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Union President John Gage Tells Senators: Proposed Rules For Defense Workers Need Fixing
(WASHINGTON, DC)—Seeking to avoid “a disaster” in the Department of Defense (DoD) that “will have enormous financial and national security ramifications,” AFGE National President John Gage testified today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, urging senators to reject new personnel regulations proposed by the Defense Department that would compromise the quality of work performed by employees and the quality of life of the workers themselves. Gage appeared before the committee on behalf of the United Defense Workers Coalition, which comprises some 36 unions that represent employees of the Department of Defense.
In 2003, Congress gave DoD authorization to create new work rules, known as the National Security Personnel System (NSPS), for the creation of a more flexible workforce “so our country will be better able to deal with the emerging 21st century threats,” according to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “Instead,” Gage said before the hearing, ”DoD appears to have used the opportunity to create a system that compromises whistleblower protections by virtually eliminating due process rights and collective bargaining.” The proposed system would also reduce pay and encourage favoritism by implementing a so-called “pay for performance scheme” by which employees would win raises based on performance reviews for which no objective standards have been drawn. NSPS also allows for the deployment of civilian workers anywhere in the world—even in war zones.
Two years ago, responding to union concerns about the future system, Secretary Rumsfeld assured Congress that NSPS “will not end collective bargaining.” But under the proposed regulations issued last month, the new system will do exactly that by “rendering most previously negotiated issues to be ‘off the table,’” Gage told committee members. Gage explained that under the proposed system, DoD would have “the authority to unilaterally void any and all provisions of collective bargaining agreements. . .”
In his testimony, Gage laid out six “flashpoint issues” in NSPS that should be addressed with meaningful consultation with unions and employee representative, as Congress required in the legislation that authorized the creation of a new system:
• Create objective standards for performance appraisals and allow arbitration appeals before neutral third parties • Strong and unambiguous safeguards to prevent a lowering pay • Restore the scope of collective bargaining • Allow labor-management disputes to be settled by a board independent of DoD management • Restore previous standards for mitigation of unreasonable disciplinary penalties by Merit System Protections Board (MSPB) • Create procedures for Reductions in Force (RIFs) that base a worker’s fate on more than his/her last performance review.
Together with nine other unions, AFGE has filed a law suit in federal court, challenging the creation of a new labor relations system under NSPS without the input of unions and employee representatives, as required in the legislation passed by Congress that authorized the creation of anew personnel system.
Gage, however, urged Congress to step in to forestall the need for the law suit. “It is not too late for DoD to decide to work with its unionized employees, rather than against us,” Gage said in a written statement, “so that the implementation of a new system and its procedures is smooth, and conducive to high morale and continued focus on the Department’s national security mission.”
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.