DHS defends new personnel rules against unions’ assault

The Homeland Security Department responded Friday to an attempt by a group of labor unions to halt the introduction of new personnel regulations, arguing the effort is unwarranted and contrary to public interest.

The department filed a motion opposing an injunction that several unions requested on June 22. The National Treasury Employees Union, the American Federation of Government Employees and three other unions filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking a judge to stall the slated Aug. 1 implementation of the rules.

If the unions are successful, DHS employees would continue to operate under current regulations until the legality of the new regulations are decided. A hearing on the motion is scheduled before Judge Rosemary M. Collyer on Thursday.

Union officials criticized a number of elements in the new personnel system, including the introduction of a pay-for-performance system, a reduction of independent oversight for DHS disciplinary procedures and an alleged failure to meet employee collective bargaining rights.

DHS said its system will merge numerous federal agencies into one and "enable the department to respond quickly and effectively to evolving threats to the nation's security."

DHS said an injunction would only prolong "inflexible procedures" and "ultimately frustrate and undermine the central objective…which is to enhance (not impair) the department's ability to deal flexibly and effectively with the scourge of terrorism."

In a memorandum explaining their motion, the unions said, "The implementation of the regulations on Aug. 1 will result in multiple irreparable injuries to the unions and the employees they represent."

By law, the unions must prove "irreparable harm" in order to get the temporary halt. DHS argued in its response that the unions' alleged irreparable injuries are "largely speculative and theoretical and therefore wholly insufficient to establish either standing or irreparable harm."

NTEU argued in the motion that employees at the Customs and Border Protection bureau "will be subject to reassignment from, for example, a seaport on the East Coast to one on the West Coast without being given any choice, or voice, in the matter."

DHS maintained that the unions could not prove this will occur. It cited Robert Smith, a human resources manager at CBP, as saying that CBP has never required such a reassignment, despite the fact that it has the power to do so even now.

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