March 22, 2004
Enid Doggett
Adele Stan

Union Presidents Tell DHS, OPM Not to Implement
New Personnel Regulations Until Serious Defects Are Corrected

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The leaders of the three largest unions representing employees in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told the agency and the Office of Personnel Management that the plan proposed for a new personnel system for DHS failed to protect worker rights and could have an adverse impact on national security.

In their joint response to the DHS plan, the union presidents said: "We are extremely disappointed by your proposed personnel system. Taken as a whole, the proposed system fails to advance the public's interest in protecting homeland security…We are compelled to object to the system in its entirety and strongly recommend that it not be implemented until the many serious defects (described in the comments) have been corrected."

The 92 pages of comments and recommendations for changes were submitted to DHS and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) by Presidents John Gage of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), Colleen M. Kelley of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), and Michael Randall of the National Association of Agriculture Employees (NAAE).

The three union presidents said they expect DHS and OPM to give "full and fair consideration" to their comments, adding that they stand ready, as provided in legislation setting up DHS, "to meet and confer with you in an effort to reach agreement over the many disputed areas."

The DHS system is expected to serve as a model for agencies across the federal government.

Union proposals

The unions offered several options during the design process that would have changed and enhanced current procedures without sacrificing important employee rights safeguarded by the legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Unfortunately, those options were rejected.

In their response to the personnel plan put forward by the Administration, the unions urge Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Kay Coles James, Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), to consider all of these alternatives to the highly objectionable system that DHS/OPM have proposed. For example, the unions propose to:
  • Speed up the discipline and adverse action process.
  • Negotiate over pay and a new pay system that would provide for the three separate components that DHS has discussed:
    1. a nationwide component to keep all employees comparable with the private sector,
    2. a locality component to keep all employees comparable with the private sector and living costs,
    3. a performance component with fixed percentages tied to performance levels.
  • Speed up the timeframes for bargaining.
  • Consider the new concept of post-implementation bargaining when necessary to protect homeland security.
  • Introduce quick mediation-arbitration processes by mutually selected, independent arbitrators to quickly resolve any bargaining disputes.
Administration proposals
In considerable detail, the comments criticize the proposal to grant "broad new authority" to establish a new pay system and determine employees' base and locality pay, along with annual pay increases, "without requiring any bargaining or even consultation with exclusive representatives."

The comments also address in detail attacks in the proposed regulations on employee due process and key collective bargaining rights, including proposals that would:
  • Eliminate bargaining over procedures and appropriate arrangements for employees adversely affected by the exercise of core operational management rights;
  • Eliminate bargaining over otherwise negotiable matters that do not significantly affect a substantial portion of the bargaining unit;
  • Eliminate a union's right to participate in formal discussions between bargaining unit employees and managers;
  • Drastically reduce the circumstances during which an employee may request the presence of a union representative during an investigatory examination;
  • Severely undercut the fairness of adverse action appeals by employees to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) by letting the agency meet a much lower standard of evidence to prove its case;
  • Eliminate the MSPB's current authority to modify agency-imposed discipline, preventing that body from directing the agency to change unreasonable penalties; and
  • Assign authority for resolving many labor-management disputes to the Homeland Security Labor Relations Board, composed exclusively of members appointed by the DHS secretary.
"The apparent design of your plan is to minimize the influence of collective bargaining so as to undermine the statutory right of employees to organize and bargain collectively," the union presidents said. "When it enacted provisions to protect collective bargaining rights (in DHS)," they added, "Congress could not have intended those rights to be eviscerated in the manner that you propose."

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