DoD workers seek union status on eve of personnel changes

A group of about 100 civilian employees scheduled to enter the Defense Department's new personnel system Sunday filed a petition this week for representation by a union, in an attempt to duck the transition.

Employees at the Navy's Human Performance Center in Orlando, Fla., asked the Federal Labor Relations Authority to let the American Federation of Government Employees represent them. The performance center workers are part of the group of 11,000 nonbargaining-unit employees the Pentagon has selected to venture into its new pay-for-performance system first.

Employees had hoped a move toward union representation would at least stall entrance into the National Security Personnel System. When federal workers are in the process of an election, management is not supposed to make critical changes to their workplace rules, said Sarah Starrett, an AFGE attorney.

AFGE asked Defense officials to delay this group's entrance into the new personnel system until the FLRA makes a decision, but the Navy informed AFGE Friday that it would still enter the employees into NSPS.

"They do not want to go under NSPS, and they're hoping that the union can help them in bargaining with management," Starrett said. "We're certainly willing to represent them. We're going to have to wait and see if they have to go through an FLRA election and whether they'll be certified."

NSPS is the Pentagon's congressionally authorized personnel overhaul, designed to modernize management by scrapping automatic pay raises in favor of pay-for-performance and replacing the General Schedule pay ladder with broad paybands.

The system also seeks to dramatically change Defense's labor relations system by giving management the ability to override collective bargaining agreements, limiting topics subject to bargaining and moving the appeals process within the department.

Immediately following the department's release of the NSPS regulations, a coalition of unions representing department employees sued over the labor relations changes. A federal judge ruled in favor of the employees in February, and the Pentagon filed an appeal of that ruling in mid-April.

The judge's ruling blocked implementation of the labor changes, forcing the department to significantly scale back the first group of NSPS employees from about 65,000 to 11,000, because it could not include unionized workers without negotiating a new contract.

Jill Crumpacker, executive director of the FLRA, said the Orlando workers' petition was filed in the wrong region and is being transferred, after which the case will be opened and reviewed.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, the top official involved in the creation of NSPS, held a signing ceremony Friday at the Pentagon to mark the entrance of the first group of 11,000 employees into the new personnel system.

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