Britain’s economy nearly came to a standstill in the late 1970s as a result of a contagion known as the British Disease — endless work stoppages, slowdowns and strikes called by militant trade unions. Company owners and managers had to secure prior approval from union bosses before carrying out even the most routine workplace tasks.
As a result, productivity plummeted and exports of once-popular British products such as cars and motorcycles dropped sharply or disappeared entirely. Economic growth stagnated, investors fled overseas and the country’s standard of living declined.
The fever was broken only after voters awarded Margaret Thatcher with a massive Tory landslide in 1979. She then stood firm during the unions’ ensuing miners’ strike, ultimately enabling her to push major reforms through Parliament, including new limits on trade unionism and its power in the management of British firms.
Sadly, an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2009 has injected a massive dose of the British Disease into the daily operation of the U.S. federal government. Executive Order 13522 is innocuously titled “Creating Labor-Management Forums to Improve Delivery of Government Services.” The reality is that the only thing improved will be the ability of federal employee union bosses to tell managers of government departments and agencies what they can and cannot do.
What makes this an even more extraordinary turn of events, however, is the fact that the Obama administration has empowered union bosses to exercise this new power behind closed doors without fear of exposure via the Freedom of Information Act.
The executive order established the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations, which oversees implementation of the new policy with labor-management forums within federal departments and agencies. The forums are the formal vehicle by which union bosses — who might or might not be federal employees — will impose their will on federal managers, including cabinet secretaries and independent agency heads.
According to a recently distributed guidance memorandum signed by Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry and Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients, federal managers must “allow pre-decisional involvement with unions in all workplace matters to the fullest extent practicable, without regard to whether those matters are negotiable subjects of bargaining.”
Use of the term “pre-decisional” means documents produced prior to a specific policy decision are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. And requiring federal managers to involve union bosses on all matters regardless of whether they are negotiable under the law effectively gives them a veto on virtually any workplace issue.
Such power represents the essence of the British Disease. And thanks to Obama, it is now established policy in the federal workplace. It took the trade unions less than two decades to bring Britain to her knees. It probably will not take America’s federal employee unions that long to accomplish the same result in government.