JEFFERSONVILLE — The union that represents Jeffersonville’s federal government employees is encouraging its members to wear red today to protest recent presidential executive orders that target their influence and loosen requirements for firing workers.

The three executive orders, signed by President Donald Trump in May, affect all federal government employees, including the more than 1,000 who work at the U.S. Census Bureau’s Jeffersonville branch.

The Trump administration says the orders are meant to make the government more efficient, according to the Associated Press, while leaders of the largest federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees, say that the rules violate their constitutional rights.

One temporary Jeffersonville Census Bureau employee, who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation, worries that the new rules are a sign that federal employee benefits will continue to degrade, particularly if the Democratic Party cannot win in November's elections. He and his co-workers were unsure if they should "Wear Red for Feds" on Wednesday lest they provoke a reaction from management, despite open conversation from local union representatives about the initiative.

"I don't think it's because [my co-workers are] opposed to the union's concerns so much as they're wondering if, with the current climate this administration is operating on, participation might do more harm than good," the employee said in a text.

The Associated Press reported that Andrew Bremer, the chief domestic policy adviser for President Trump, said that the executive orders are meant to make it easier for agencies to remove poor performing employees and to make sure that taxpayer dollars are efficiently used.

At the time the orders were signed, it took six months to a year plus an average of an 8-month appeal process to dismiss poor performing federal employees, according to the administration. The first of the executive orders gives those poor performers 30 days to demonstrate improvement rather than the previous 120.

The two other executive orders impact unions directly, including Jeffersonville’s AFGE Local 1438. All federal agencies have been instructed to renegotiate contracts with their unions in order to reduce waste and to wrap up those negotiations in less than a year. Federal employees also are no longer allowed to devote more than 25 percent of their work time to union business, which the Trump administration expects will save the country $100 million per year.

The Jeffersonville census employee isn't worried so much about the specifics of the executive order, but what it might mean for the future. As a temporary employee, he is already "dreading" the end of the current contract. He fears that his co-workers that have permanent status might eventually lose that benefit — and be in no better shape than himself.

In reaction to the executive orders, AFGE’s president, J. David Cox, argues that union representatives have worked on projects benefiting taxpayers while on “official time,” including an investigation into a coverup of a 1976 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Pittsburgh. They also use their time to address workplace issues, from sexual harassment to health and safety while on the job.

Cox called the Trump administration’s rules “democracy busting” in a statement.

“These executive orders are a direct assault on the legal rights and protections that Congress has specifically guaranteed to the 2 million public-sector employees across the country who work for the federal government,” he said.

It’s not just Census Bureau employees who might be protesting today. Southern Indiana federal employees work in New Albany at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facility and at a U.S. Social Security Administration office.

Judy Williams, the supervisory public affairs officer for the Louisville VA system, said that the agency would not stop employees from wearing red if they wanted to.

In addition to asking people all across the country to wear red tomorrow, AFGE will host several demonstrations across the United States. The union has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Trump administration in response to the executive orders.

Danielle Grady is the business and economic development reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at danielle.grady@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2137. Follow her on Twitter: @dgrady1222.

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Danielle Grady, a Southern Indiana native and a 2016 Ball State University graduate, is the business and economic development reporter for The News and Tribune. Basically, she writes about your favorite restaurants. Send story tips via email or twitter.

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