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Red Pen Scare

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Officials at the Homeland Security Department are weeding through pre-existing collective bargaining agreements to seek out unenforceable provisions, according to a DHS employee.

"Unenforceable," according to the labor management directive from DHS, means those "provisions in a collective bargaining agreement that are inconsistent" with the department's personnel system.

Michael Knowles of the Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau and an American Federation of Government Employees representative, said that human resources officials have been "basically going [through] with a red pen saying this is unenforceable or this is not consistent."

Knowles was asked by AFGE to attend several meetings with DHS human resources officials designed to open communication with the unions on the new system. These ongoing meetings are being held in the run-up to the Aug. 1 deadline for the implementation of the labor relations section of the new personnel system.

The collective bargaining agreements now in place are holdovers from agencies that existed before the creation of the Homeland Security Department. The former Immigration and Naturalization Service, for example, had an agreement from 2000 that is still in effect.

Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluski said the search for unenforceable provisions will help managers and employees, not hurt them.

The process of going through existing bargaining agreements is to "make it clear for employees and managers and supervisors. They need to know what portions [of their agreements] still pertain and what portions don't…Managers have to know where things stand, and that's the idea," Orluski said.

"I don't know where the red pen thing came from," Orluski said. "But it's going to go to them in an Excel spreadsheet."

Charles Showalter, president of AFGE's National Homeland Security Council, said the process is not so benign.

"Right now, the agency is under the direction of some of these people designed to break the backs of unions," Showalter said. They are "looking to the contract, seeing what they think they can get away with, seeing what some of the authorities granted by Congress are and how far they can push those. It's a matter of some people within the agency trying to make it so they can do whatever they want with impunity."

After the Aug. 1 implementation, employees and their unions can appeal the decisions on what provisions are unenforceable to the Homeland Security Labor Relations Board, the members of which are appointed by the department's secretary. Nominations can be submitted by unions.

 
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