DHS abandons proposed labor relations system

The Homeland Security Department told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Friday that it will not implement labor relations rules related to its new personnel system before the department's authority to do so expires in January 2009.

DHS and the Office of Personnel Management "will not revise the permanently enjoined regulations…at any time prior to the expiration of the agencies' authority to revise those regulations," the department wrote in its court filing. "DHS will proceed with labor relations pursuant to applicable law."

Federal labor union leaders applauded the move. "This is a monumental victory," said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley. "It puts to rest DHS efforts to gut employees' collective bargaining rights and give management unfettered discretion to alter fundamental conditions of employment without giving employees any say."

The department filed a status report with the court in January saying that it had not made a decision yet on whether to proceed with revising the labor relations rules. In June 2006, the court extended the deadline for DHS to make its decision.

A number of factors forced Homeland Security's hand. The fiscal 2008 omnibus spending package allocated no funds for the personnel system, effectively blocking the department from implementing the new rules. And in June 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared that the proposed labor relations program violated DHS employees' legal rights to collective bargaining.

"From the beginning, it was clear that DHS intended to trample on [bargaining] rights," NTEU's Kelley said. "Under any circumstances, and in particular in an agency where the morale has been so low for so long, imposing such a system would have been a serious mistake."

Kelley said the union planned to fight to prevent any other elements of the personnel system from being put in place.

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