A federal judge in Washington has struck down keys parts of President Trump's executive orders that would have made it easier to fire federal employees.
The ruling, seen as a victory for public-sector unions, follows the president's signing of three executive orders in May that aimed to give agencies more power in terminating employees deemed poor performers, and encouraged them to renegotiate contracts with unions that represent government employees. The orders also narrowed the definition of "official time" that federal workers in union positions can spend on union business when they're at work.
The Trump administration viewed the orders as a way of saving taxpayers millions of dollars and slimming down government bureaucracy.
But U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled late Friday that the orders exceeded the president's authority.
Jackson wrote in her opinion that the president can issue executive orders over labor-management relations, but not if executive actions conflict with collective bargaining rights guaranteed under federal law.
"And because many of the executive order provisions that the unions challenge here have that effect, this court concludes that the President has overstepped his bounds," Jackson wrote in her 119-page opinion.
Labor leaders celebrated the ruling as an affirmation of the judiciary's ability to check executive action that goes too far.
"President Trump's illegal action was a direct assault on the legal rights and protections that Congress specifically guaranteed to the public-sector employees across this country who keep our federal government running every single day," said J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 700,000 federal employees and workers with the government of the District of Columbia.
Sarah Suszczyk, deputy general counsel at the National Association of Government Employees, told NPR that Trump's executive orders were an "anti-labor, anti-middle class effort" seeking to curtail the influence of employees in the workplace.
"If the administration seeks to have changes in regard to the federal workforce, legislation is the way to do it, not through unlawful executive orders," she said.
Tony Reardon, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the judge's order demonstrates that the president is not above the law. He said the executive orders undermined the federal civil service law.
"Congress meant for unions and agencies to bargain over how official time and grievance procedures can best be used to help employees and agencies work better together," Reardon said. "It was wrong for the President, through unilateral, executive fiat, to ban bargaining over such matters."
The pay of federal employees is set by Congress, but federal public-sector unions are generally considered to have far more strength than private sector unions, which have been declining for years and now represent just about 6.5 percent of the privatized workforce. The public sector, by contrast, has about 34 percent of its workers represented by unions, according to federal labor statistics.
Yet labor advocates worried those numbers would start to erode following a June decision by the Supreme Court that made paying "fair share" dues that covered the cost of collective bargaining optional for public-sector workers who chose not to join the union. The 5-4 ruling was widely considered a major blow to organized labor.
The White House referred questions about the decision on the executive orders to the Department of Justice, which says it is still reviewing the judge's decision and weighing options.