WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Department of Homeland Security today issued a new set of regulations that could have grave implications for public safety and national security. In its new personnel system, the Department of Homeland Security 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.
"We, the unions, had earnestly sought to design a new, efficient personnel system in collaboration with DHS managers," said John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). "With our efforts rebuffed and our gravest concerns ignored, we now, unfortunately, have no choice but to pursue a remedy through the federal courts." AFGE plans to file a case together with the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), the National Federation of Federal Employes and National Association of Agriculture Employees that will challenge the new regulations on both a statutory and constitutional basis.
The new regulations for DHS personnel requires employees to take their concerns to an internal board appointed by the secretary of Homeland Security with no requirement for Senate confirmation, as other federal labor relations entities require.
"This violation of the constitutional right to due process shortchanges the American taxpayer," added AFGE General Counsel Mark Roth. "Without true due process, managers will have free rein to retaliate against employees who challenge management decisions. The narrowed scope of bargaining in the new regulations allows management to implement transfers and shift changes with impunity. To see how this could work, one need only look at the Office of Special Counsel, where career employees who spoke out against management decisions suddenly find themselves transferred to offices thousands of miles away from their homes. Who now will be held accountable if the DHS fails its mission?"
The law that created DHS called for "meaningful collective bargaining." The union will argue that with the scope of bargaining so severely limited, DHS has violated that requirement in its new regulations. "Instead of fulfilling the Homeland Security Act's mandate for a flexible and contemporary 21st century human resources system," said T.J. Bonner, president of AFGE's National Border Patrol Council, "the new system allows for the sort of cronyism that nearly destroyed our nation's civil service a century ago."
Among the unions' other concerns are a new pay system based on an arbitrarily decided performance rating that stands to pit employees against each other. "In law enforcement, as in the military, unit cohesion is the key to success and survival," explains Charles Showalter, president of AFGE's National Homeland Security Council. "This kind of pay system will disrupt that cohesion."
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.