Unions call for repeal of law authorizing new Defense personnel system

By Shawn Zeller

Union officials who walked out of meetings with Defense Department leaders over the design of the National Security Personnel System asked Congress Tuesday to repeal legislation authorizing the department to create new civil service rules for its 650,000 civilian workers.

"We're calling on every member of Congress and every senator to do the right thing," said Richard N. Brown, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. "And that right thing is to reverse NSPS. It will do more harm than good."

Six unions - NFFE, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Association of Government Employees, the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, and the National Association of Independent Labor - walked out of congressionally mandated meet-and-confer sessions between Defense management and union leaders on Monday. The six unions represent about 100,000 Defense workers.

Five of the unions are members of the 36-member United Defense Workers Coalition, which is lobbying against

Defense's proposed rules, and continues to meet with Defense leaders. The National Association of Independent Labor is not a member of the coalition, but was participating in the meet-and-confer sessions.

Defense's rules, announced in February, have yet to be finalized, but they would restrict union bargaining rights, create stricter disciplinary rules and eliminate the General Schedule in favor of a pay-for-performance system.

Mark Gibson, a negotiator with the American Federation of Government Employees, said union members have indicated that they want to continue meeting with Defense management. The meet-and-confer sessions are scheduled to end Thursday. But Gibson said he respected his colleagues' decision and felt as disheartened as they about the details of the new system. "Congress is accountable. It's their bad law. They need to fix it," he said.

Ronald Ault, president of the Metal Trades department of the AFL-CIO, said Congress has a long history of making bad law, some far more severe than NSPS. "Slavery was once the law of the land," he said. "At one time, women didn't have the right to vote. If you look at the shameful history of our Congress heaping injustices on the American people, NSPS is just the latest bad law."

The preliminary rules indicated that Defense would declare issues related to the assignment of work, deployments and use of new technology to be management rights that are not subject to collective bargaining. But the rules provided few details of how Defense would define those areas.

During the meet-and-confer process, the unions objected strongly to indications from Defense leaders that the final rules will allow the Defense secretary to issue directives that would overrule collective bargaining agreements.

The union leaders offered different assessments of what future role unions would have at the Defense Department.

Ault said the rules so restrict unions' role that he would have trouble recruiting members. "I wouldn't pay for something that doesn't have any value," he said. But Gibson indicated that the unions plan to fight on, lobbying Congress and organizing at the local level to overturn the new system.