By Karen Rutzick
Hundreds of union members gathered near the Capitol on Tuesday to protest new personnel regulations in the Defense and Homeland Security departments.
Protesters decried the changes to the collective bargaining system and the replacement of the General Schedule with a pay-for-performance system they say is unfair. The unions argued that these changes will result in less pay, the elimination of whistleblower protections and lowered worker morale.
The systems in question are the proposed National Security Personnel System at the Defense Department and projected rules to be implemented Aug. 1 at DHS.
Among the speakers at the rally was House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Speaking over chants of "Steny! Steny!" Hoyer talked about the potential for unfair favoritism in the proposed pay-for-performance system.
"We want a civil service based on merit," Hoyer said, "not on whose coffers you contributed to, not on the whim of whoever happens to be a political appointee at the time."
The speakers also focused on equality between civil service workers and military personnel, both in their importance and treatment.
"Taxpayers should be outraged," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which helped organize the rally. "The same courageous Americans, who protect our homeland, support our troops and care for our veterans, are being insulted and slapped around by the federal government."
Federal workers from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Maine, Florida and many other states traveled to Washington to attend the rally, which included members from AFGE, the United DoD Workers Coalition and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
David Owens, president of AFGE Local 1101, traveled from Alaska for the event. Owens works on Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage.
"I gave up fishing this weekend to get here," Owens said. "Government employees have less rights under NSPS than people who work for Wal-Mart. You can't complain if your boss cuts your wage by 10 percent."
Owens said he and his union members also are worried about lack of due process, a loss of seniority rights and unwanted deployments. "I'm talking anything," Owens said. "We've been dealing with management for a lot of years, we know what's coming."
Speakers stood beneath a banner that read "Public Employees Stand Up For A Secure America," and the crowd was peppered with signs that said "Rumsfeld Unfair to Federal Employees" and "NSPS" with a red line through it. Heat and humidity forced many of the protesters into the shade on the sidelines.
A number of congressmen were on hand to speak at the rally. In addition to Hoyer, Reps. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.; Walter Jones, R-N.C.; and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., attended.
"I'm a conservative Republican," Jones said. "NSPS will not work. We will demand hearings on this issue."
In response to the rally, Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluski said, "This is America, and everyone has the First Amendment right to assemble, and that's what they've done."