Conferees' report revamps NSPS; unions optimistic about Bush signature

House and Senate conferees approved language in the fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization Conference Report Dec. 7 that would restore collective-bargaining rights and adverse-action appeal rights to thousands of Defense Department civilian workers covered by the National Security Personnel System.

The report's language represents a fundamental change in NSPS. It leaves intact DOD’s ability to implement a performance-based pay system, but it also guarantees that NSPS workers would get 60 percent of the annual raise most federal workers get under the government’s General Schedule system. Only the remaining 40 percent of the pay adjustment would be based on performance evaluations by supervisors.

The report also removes blue-collar workers from the system entirely.

The government’s labor unions applauded the action. “We believe these changes greatly improve the personnel system over its previous form,” said Richard Brown, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE). “The plan that DOD came up with was never going to fly with the rank-and-file Defense employees and the plan would never be a success without buy-in from those participating in it.”

However, union officials cautioned that NSPS is still far from perfect, even with the changes in the conferees’ report. “But at least some common sense has been restored,” Brown said.

Officials at the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers commented that although pay for performance is still in place for unionized workers under NSPS, management must be “willing to bargain impact and implementation of such a system.”

The House and Senate are likely to vote on the bill this week and to send it to President Bush for his signature. Union officials are hopeful that the changes included in the conference report will become law.

“Right now, we’ve got great conference report language but it’s got to be passed by the House and Senate and then signed by the president,” said Randy Erwin, legislative director at NFFE. “From what we were hearing, there was some hate-crimes language [in the original bills] that seemed to be the most likely provision to draw a veto but that was not included in the conference report. So given what’s in there, we are optimistic that [Bush] will sign it.”

Federal unions have been contesting NSPS in court for more than two years. In 2006 a ruling by a U.S. District Court judge gutted provisions in the law that relate collective bargaining, adverse actions and labor relations, but earlier this year the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld NSPS regulations and overturned the lower-court ruling.

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