Suit planned over DOD system

Labor organizations representing the Defense Department's 650,000 civilian workers condemned new National Security Personnel System (NSPS) regulations as "union busting" and some of the largest unions plan to sue DOD after the rules are published Feb. 14 in the Federal Register.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) said in a statement that NSPS "has significantly narrowed employees' rights to collective bargaining and all but eliminated the due process rights that enable employees to speak with confidence when they see wrongdoing or mismanagement."

AFGE, the Association of Civilian Technicians, the Laborers' International Union, the National Association of Government Employees and the National Federation of Federal Employees said they will file suit in federal court that will challenge the new work rules on a statutory basis.

The unions said that the Pentagon is violating the National Defense Authorization Act of 2004, which created NSPS, by refusing to consult with the unions prior to issuing the proposed regulations.

Navy Secretary Gordon England, who oversees NSPS, said during a DOD press briefing yesterday that the enabling legislation allows the department to consult with the unions during a 30-day comment period that starts once the regulations are published. Pentagon officials plan to have 300,000 workers covered by NSPS this July.

Joyce Frank, an NSPS spokeswoman said DOD employees and their unions have had ample opportunities to provide input into the NSOS regulations. She said this included "extensive and fruitful discussions on potential options for the design of the system." She added that in several areas the proposed regulations reflect the interests and concerns that were voiced during those discussions.

Details of the NSPS plan provided at the Pentagon this week and on the NSPS Web site show the proposal "expands nonnegotiable management rights" and "prohibits bargaining over procedures in exercising core management rights but management will consult with unions" with a caveat that agreement with unions is not required.

The new regulations also will give DOD managers wider latitude in dealing with civilian personnel. "Nothing delays management's ability to accomplish its mission," the briefing slides state. England said the agency needs new flexibility to perform its national security mission.

"We need to be able to pull resources and move resources and reassign people, "England said. He added, "We need to do what is necessary to respond to the threat that emerges and the threat that we face every day. So we need this flexibility in the workforce."

Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional Technical Engineers, said that in his view, NSPS "is designed for the purpose of destroying the civil service as we know it today." He added, "As a labor leader who holds the right of collective bargaining dear ... this is, simply stated, a perfect example of union busting."

Labor disputes will be handled by a new three-member National Security Labor Relations Board (NSLRB) appointed by the secretary of Defense, according to the NSPS briefing slides, with "one-stop shopping for resolution of labor disputes, including unfair labor practices, scope of bargaining and duty to bargain disputes, negotiation impasse and arbitration exceptions."

Ron Sanders, associate director for human resources policy at the Office of Personnel Management, said at the Feb. 10 press briefing that DOD personnel will still be covered by the Merit Systems Protection Board, which adjudicates federal employee removals, demotions and long-term suspensions.

"The MSPB stays in place," Sanders said. "It is still available by the law that established [NSPS]. It is still available for employees to appeal."

An NSPS fact sheet states that DOD employees will still also have the right to appeal any decisions in federal courts.

The new NSPS regulations and arbitration procedures will do little to protect whistleblowers, said Mark Roth, AFGE's general counsel. Under the proposed system, DOD managers will have "new ways to retaliate against employees who challenge management decisions," he said. "What will become of employees who blow the whistle on pork-loaded military contracts, or who speak on behalf of soldiers in need of equipment?"

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