union stronger. And he was happy to see President Donald Trump meeting with unionized construction and manufacturing workers the first week of his administration.
“I hope that is actually an indication of how he plans to deal with all unions," Reardon said. "Many union households were very supportive of President Trump. So I hope he will keep that in mind as he’s dealing with unions.”
Organized labor is watching how Trump interacts with public employees and how their unions respond.
“I think everyone is paying careful attention to see if there is going to be a successful strategy, or if there is going to be a strategy that kind of blows up and what to avoid,” said Brad Hershbein, an economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
Hershbein said one thing is already clear: Some unions for federal workers are winners, like border patrol agents, who are an important part of Trump’s agenda. Others, like the union representing the EPA, are worried.