July 16 (UPI) -- A U.S. appeals court overturned Tuesday a lower court's ruling blocking three executive orders workforce unions have been fighting against being implemented.
President Donald Trump signed the executive orders in May of last year, which made it easier to fire workers by cutting back on what the White House called "taxpayer-funded union time" to prepare and pursue grievances. U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson struck down key parts of all three executive orders in August, finding that they stripped federal employees of collective bargaining rights.
The Trump administration appealed Jackson's ruling, arguing that federal employee unions should have taken the matter to the Federal Labor Relations Authority first.
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel on the appeals court agreed with the Trump administration, overturning the lower court's ruling on jurisdictional grounds.
"We reverse [the District Court decision] because the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction," U.S. Circuit Court Judge Thomas Griffith for the D.C. Circuit wrote. "The unions must pursue their claims through the scheme established by the statute, which provides for administrative review by the FLRA followed by judicial review in the court of appeals."
A union representing federal sector employees put out a statement that the ruling was unfair and workers would continue to fight.
"Federal workers will continue to defend each other and our rights in the workplace," said Paul Shearon, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers in the statement. "We lost a court decision today -- but one unfair ruling won't prevent us from keeping up a fight that has gone on for decades, for fair treatment and dignity in federal workplaces."
Unions had argued that the executive orders had crippled the FLRA's ability to review their claims, and the appellate court would have to follow the FLRA's own administrative jurisdiction, making it unable to rule on claims of constitutional or statutory violations.
However, Griffith said the appeals court could resolve those claims "even if the FLRA could not."
Still, filing unfair labor practices before the FLRA board poses some challenges. The FLRA's general counsel is required to vet all unfair labor practice complaints before they go to the board, and the agency hasn't had a Senate confirmed general counsel for more than two years.
Trump's pick for the post, Catherine Bird, had a confirmation hearing Tuesday morning, but if she is confirmed, she could still choose not to issue an unfair labor practice complaint, tabling the issue.
While Trump's executive orders were delayed, his administration has tried to reach the same goal agency by agency, Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson said. These efforts have included the Environmental Protections Agency and Park Service efforts to cut union time, resulting in unfair labor practice complaints.