DHS cuts seniority raises

Homeland Security Department officials unveiled a proposal today that would change the way DHS employees are paid and get raises, eliminating automatic increases for seniority and making it harder to appeal disciplinary actions.

The biggest change would be pay-for-performance increases, which would be awarded by managers to workers based on their work record. In the most sweeping implementation to date of federal pay banding, DHS will have four broad categories of pay levels instead of the government's yearly incremental pay steps.

The traditional geographic differential for high-cost areas such as New York City and Los Angeles would be eliminated. Instead, pay for specific jobs would be established every year based on salaries in the local economy.

Today's proposed regulations would affect 110,000 workers at the department, including 8,000 employees at DHS headquarters who are the first ones slated to be folded into the system by October 2005.

Other proposed changes include limiting appeals of disciplinary actions and establishing an independent DHS panel to review appeals of actions based on mandatory removal offenses.

Officials also want to allow DHS to remove collective bargaining rights when deploying personnel, assigning jobs and using new technology.

The public will have 30 days to respond once the new regulations are published next week, but the rules are not expected to be finalized until a compromise is hammered out by an arbitrator. Janet Hale, DHS undersecretary for management, emphasized that no employee would take a pay cut as a result of these changes. She could not say how soon the system would be fully implemented.

"No individual job will be eliminated because of this new system," Hale said.

Nevertheless, the redesigned personnel system is likely to cause shock waves governmentwide.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, criticized new personnel regulations. He said employees will not be paid enough to maintain an experienced professional workforce.

"Quite naturally, federal workers on the frontlines are upset," Gage said. "The new rules eliminate the ability of employee-elected representatives to bargain about key working conditions. The very people who have the knowledge and the expertise about how to do the job well would no longer have a real voice in decisions, which will not only affect them but the people they protect."

Nevertheless, he said he was encouraged that DHS Secretary Tom Ridge has promised to work with federal employee unions to design the best system.

Gage said it is unfair to eliminate an independent arbitration system on managers' adverse actions toward employees.

"It is our intent to negotiate a new system that is good for the mission, good for the employees and good for the American people," said Gage whose union represents 600,000 federal workers.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the new rules would allow management to make unilateral changes at will to employees' working conditions without their representatives' involvement.

"These proposals reflect a complete lack of appreciation for the skills, experience and dedicated work of frontline employees," Kelley said.

She was especially critical of changes to the labor relations process that include the creation of an internal DHS review board for disputes, rather than using an impartial third-party process.

"No system can work effectively without the key elements of fair treatment for employees," she said, and "in particular, an appeals process that not only affords employees the protections of due process but offers them a credible likelihood that their issues will be dealt with objectively and expeditiously."

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