Federal worker unions win big in defense bill

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Federal workers and their unions racked up two big wins in what is, for now, the final version of the Defense Department’s authorization bill.

The measure, which the Democratic-run House sent to anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush on Dec. 12 by a lopsided 370-49 vote, would kill much of his anti-worker DOD personnel system. It would also sharply limit, if not completely halt, his schemes to “contract out” civilian defense work to private industry—often with contracts awarded after a bidding process rigged against federal civilian workers.

Bush, however, has threatened to veto the bill, HR 1585, because of the pro-worker provisions. He says the bill would overturn his so-called “National Security Personnel System” (NSPS) that stripped 700,000 defense civilian workers of collective bargaining rights, a fair grievance procedure, whistleblower protections and merit raises—putting every aspect of a worker’s job in the hands of Bush regime supervisors.

The defense bill sets policy and spending priorities for the mammoth agency, but does not actually lay out the cash. The Democratic-run Congress is still fighting Bush on that, including over his refusal to spend any money to end his war in Iraq.

About the only aspect of Bush’s NSPS that would remain, if Congress sticks to its stand, would be basing part—not all—of a defense worker’s pay on the boss’ whim. The measure says 60 personal of a DOD civilian worker’s annual pay increase would be based on merit and on the regular federal pay schedule, with 40 percent up to the boss. Bush’s NSPS left the entire raise up to the boss.

Bush claimed union rights are a threat to national security, which union leaders point out was a flat lie, especially since many DOD civilian workers are veterans.

A coalition of 36 unions representing DOD workers, led by the American Federation of Government Employees, had slowed, but not completely reversed, Bush’s NSPS in federal courts. But they also carried on an intense lobbying campaign in Congress—and it paid off.

Ron Ault, president of the AFL-CIO’s Metal Trades Department, which coordinated the defense workers’ coalition, praised lawmakers for dumping most of Bush’s NSPS personnel plan. Bush had wanted to extend it from DOD to civilian agencies--and then to every worker in the country.

“We’re very hopeful that this congressional action will eradicate the worst of NSPS permanently,” Ault declared. “NSPS is a vestige of the” former Bush Defense Secretary Donald “Rumsfeld era containing all of the mean and vitriolic attitudes he held toward workers and their unions. We are pleased a significant number of veteran” lawmakers from both parties “agreed with our concerns about the negative long-term consequences that the worst provisions of NSPS would have generated.”

AFGE President John Gage said several of the contracting-out changes included in the defense bill, “benefit all federal employees.” He added that “others, although specific to DOD employees, lay the foundation for government-wide reforms.”

Bush had wanted to impose his personnel plan on the entire government, starting with the Homeland Security Department and DOD. Unions completely stopped his Homeland Security personnel plan in court.

Gage said the defense bill includes:

* A ban on including health care and retirement costs in contracting-out comparisons and rulings. Bush’s OMB set up competitions between private contractors—often big GOP donors—and federal defense workers, and let the contractors get away with not counting the health care and pension costs. That gave the private firms an unfair advantage.

“Competitions could focus on who could do the job better, as opposed to whether contractors could get an unfair advantage by shortchanging their employees on benefits,” AFGE said.

* A provision forcing DOD “to publish guidelines for in-sourcing new work and contracted-out work to ensure that federal employees have opportunities to perform such work on a regular basis. Special consideration is given for contracted-out work that is actually inherently governmental, poorly performed, or was given to contractors without competition, along with new work that is similar” to jobs federal workers did.

HR 1585 also puts DOD’s inspector general, an independent official, in charge of ensuring compliance with the in-sourcing provisions.

* Bans Bush’s Office of Management and Budget from forcing DOD “to begin, continue, or complete a privatization review. Similarly, DOD would be prohibited from beginning, continuing, or completing a privatization review because of a requirement or direction from OMB.” The IG would guard against OMB’s interference there, too.

* “Federal employees in all agencies would finally have the opportunity to appeal contracting out decisions to the (independent) Government Accountability Office, a right contractors have long enjoyed” and federal workers in non-defense agencies “would have a permanent and rigorous right to compete before their work—for functions involving more than 10 employees--is sent to contractors.