WASHINGTON— Today the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), together with the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO, the United Power Trades Organization, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Association of Civilian Technicians (ACT), the Laborers International Union, the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), and the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) filed a law suit in federal court that challenges new Department of Defense (DoD) work rules. An earlier suit that challenged the rules on a statutory basis, originally filed last February, also was filed for a second time.
The DoD has published a new set of regulations that could have grave implications for safety of America’s fighting men and women, and for safeguarding the public coffers. In its new National Security Personnel System (NSPS), also known as the Rumsfeld plan, the Department of Defense has significantly narrowed employees’ rights to collective bargaining and all but eliminated the due process rights that enable employees to speak with confidence when they see wrongdoing or mismanagement.
“As I’ve said before, to call this a ‘National Security’ system is a joke,” said AFGE National President John Gage. “A better name for this personnel plan would be ‘The Cronyism Chronicles.’”
In defiance of the United States Congress, the Defense Department refused to consult with the unions that represent the department’s employees, as called for in the defense authorization legislation that authorized the creation of the new personnel system, and went ahead in issuing its proposed rule changes in violation of section 9902(m) of the Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2004.
“Despite Pentagon rhetoric to the contrary,” Gage continued, “DoD merely went through the motions of meeting with the unions. No meaningful consultation took place. Instead of working with the longstanding representatives of the military’s loyal civilian employees, the Pentagon apparently would rather duke this out in federal court.”
The new regulations for DoD personnel revoke most due process rights (rendering whistleblower protections moot), allow supervisors to punish employees in their paychecks, create a so-called “pay-for-performance” system that pits employees against each other for pay increases, and end all meaningful collective bargaining. Portions of negotiated contracts may be voided on the say-so of a political appointee.
When disciplinary actions are appealed to either the Merit Systems Protection Board or an arbitrator, neither will be able to substitute a lesser penalty unless the penalty was “totally unwarranted,” a virtually impossible standard to meet. For some alleged offenses, even the manager proposing the discipline would not be able to propose anything short of removal.
“Only last month, a federal court found significant portions of similar personnel rules drafted by the Department of Homeland Security to run afoul of the law. Rather than heeding the warning sounded by the court in that case, the Pentagon has decided to move forward with comparable work rules that ultimately shortchange the American taxpayer,” added AFGE General Counsel Mark Roth. “With managers, under the new system, having new ways to retaliate against employees who challenge management decisions, what will become of employees who blow the whistle on pork-loaded military contracts, or who speak on behalf of soldiers in need of equipment?
“Have we learned nothing from our experience with Hurricane Katrina? If you want a preview of the ravages of rampant cronyism, one need only imagine appointees such as those who ran FEMA having the power to void contracts and cut the pay of employees who challenge them.
“Every day, we hear of more punitive measures taken against government employees more loyal to the American people than to the political appointees who lead their agencies,” Roth concluded.