USDA lawyers feel under siege

With Sabrina Rodriguez, Maya Parthasarathy and Jenny Hopkinson

USDA ATTORNEYS PLAGUED BY LOW MORALE UNDER VADEN: The Trump administration’s nominee for USDA general counsel, Stephen Vaden, is enforcing workplace changes that have led to unusually contentious labor negotiations, several attorneys from across the country told Pro Ag’s Catherine Boudreau. Vaden is serving as principal deputy general counsel while he awaits confirmation, but his lack of management experience and his past work defending state voter ID laws are also raising concerns, lawyers say.

The result is low morale among the more than 250 legal professionals whom Vaden will oversee if the Senate confirms his nomination. Most of the employees in the USDA Office of General Counsel spoke anonymously out of fear of retaliation.

A USDA spokesperson characterized the complaints as “an obvious union negotiation tactic” as the agency brokers a new collective-bargaining agreement. “Clearly, this isn’t about who leads USDA’s Office of General Counsel. USDA does not conduct its negotiations through the pages of POLITICO or any other news publication,” the spokesperson said.

The union, which has 119 members, is negotiating a new labor agreement after OGC management terminated a contract on March 28 that had expired that month. The agency also unilaterally rescinded about a dozen provisions that gave employees benefits they had enjoyed for nearly two decades. Pros, read the full story here.

HAPPY MONDAY, DEC. 4! Welcome to Morning Ag, where one of your hosts has received some great gift suggestions from readers, starting with meat thermometers for cooks and the book “Before We Eat from Farm to Table” to help kids better understand the food supply chain. Have any other gift ideas, news tips or birthday shoutouts? Send them to chaughney@politico.com and @chaughney. Follow the team at @Morning_Ag.

THE PLAYBOOK POWER LIST: 18 TO WATCH IN 2018: The final Playbook Power List of the year highlights 18 politicians, activists and operatives across the country who are poised to make waves in 2018. From the anti-Trump “Resistance” on the left to the far right Bannonite wing trying to remake the GOP, keep an eye on these people over the next 12 months. Click HERE to find out who made the list.

SENATE TAX CUTS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR AG: Read more here…

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