Court Backs Defense Workplace Changes--For Now




 
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Court Backs Defense Workplace Changes--For Now
 
May 21st, 2007  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Court Backs Defense Workplace Changes--For Now


Court Backs Defense Workplace Changes--For Now
Washington Post
May 21, 2007
Pg. D1
Federal Diary

By Stephen Barr
It was a big victory, but it did not stop the clock.
A federal appeals court, in a 2 to 1 decision, ruled last week that the Defense Department could go forward with some of the most dramatic workplace changes planned for civil service employees in 30 years.
The changes would sharply curb union rights at Defense and overhaul how the department's civilian employees are paid, promoted and disciplined. The ruling ended a string of judicial and legislative triumphs by unions opposed to Bush administration plans to take away most of their collective bargaining rights.
But the judges, in their opening comments, pointed out that Congress, in a 2004 law, granted the Pentagon only "temporary authority to curtail collective bargaining" for Defense employees. This period expires in November 2009, when the regular civil service rules for collective bargaining will resume, the judges said.
The 2009 deadline is likely to loom large for the National Security Personnel System, the name of the Defense initiative. Pentagon officials will have to weigh the worth of implementing difficult and contentious changes in labor rules that may be in effect for only two years.
Officials also will have to evaluate whether to ask Congress to extend the deadline -- something the Democrats in charge may not want to do given their close alliance with union leaders. The House last week approved a rollback of the National Security Personnel System, as urged by unions. The measure has drawn a veto threat from the White House.
Joyce Frank, the NSPS spokeswoman, said officials are studying the decision, released Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, "prior to making any decisions on the next steps."
The decision, Frank said, "confirms the department's direction with important personnel reforms in support of our critical national security mission. The court found that the manner in which NSPS was designed and implemented provided appropriate due process and employee protections."
John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the United DoD Workers Coalition, a group of about 30 unions, would announce "our legal strategy" at a news conference today. He noted that the decision came from a three-judge panel at the appeals court and said that the union has the option to ask the full appeals court for a rehearing.
Friday's decision, Gage said, "opens the door for everything -- all aspects of NSPS." But, he added, "we're never going to stop fighting this thing," pledging that his union would step up efforts to have the Senate join the House in abolishing parts of the National Security Personnel System, especially provisions that curtail union rights.
The court said the 2009 deadline on union rights does not apply to NSPS regulations that will give the Pentagon broad leeway in drawing up new rules for hiring, assigning, deploying, promoting and laying off employees.
Unions have traditionally had a voice in work assignments, shift rotations and overtime through their contracts, a practice that some officials view as infringing on management rights. Gage and Frank said the exception to the 2009 deadline was under review to determine what it might mean when NSPS reverts to standard bargaining rules.
The National Security Personnel System is being phased in and covers about 114,000 non-union employees. If completed as planned, nearly 700,000 Defense employees would convert to the new system, which seeks to more rigorously link pay raises to job performance ratings. The NSPS also requires employees to appeal major disciplinary actions to Defense officials before they can gain access to an independent board and to the courts.
The idea, officials said, is to build a system that rewards the best workers and values top-notch job performance. Pentagon leaders have portrayed current rules, which they believe mostly reward employees based on their length of service, as outdated.
Last week's court ruling underscored the controversy that has swirled around the NSPS from its start.
The appeals court judges said that members of Congress in 2003 made contradictory statements on the meaning of the law creating the NSPS, and Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who filed the majority opinion, called the law a "statutory puzzle" with a few provisions that appear to be in conflict at first glance.
After the Pentagon published regulations for the National Security Personnel System in February 2005, unions sued to stop them. A year later, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan blocked the Pentagon from implementing much of the NSPS. Sullivan objected that the NSPS regulations would "entirely eviscerate collective bargaining."
Friday's decision, with Kavanaugh and Judge Stephen F. Williams in the majority and Judge David S. Tatel dissenting, reversed Sullivan's judgment.
"We uphold the DOD regulations at issue in this appeal," Kavanaugh wrote.
 


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