Meet and Confer

By David McGlinchey

Federal workers unions are preparing for a meeting Thursday with Defense Department and Office of Personnel Management officials to establish guidelines for the meet and confer process on the controversial National Security Personnel System.

In 2003, lawmakers gave the Pentagon permission to dramatically overhaul its personnel system. In proposed regulations that were released early this year, senior defense officials indicated that they wanted to scrap the General Schedule system, implement performance pay, reduce union bargaining powers and streamline the employee appeals process. Union officials have protested the sweeping changes and the process used to develop them. A coalition of unions is suing Defense and OPM to block the new system.

The United DoD Workers Coalition has been organizing opposition to NSPS. That organization claims that Defense and OPM overstepped their mandate and ignored congressional requirements to collect and include input from employees while developing the personnel system.

"Tomorrow we are meeting with management to discuss how the meet and confer process is going to take place," said Matt Biggs, a spokesman for the coalition. The meeting is to lay out the ground rules to the meet and confer process."

The public comment period on NSPS is scheduled to close on March 16, and the meet and confer period cannot begin before that.

"We're going to talk about the procedures we are going to be using from here forward. The best we can hope for is some type of agreement on what we are going to do and what we are going to get out of this," said Ron Ault, president of the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. "Iron out any glitches that may come up with a group of 36 working as one. We're trying to work with DoD to make this seamless. We're trying to meet them in the middle of the street."

Union officials also touted a hearing next week on NSPS in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia. American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers President Greg Junemann are scheduled to testify.

"Let's face it, the Republicans control everything in Congress," said Biggs. "Now they are willing to take a second look at this."

Ault said union officials will try to educate congressional officials on their point of view.

"Mainly, it is to educate Congress," Ault said. "I think a lot of good can come out of this, but it depends how active Congress is."