Unions move to block implementation of new DHS personnel system

Group asks court to rule on legality of regulations.

An injunction filed in federal court Wednesday by five employee unions asks that implementation of the new Homeland Security Department personnel system MAX HR be postponed until concerns about the system's regulations can be addressed.

"What NTEU wants is for our questions about the legality of the regulations to be answered before the rules are implemented in six weeks," Colleen M. Kelley, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a press release. "No one will be served, including the department and the American public, by a federal agency, charged with protecting the security of our homeland, operating contrary to federal law."

When Congress created DHS in 2002, agency officials were allowed to develop their own personnel system. In January officials unveiled an overhaul that would streamline the appeals process, reduce union collective bargaining rights and discard the General Schedule pay system. In place of the GS framework, officials are implementing a pay-for-performance system. Department officials plan to begin implementing the plan in August. Several calls to the Homeland Security Department seeking comment on the injunction were not returned on Wednesday.

The unions, led by NTEU, told the court on Wednesday that multiple provisions that typically appear in federal sector collective bargaining agreements would be unenforceable under the new regulations. These include provisions governing the assignment of overtime, with a resulting serious adverse impact on family life; those governing the assignment of work; those affecting bargaining over the impact and implementation of management decisions; and provisions governing the mitigation of penalties, among others, according to the unions.

"Injuries…like these, which affect the bargaining process itself" have been declared sufficient in other cases to warrant issuance of a preliminary injunction, the unions said.

Despite union opposition, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff earlier this month said the department would "move forward in a disciplined but brisk manner" in implementing the new rules, adding that delaying implementation would fuel apprehension of the system.

NTEU argues, however, that DHS has operated under existing federal sector law since its inception and will suffer no harm from a delay. The unions merely "seek a continuation of the status quo while the court addresses the merits of their legal challenge."