Senator blasts Defense personnel overhaul design process
Unlike the Homeland Security Department, which involved union advocates and OPM officials in a lengthy design process, Defense has "presented a singular approach right out of the box" that was "needlessly confrontational," and which indicated, according to Levin, that Defense "views consultation as a formality."
Defense ignored the spirit of bipartisanship and compromise that led the Senate to pass legislation last year rewriting the department's civil service rules and creating its National Security Personnel System, which replaces the old General Schedule system, Levin said.
Last month, the department put out a series of proposals that sent union advocates into a fury. In response to the proposals, American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage called on Congress to block "the first step to the wholesale destruction of the civil service system."
On Tuesday, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David Chu -- Defense's point person for the reform effort -- defended the department's approach in response to Levin. "All we've done is put forward concepts," he said. "We know we have a considerable amount of work ahead of us. These are hard issues."
Last week, he told Levin, the department held two days of meetings with union officials to listen to their proposals.
Last month, AFGE spokesman John Irvine said the union is concerned about a provision in the Defense proposals that would allow the agency to reduce its workforce without considering veterans' preference rules, and eliminate all provisions of the old labor-relations system at the agency, which is governed by chapter 71 of Title 5 of the U.S. Code.
Under the proposal, Defense civilian employees could continue to join unions, but a fee-for-service arrangement also would be established, allowing employees to contract with a union to represent them in certain situations for a fee. Unions oppose that provision, arguing that it would lead some members to quit, believing they could secure union representation at less expense on an as-needed basis.
Employees in certain jobs, such as human resources workers, intelligence officials, attorneys and those hired on term-limited assignments, would not be eligible to join unions.
Under the proposal, union dues would be collected through payroll deductions, but members would have the right to cancel dues payments at any time after one year of membership in the union. Union representatives would prefer to limit the window for members to opt out to a single day or single month each year.
In addition, Defense Department managers would have the right to waive collective bargaining during emergencies or for national security reasons. And under the proposal, managers also would have the right to set pay, cash awards and incentive pay, and determine performance ratings and buyouts. The Defense Department would likely scrap the General Schedule pay system, another point of contention with the unions.
Consultation between the unions and Defense management on bargaining issues would be limited to 60 days. If the unions and management were unable to reach agreement, management could move forward with the changes it proposed. The Defense Labor Relations Board could review the consultation to make sure that proper procedures were followed, but could not order management to withdraw its proposals.
Issues affecting union members would be bargained at the national level, replacing a system where Defense bargained with local union affiliates. At the hearing Tuesday, Defense officials at the Navy and Marine Corps said they have volunteered to be in the first wave of conversions to the personnel system, which is expected to occur this fall.
All of the military branches are also in the process of reviewing how military personnel is deployed. Some jobs performed by military personnel now are expected to be given to civil servants or contractors. Testimony submitted at the hearing said that the Air Force is looking to turn 4,300 military jobs over to civilians in 2004. The Army testimony said it planned to convert 10,000 to 15,000 military jobs to civilian over the next three to four years. The Marine Corps plans to convert nearly 4,400 jobs by 2007. The Navy did not cite a specific number of jobs to be converted.