Washington, D.C.-The leaders of unions representing tens of thousands of employees of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today expressed disappointment at the abrupt ending by DHS of the statutorily-established meet-and-confer period over proposed new personnel regulations for the department.
In a joint letter to their members in DHS, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President John Gage and NTEU President Colleen Kelley said they intend to use every tool available to them, including congressional intervention, to secure and protect employee rights in the new human resources system at DHS.
The union presidents were particularly critical of DHS and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for "walking away from" the assistance being provided to the parties by the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS).
At the urging of the unions, the FMCS director had put together a package addressing 10 or so of the remaining key issues between the parties. "With a package deal in sight, management suddenly 'walked out', ending discussions," they wrote to their members.
While the meet and confer period had produced agreement on some relatively minor points, and had led to oral agreements not yet reduced to writing on a few important points, there had been no agreement on most major points of contention-including management's demand to sharply narrow the scope of bargaining; creation of a new, almost completely undesigned compensation system; and establishment of internal DHS boards that are redundant with existing, and independent, federal bodies to handle such key issues as employee appeals of disciplinary matters.
The union leaders pointed out that in approving the Homeland Security Act, Congress expressed its clear intent that the parties work together to bridge remaining disagreements after the issuance of draft regulations. "If we stop now," the union presidents said, "we will fall short of meeting a congressional mandate that makes sense for the department, for employees and for the nation's security."
A few weeks ago, AFGE was sharply critical of a DHS decision to award Northrup-Grumman Corp. a contract of up to $175 million to provide "the full range of services" needed to design and implement the core human resources systems.
AFGE likewise was critical of the DHS draft regulations, issued earlier this year, and since that time has been offering recommendations on a variety of key matters, including pay, performance appraisals, collective bargaining rights, appeals of disciplinary actions and more in an effort to improve the proposed system.