Case closed after DHS drops labor relations plan

After the Homeland Security Department pledged Feb. 15 to scrap new labor relations regulations that would have weakened unions' clout, a federal district court closed a court case regarding the proposed changes paving the way for DHS to move ahead with other parts of its new personnel management system.

Labor unions brought the case in 2005 after the department published — as part of its larger overhaul of its personnel system — plans to revise labor relations regulations, which would have given DHS more autonomy from unions to make employment and management changes.

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), lead plaintiff in the case, touted DHS' move and the subsequent court action as a victory for workers’ rights.

“The labor relations regulations DHS wanted to implement — and that the White House wanted to extend throughout the government — were an effort to reduce employees’ workplace rights and give managers the unfettered discretion to alter fundamental working conditions essentially at will,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said. “DHS should now turn its attention to addressing the severe morale problems that adversely affect the department’s mission.”

DHS said it is addressing employment issues through the ongoing implementation the Human Capital Operations Plan, its new personnel management system. However, lawmakers placed language in the department’s fiscal year 2008 appropriations legislation that prevented the department from spending money on the system until the ongoing litigation was resolved.

With the lawsuit over, Larry Orluskie, a DHS spokesman, said there is an opportunity for the department to move ahead with other portions of its personnel management system plans that are critical in the lead-up to DHS’ first transition to a new administration.

“Now we get to move forward with building a human capital system that will serve the department’s employees,” he said.

NTEU said it will continue to oppose other parts of DHS’ personnel system, including performance management, classification, pay, adverse actions, appeals and the status of Transportation Security Administration employees’ collective bargaining rights.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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