Unions file suit challenging Defense personnel system

By Tom Shoop

A coalition of labor unions filed a lawsuit Monday challenging work rules issued by the Pentagon in late October under its new National Security Personnel System.

The unions charged that the Pentagon failed to adequately consult with labor organizations before issuing the new regulations.

"Despite Pentagon rhetoric to the contrary," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, "DoD merely went through the motions of meeting with the unions. No meaningful consultation took place. Instead of working with the long-standing representatives of the military's loyal civilian employees, the Pentagon apparently would rather duke this out in federal court."

Navy Secretary Gordon England, who headed the NSPS effort in the Pentagon, said when the new regulations were released last month that the department had been "extremely collaborative" in developing them. "Frankly, whoever could help us has been consulted," he said.

In addition to AFGE, the following unions joined the suit: the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, the United Power Trades Organization, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Association of Civilian Technicians, the Laborers International Union, the National Association of Government Employees and the National Federation of Federal Employees.

"OPM and the Pentagon have swayed drastically from the NSPS authorizing law with respect to their unilateral creation of this misguided personnel policy," said Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. "By deciding to publish an NSPS that is illegal, they have elected to pursue a 'roll the dice' track, hoping that a court will somehow ignore both precedent and congressional intent."

The unions also argued that the new personnel system, which eventually will cover 650,000 employees, fails to safeguard employee rights to bargain collectively. The final NSPS regulations allow the Defense secretary, deputy secretary and "principal staff assistants" to override collective bargaining agreements on national security grounds.

In August, a federal judge ruled that the Homeland Security Department's new personnel system, which is in some respects similar to the Defense system, was illegal because it did not adequately provide for collective bargaining, in large part because it gave management the power to override existing contracts at any time.

NSPS officials said the law authorizing the Pentagon's system is different from the one authorizing DHS' system in that it does allow for senior officials to exercise such power.

Karen Rutzick contributed to this report.