WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Government Employees announced the negotiation of an agreement with officials of the Justice Department to delay implementation of new Department of Defense personnel rules—the National Security Personnel System—until February of 2006. Justice officials, who represent DoD in legal negotiations and proceedings with the unions over NSPS, finalized the agreement with AFGE late Tuesday. AFGE is a member of the United Department of Defense Workers Coalition (UDWC), an umbrella organization of labor unions representing civilian defense workers, and signed the agreement with the consent of the UDWC.
The agreement mitigates the need for AFGE to file a temporary restraining order against the work rules. Under the agreement, AFGE and DoJ will jointly petition District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who has been assigned the case, to hear arguments on the merits some time during the week of January 9, 2006. In return, DoD will refrain from implementing major portions of the new rules until February 1, 2006.
In February of 2005, the UDWC filed a lawsuit against DoD when the initial proposal was released to the public. Just last week the UDWC filed a subsequent lawsuit upon release of the final NSPS rules. AFGE won a major legal victory against similar personnel changes proposed for the Department of Homeland Security when federal District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled that the DHS rules could not be implemented because of specific illegal provisions.
When DoD published the final NSPS rules in the “Federal Register” on November 1, five major points of disagreement remained in spite of over a year of meetings between representatives of DoD and the Office of Personnel Management with UDWC members.
“For months DoD representatives solely went through the motions, instead of actively engaging and negotiating with union representatives to develop a reasonable, legal personnel system for the Department of Defense,” said AFGE National President John Gage. “Very soon the more than 750,000 civilian DoD workers will have their concerns given legitimate consideration by the courts of the United States.”
The five major points of disagreement between the UDWC and the Department of Defense are:
1. NSPS radically curtails collective bargaining. DoD has granted itself the authority to unilaterally override provisions in labor contracts and declare issues off limit for contract negotiations, all via the use of agency issuances.
2. NSPS ends the right to appeal labor-management disputes to an impartial third party by requiring that an internal board, appointed by the Secretary of Defense, review such issues. In violation of American legal principles, the internal labor relations board would suffer from an inherent conflict of interest that makes it incapable of rendering fair decisions.
3. NSPS establishes an unprecedented, and virtually impossible to meet, legal threshold for overturning or reducing disciplinary actions or penalties. The new standard that must be met in order to mitigate penalties, “totally unwarranted,” is a violation of American jurisprudence.
4. NSPS provides no safeguards to prevent a general lowering of pay for the civilian defense workforce. NSPS permits the lowering of entry level salaries and the withholding of annual raises for workers who are performing satisfactorily.
5. NSPS weakens veterans preference and completely eliminates seniority as factors considered during a reduction-in-force. Only “ratings of record” will be considered for retention purposes in the event of a RIF, establishing an ambiguous standard in terms of how many years of ratings will be considered and how employees will be evaluated when there are differences in tenure even for the period to be considered. Moreover, in many circumstances under the regulations, veterans will be prevented from competing against non-veterans with less seniority or even “retreating” to the jobs they previously held.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia, including some 300,000 workers in the Department of Defense.