Pentagon files appeal of ruling blocking labor relations reforms

The Defense Department filed an appeal Monday of a February ruling prohibiting the agency's planned labor relations overhaul.

The Justice Department, which filed the appeal in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the Pentagon, is seeking to overturn Judge Emmet Sullivan's decision that Defense went beyond congressional intent in forming its new labor rules.

Congress in 2003 gave the department authority to reform its personnel system to enhance flexibility to respond to terrorist threats. But Sullivan said the department's ability under the planned system to negate collective bargaining agreements after the fact, among other things, went too far.

Justice did not ask for an expedited appeals process, but a spokesman said the department left the door open to do so later. The spokesman declined to provide any further information about the nature of the appeal.

NSPS spokeswoman Joyce Frank said only that the Pentagon is "working closely with the Justice Department and looks forward to presenting our position before the U.S. Court of Appeals."

Matt Biggs, a spokesman for the coalition of unions that initiated the lawsuit leading to Sullivan's February decision, said his group also will appeal the ruling, which was unfavorable for the unions on some issues. The coalition -- which includes the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Federation of Federal Employees and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers -- argued that the department did not meet its obligation to collaborate with the unions in creating the system. Sullivan disagreed with that claim.

Biggs said the coalition was not surprised by the government's decision to appeal. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said in a speech the day after Sullivan's ruling that Defense was likely to appeal, and had 60 days to file.

"We expected it, particularly given the fact that deadline was fast approaching," Biggs said. "We continue to remain very confident in our position and our standing on this case."

AFGE president John Gage said he had hoped the Pentagon would not appeal, but also was not surprised that it did.

But as the department wades deeper into its legal conflict over the collective bargaining rules in the National Security Personnel System, officials continue to push forward on other parts of the personnel overhaul.

NSPS seeks to take about 700,000 civilian employees in the department out of the General Schedule pay system and put them into broad paybands. Pay raises will be based on performance ratings instead of automatic pay hikes.

The first wave of Defense employees --11,000 workers not in bargaining units -- is scheduled to begin working under NSPS on April 30.

Employees anticipating entrance into the system can compute their pay range and buy-in amount using an online calculator posted Monday. Most employees will receive an increase, based on the length of time accumulated toward their next within-grade increase, when they make the switch.

By plugging in occupation, GS grade and whether or not they are supervisors, employees can find their pay range using the calculator. They can also figure out the exact amount of their buy-in by submitting information about base salary and previous raises.

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