The new regulations are being challenged in a lawsuit by four unions that have a total of 75,000 members within Homeland Security. They are: American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) and National Association of Agricultural Employees (NAAE). The AFGE is the only union affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
The new Homeland Security regulations “reflect a mind-set that, from the beginning, viewed unions as enemies to be co-opted or destroyed instead of the allies we are in the war on terrorism,” said an AFGE spokesman.
The new DHS personnel regulations require employees to take their concerns to an internal board appointed by the secretary of Homeland Security. Without true due process, managers will have free rein to retaliate against employees who challenge management decisions.
Although the Bush administration originally argued that new rules for Homeland Security were necessary because of the war on terrorism, the White House now plans to use the DHS rules as a model for the entire federal workforce.
President Bush will ask Congress to pass new legislation to eliminate civil service rules at other agencies, officials from the Federal Office of Personnel Management say.
“At a time when we need to focus our attention on protecting our nation’s security, this administration is taking away fundamental rights from the very people entrusted with guarding our borders,” says AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
Like the DHS rules, the Defense Department’s new “National Security Personnel System” is expected to weaken or eliminate collective bargaining rights, the right to appeal management decisions, the current pay system and other unilateral changes.
Representatives of some 40 unions that have members in the Defense Department held a press conference on Feb. 8 to protest the soon-to-be released restrictions on worker rights. Several hundred members joined a rally and march in front of Capitol Hill.
“Despite the code words and false rationales provided by the DoD, these new regulations will have a chilling effect on the courageous employees who would otherwise come forward to blow the whistle on government corruption and wrongdoing,” said John Gage, AFGE president. “We anticipate the new personnel system will provide DoD with every means to put the squeeze on employees, enabling the agency to mess around with pay, work schedules, leave and evaluations, without any meaningful appeal rights.”
After the DoD publishes its new regulations in the Federal Register, there will be a 60-day consultative period with the unions that are represented in the department.
Our weekly “LaborTalk” and “Labor and the War” columns can be viewed at our Web site www.laboreducator.org, My e-mail address is [email protected]
DOD Personnel Plan Spurs Protest March
Unions Say Rights, Pay Would Suffer
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2005; Page A21
For the second year in a row, hundreds of federal employees marched on Capitol Hill yesterday to protest new personnel rules for the Defense Department that union leaders say would weaken civilian workers' rights and erode the quality of their jobs without enhancing national security.
Members of the American Federation of Government Employees said they will urge lawmakers to take a hard look at Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's plans to rewrite work rules affecting nearly 750,000 civilian workers. Leaders of other federal employee unions said their members will take the same message to congressional offices in the coming weeks.
The rules are to be released in the next few days, although union officials have gotten glimpses of their guiding principles during discussions with defense officials. The rules "are a massive overhaul that will gut pay standards, appeal rights and collective-bargaining rights," John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said during the AFGE's annual legislative conference yesterday. "These new rules will turn good jobs . . . into McJobs, Wal-Mart-type jobs."
Joyce K. Frank, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) will strengthen the department's operations without trampling on employees' rights.
"NSPS will improve the way DOD hires, assigns, compensates and rewards its employees while preserving the core merit principles, veterans' preference and important employee protections and benefits of the current system," Frank said.
Congress gave Pentagon officials the authority to craft a new personnel system in 2003 after Rumsfeld argued that managers needed more power over how workers are paid, promoted, deployed and disciplined to better fight the war on terrorism. The administration won similar authority to rewrite personnel rules as part of legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security in 2002.
DHS officials unveiled their new personnel system last month, immediately drawing criticism from the AFGE and the National Treasury Employees Union leaders, who said it would undermine the employees' morale, limit their workplace rights and ultimately slow the growth of their salaries.
The new DHS system, which will take years to implement, will replace the General Schedule pay system with one of broad salary ranges attached to jobs grouped by occupation. It links raises to the results of annual performance evaluations. And it curtails the power of labor unions by no longer requiring DHS officials to negotiate over such matters as where employees will be deployed, the type of work they will do and the equipment they will use.
Union officials predict that the Defense system will be even tougher for workers to swallow.
There will be a 30-day public comment period after publication of the new rules in the Federal Register, followed by a period in which the department is to confer with employee unions. Pentagon officials have said they hope to begin implementing the system in July.
The White House plans to ask Congress to allow all federal agencies to rewrite their personnel rules, citing the new systems at Defense and Homeland Security as potential templates for civil service changes across the government.
AFGE President John Gage vowed yesterday to fight any such expansion. "We're not going to have a second-class civil service in a first-class country," he said.
Senate Vote Nears On Homeland Pick
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2005
President Bush's choice to head the Homeland Security Department could be confirmed as soon as Tuesday, after clearing a Senate panel with only minor dissent.
On Monday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed Michael Chertoff's nomination as the department's secretary, 14-0, with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., voting "present."
Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the full Senate could be asked as early as Tuesday for a confirmation vote and predicted Chertoff will be approved easily. He would succeed Tom Ridge, who resigned.
Levin voted "present" — neither for or against the nomination — in a mild protest for being denied Justice Department information about interrogation techniques on terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Chertoff headed the department's criminal division that led the terror investigation after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Homeland Security is among only a few agencies that would be spared an overall spending cut next year under the president's budget, which was released Monday.
Mr. Bush is asking Congress for $34.2 billion for Homeland Security in 2006, a 6.8 percent funding increase from current levels — on top of $6.9 billion required by law. The budget request also proposes reorganizing state and local funding formulas to give the most money to high-risk areas.
"We are safer, but we are not safe," Acting Homeland Security Secretary James Loy said, unveiling the budget plan.
The budget plan calls for a 10 percent increase — to $16 billion — in border and transportation security spending. It would add 210 new border patrol agents to fill gaps along the southwest border and coastal areas; step up border surveillance by $19.8 million; and install technology to help customs and border patrol agents detect weapons of mass destruction and prescreen cargo before ships reach U.S. ports.
The plan falls far short of increasing the number of full-time border patrol agents by 2,000 annually for five years, as promised by an intelligence-gathering reform approved in December by President Bush. The 210 new jobs would only replace about half of the agents who left the agency over the last year, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council.
"It's simply not enough to keep up with the job that the American public expects us to do, and that we want to do," Bonner said. "We'd love to control the border, but we can't do it with the resources we have."
Loy said the agency had to consider "competing and other very important priorities."
Most of the department's spending hike would be paid by collecting $4.8 billion in fees — largely by adding $3 to the cost of airline tickets for passengers. Fees would increase in 2006 from $2.50 to $5.50 for each leg of a round-trip ticket, and from $5 to $8 for passengers making several stops on a one-way ticket.
The plan sparked an immediate protest from the commercial airlines.
"A tax on travelers is a tax on airlines," said James C. May, president and chief executive officer of the Air Transport Association. "We believe any new tax or fee raises ticket prices and the cost of airlines doing business."
The budget would cut $420 million, or 11 percent, from state and local coordination efforts. Of $3.6 billion set aside for grants, training programs and technical assistance for local and state first responders, $2 billion will be meted out on a risk and vulnerability priority. Loy said DHS so far has given $17 billion to state and local authorities, and "it is time for us to focus more on the actual threat, the risks intended to that threat, the vulnerabilities associated with that threat."
The budget also calls for adding a new assistant secretary for policy and planning, following recommendations set forth in several recent studies that criticized the department as lacking a clear focus.