Homeland Security Union President Testifies on DHS
WASHINGTON—As the nation’s homeland security union, the American Federation of Government Employees continues to be recognized as the legitimate source for issues relating to homeland security. On May 18, AFGE National President John Gage testified before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Integration and Oversight about issues and procedures at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
In his testimony, Gage touched upon issues of the right to organize, personnel flexibility provisions, the pay system, collective bargaining and employee appeal rights at DHS. Key among his points:
*The proposed DHS personnel regulations, known as MaxHR provide very little detail about the new pay system for DHS employees, and leave broad discretion in every area. (AFGE and four other unions filed a law suit in early 2005 to block MaxHR. In August 2005, Federal Judge Rosemary M. Collyer forbade DHS from implementing the labor-relations portion of its new personnel system, which DHS appealed.);
*MaxHR would allow management to void existing collective bargaining agreements, and render matters non-negotiable, simply by issuing any department-wide regulation. The result is that employees will be deprived of their voice in most workplace decisions;
*The final regulations greatly restrict due process by limiting the current authority of the Merit System Protections Board (MSPB), arbitrators and adjudicating officials to modify agency-imposed penalties in DHS cases to situations where the penalty is “wholly without justification,” a new standard for DHS employees that will rarely, if ever, be met.
*At the creation of DHS, the rationale was to put all 170,000 of the agency’s employees under one set of rules and policies. Conveniently ignored was that 60,000 of those employees, the TSA screeners, would be outside the supposedly department-wide system;
AFGE has urged Congress to take a hard look at H.R. 4044 (the Rapid Response and Border Protection Act of 2005), introduced last year by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). This bill would address long-standing problems that have hampered the effectiveness of front line Border Patrol Agents, Customs and Border Protection Officers and other federal law enforcement employees. It also would allow for a new beginning in labor relations with DHS by repealing those sections of the Homeland Security Act that called for the promulgation of the MAXHR regulations. The bill additionally includes the text of legislation long advocated by Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) in H.R. 1002 to provide full law enforcement retirement benefits to all federal officers required to carry a gun and wear a badge.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 750,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.