Judge blocks DHS' move to new personnel system

A federal judge has forbade the Homeland Security Department from implementing its new personnel management system on the grounds that the changes would eliminate rights and protections that Congress expressly wished DHS employees to have.

Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided last week to enjoin two major elements of DHS’ proposed MaxHR personnel system because it violates the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which created the department.

Foremost, Collyer wrote, MaxHR would gut unions’ ability to collectively bargain with DHS. The act exempted DHS from many civil service restraints but required the new system to protect employees’ collective bargaining rights.

However, Collyer wrote, "DHS has reserved for itself the right to declare any part of any collective bargaining agreement null and void, not only through implementing directives but also whenever management thinks it may be necessary to carry out the department’s mission."

This would put collective bargaining "on quicksand, as the department would retain the right to change the underlying basis for the bargaining relationship and absolve itself of contract obligations while the unions would be bound," the judge continued.

The unions would instantly lose all rights not given in the new regulations. The system also would have emasculated their ability to collectively bargain with management and hold it to those agreements, Collyer wrote. The unions would only have been able to confer with DHS without having any power to make the department change its mind, she wrote.

Collyer also forbade DHS from drastically altering the Federal Labor Relations Authority’s jurisdiction as an independent arbiter of DHS labor disputes. Under MaxHR, the labor relations authority would become a rubber-stamp reviewer of a new Homeland Security Labor Relations Board run by the department, she wrote.

Unions representing tens of thousands of DHS employees are ecstatic about the ruling. “This is a major victory for all employees at [DHS] and across government,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. The union represents more than 14,000 DHS workers.

Kelley sent DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff a letter today requesting a meeting to discuss revising MaxHR.

The ruling "pulls the entire personnel system out of the Dark Ages" and makes it transparent and accountable, said Chuck Showalter, president of the National Homeland Security Council. The council is affiliated with the American Federation of Government Employees, a union with 22,000 DHS employees as members.

As part of the Homeland Security Act, Congress authorized the creation of a new human resources system for DHS. When the final regulations for the proposed system were released in February, the unions sued and later asked Congress to postpone the scheduled Aug. 1 start date.

In July, Congress decided to delay implementation of the new regulations by two weeks, to today, to give the courts time to ascertain whether MaxHR would violate the Homeland Security Act.

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