Labor employees rally against outsourcing decision

Alleging discrimination, union leader says he is prepared to fight the decision in court.

Labor Department workers rallied in front of the Capitol building Wednesday, protesting the agency's decision to outsource 250 administrative jobs.

Union leaders with the American Federation of Government Employees said they had taken initial steps in filing a lawsuit alleging race-, gender- and age-based discrimination in the decision. Of the affected employees, 81 percent are women, 73 percent are African American and more than 55 percent are 40 or older, the union said.

Alex Bastani, president of the AFGE local bargaining unit that represents the affected employees, said the public-private competition process, governed by the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76 rulebook, is unfair and disproportionately affects minority employees.

He said the local bargaining unit has filed an institutional grievance that will be reviewed by Labor's Office of Labor Management Relations and then possibly proceed to binding arbitration. If the employees are not satisfied with the result of the arbitration, the case could go before the Federal Labor Relations Authority and then potentially before a federal appeals court, he said.

"I'm confident we can win at the binding arbitration, but if it's necessary to go beyond that, we will," Bastani said after the rally.

Under last month's award decision, Labor will pay Reston, Va.-based GAP Solutions Inc. $71 million over five years to perform the work of about 330 people, though only 250 of those positions -- 100 administrative positions at Labor headquarters in Washington and about 150 positions at field offices -- are currently filled, Bastani said. GAP Solutions is a Small Business Administration-certified, minority-owned small business, according to a small business contracting Web site.

Bastani said the competition process at work in this case was flawed and that under A-76 procedures, two of the offices at which positions were placed up for competition should have been excluded because they were undergoing reorganization.

He said President Bush's recent signing of a law that bans public-private competitions at the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration should halt the outsourcing of MSHA administrative positions included in the GAP Solutions award. The law was passed in late May, however, about two weeks after the contract decision date.

A Labor Department official confirmed that a grievance has been filed and that the complaint will progress according to terms in the union's collective bargaining agreement.

The contract is just the third in 26 public-private competitions completed by the Labor Department since 2003 to be awarded in favor of the private sector, an agency official said. "Our employees do an excellent job competing," he added.