Unions sue over NSPS

Ten labor unions representing 325,000 Defense Department civilian employees filed a lawsuit to delay establishment of DOD's National Security Personnel System (NSPS) for civilian employees.

The suit charges that neither DOD nor the Office of Personnel Management engaged in the kind of collaboration required by Congress before implementing the system, which is scheduled to go live in July. The lawsuit names Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and OPM Director Dan Blair as plaintiffs. It was filed by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents 200,000 civilian Pentagon workers and nine other unions representing another 125,000 civilian DOD employees.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 23 in the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that Rumsfeld and Blair developed NSPS with secret groups working behind closed doors absent meaningful discussions with employees and their representatives, as required by Congress.

John Gage, AFGE national president, said in a statement that "in the 10 meetings we had with DOD officials, we were never permitted to go beyond the superficial, resulting in a personnel system that will compromise national security, and which has grave implications for safety of America's fighting men and women."

The unions based their suit on their interpretation of clauses in the Defense Authorization Act of 2004, which called for the establishment of a new civilian personnel system at DOD. Besides AFGE, the other unions are the Association of Civilian Technicians, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the Laborers International Union of North America, the Metal Trades Department of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, the National Association of Government Employees, the National Federation of Federal Employees, and the United Power Trades Organization.

That act stated that the Defense secretary and OPM director should develop a proposed personnel system "in collaboration with and in a manner that ensures the participation of employee representatives in the development and implementation of the labor management relations system." The act also mandated that the collaboration begin 60 days after the law's Nov. 24, 2003, passage and that employee representatives should have at least 30 days to review proposals for a new system.

According to the lawsuit, Rumsfeld and Blair said they would establish NSPS through a formal notice and rulemaking process, but then asserted this process prohibited DOD from revealing or discussing preliminary or final drafts of the proposed labor system before publication of the final regulations.

Pentagon officials said they had a broad-based, collaborative effort with unions to develop the regulations. "This included a number of meetings with employee representatives involving extensive and fruitful discussions on potential options for the design of the system," Bradley Bunn, NSPS' deputy program executive officer, said in a statement. "In several areas, the proposed regulations reflect the interests and concerns that were voiced during those consultation sessions."

The new regulations would include pay for performance rules that have drawn the ire of the labor unions, expand nonnegotiable management rights and replace the General Schedule pay grade system with a new pay band one.

The unions in their suit said that Rumsfeld and Blair breached their duty required by Congress to develop NSPS in collaboration with employees and did not start meaningful discussions within the 60-day period required in the 2004 Defense Authorization bill.

The unions asked the court to require Rumsfeld and Blair to disclose the work and draft proposals of the secret working groups and mandate meaningful discussions. The suit also asked the court to enjoin DOD and OPM from establishing NSPS until Rumsfeld and Blair fully comply with the act's labor relations system requirements.

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