Defense unions seek legislative solution for NSPS

Officials representing Defense Department labor unions say they will seek legislative changes in the department’s new personnel system rather than put their hope in future court rulings.

“It’s just not going to happen for there to be a legal fix,” said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). “This begs for a solution and has to be a legislative solution. We’re going to be working the Hill very hard to let senators know that it’s going to be their responsibility to fix this.”

On May 18 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a ruling a lower court issued last year that nullified portions of DOD’s National Security Personnel System (NSPS). In its 2-1 decision in the case, AFGE v. Gates, a three-judge panel of the appeals court said the way NSPS was designed and implemented provided appropriate due process and protections for employees.

Mark Roth, general counsel for AFGE, said the union would petition for an en banc, or full court, review of the decision. But he added that getting such a review would be an uphill battle.

“I say it would be an uphill battle because you need six of the 10 active judges on the [appeals] court to choose to accept the case,” he said. “The statistics show that more often than not it’s not granted.”

At a news briefing May 21, officials from the United Defense Workers Coalition, a group of 40 unions that represents civilian Defense workers, denounced the appeals court ruling and vowed to fight to repeal portions of the law that they say undermine employees’ basic rights, including collective bargaining.

“You can’t make something wrong right, no matter how many judges rule,” said Ron Ault, president of the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. “You’ve got a circumstance here where you take away the basic workplace rights of civilian workers who are the absolute fabric and backbone of our national defense workers.”

Greg Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said the ruling represented “a tremendous dark day for all of American workers, not just for Defense-related civilian employees.”

On May 17 the House took a step toward the legislative remedy that the unions seek by approving its fiscal 2008 Defense authorization bill. The legislation includes language that would strike down major portions of the NSPS. Gage has urged the Senate to follow suit and pass a similar bill.

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