Union holds informational event for Point employees

Story and photos by Spc. Eric S. Bartelt Senior Staff Writer

May 27, 2005

Pointer View

West Point union members voiced their concerns about the National Security Personnel System Friday during an informational picnic at Buffalo Soldier Field.

American Federation of Government Employees Local 2367 president Don Hale, talked to members -- and potential members -- about his recent trip to Washington D.C. Hale said he and other union representatives met with Department of Defense and the Office of Personnel Management officials to discuss unresolved NSPS issues. After 33 days, he added, the talks collapsed.

"We’ve had discussions on what our concerns are and they’ve refused to commit to fixing them," Hale said. "We need to preserve some type of collective bargaining over the everyday working conditions of employees or they will be totally used and abused."

Congress authorized DOD to create the new NSPS, which may start sometime between July and September.

However, DOD has been slow to provide information about how the new system will work. This lack of information is frustrating the organizations representing employees.

Hale said he is scheduled to go back to Washington in June to continue the meet and confer process. He hopes to bring a couple of busloads of union members with him to voice their opposition and encourages employees nationwide to rally to the cause.

"It won’t do us any good to organize a rally in D.C. and have only a thousand federal workers there," Hale said. "We need to have 50,000 federal workers there and they need to be raising hell.

"We took an oath to defend this country and we take it seriously, and we shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens," he added.

Federal employees across the country have concerns about NSPS issues like annual raises, locality pay, pay for performance and appraisals. OPM received thousands of questions on those issues and others during their recent comment period.

"It’s important that we do what we need to do now because in four or five years you may not have a pay raise anymore or be protected by seniority during a RIF," Hale said.

Most general schedule employees here are scheduled to start switching to NSPS in October 2006 and wage grade employees here in 2007. Employees have voiced concerns over the people who will be responsible for administering the system, particularly when it comes to appraisals and training.

Employees are not the only ones with concerns. Federal managers brought up the same issues at their national convention last month, said West Point FMA Chapter 162 president, Bruce Campbell.

"Managers are concerned that DOD has no guidance on implementation," Campbell said. "Without some concrete timelines, managers are not going to get behind the new system either."

FMA members voiced their concerns about lack of training to members of Congress four times this session, testifying before various committees, he added.

Navy Secretary Gordon R. England, the head of the NSPS, said the message came through loud and clear. He explained that DOD has plans to provide extensive training on the new system.

"We have planned for roughly one million hours of training to go with the first phase in the rollout of the NSPS," England said. "Managers will receive 18 hours of training each and human resources specialists 40 hours."

However, Hale said, it was obvious during his recent trip to Washington that DOD has no firm plan on where and when that training will begin. The lack of training, he added, coupled with little or no information on pay and employees’ bargaining rights, makes it impossible for the union to support NSPS.

"We’ve been told there’s hundreds of millions of dollars for training, but we have no firm timeline for when it will start," Hale said. "They’ve [OPM officials] assured us they’ve begun what they call ‘soft-skills training’ for supervisors throughout DOD, but when I talk to people from other installations there are many who never heard of it.

"DOD can’t possibly complete the training between now and when they want to implement this," Hale added. "The union has told them we’re willing to help them with NSPS, but we must preserve the sanctity of due process for federal employees.

"That’s all we’re asking for," he said.

Managers also want to support NSPS, Campbell said, but want their own reassurances. And they also understand the employees’ concerns.

"Most managers would like to see changes in the current personnel system, especially when it comes to hiring and firing," he explained. "However, we know employees need to be reassured that their rights and overall quality of life won’t suffer in the transition."

One way to get both managers and employees behind the new system, Campbell said, is to be honest about it.

"Employees, whether federal or in the private sector, managers or blue collar, are naturally wary and fear change," he added. "Solid, open communication about exactly what is changing and how it affects them goes a long way toward a smooth transition."