U.S. to respond today to pro-labor ruling

Homeland Security to try to salvage personnel rules

August 26, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

The Department of Homeland Security plans today to try to accommodate a judge's decision to block parts of its new workplace rules because they failed to guarantee union bargaining rights, a department official said.

Federal workers are closely watching the outcome of this case. The rules are the model for changes at other agencies and would make it easier for the White House to fire civil servants, sidestep union contracts and adjust pay to better match those of the private sector.

Government attorneys were working yesterday afternoon on the final details of a proposal to give today to U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer in Washington.

On Aug. 12, Collyer denied management three rights when changing workplace rules. She held that Homeland Security's new personnel system can't override collective bargaining agreements; it can't block an outside panel from reducing a punishment given to an employee, and it can't prevent another independent panel from intervening in agency-union disputes.

She then struck down the entire labor-management section of the rules but added a caveat. She would consider reinstating parts of the plan, if the department is able to submit a proposal that answers her objections.

Homeland Security has been working with the Office of Personnel Management and the Justice Department on the proposal for two weeks, said the Homeland Security official, who requested anonymity because the material had not been filed.

The decision to send material back to Collyer is not the most aggressive option for the department, but it's one that could cost taxpayers the least amount of money. It also would avoid a return to the negotiating table with more than 50 labor groups.

"We will vigorously oppose any request to unilaterally narrow the injunction until we have a chance to see, review, comment or question [the department's proposal]," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which is leading the fight against the new rules.

The union had hoped Collyer's ruling would bring the two parties back to the bargaining table. "They just want to rush toward some artificial deadline, which is what this has been about from the beginning," she said.

One labor law expert said that a decision from Collyer, who prosecuted unfair labor practices under President Ronald Reagan, would be just.

"She's not some radical judge," said Charles B. Craver, a labor law professor at George Washington University. "She's a very, very talented person, and both management and labor respect her."

Homeland Security could still file an appeal over her three main objections to the new rules. It has until Oct. 11 to do so. Unions also could file an appeal of their own.

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