Although the results were not unexpected, federal labor unions suffered another setback in a bid to restore collective bargaining rights to employees in the Department of Homeland Security after lawmakers rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) in the markup session for the DHS authorization bill.
NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley said the Meek amendment would have restored rights that will be lost by DHS employees as personnel regulations issued by the department on Feb. 1 are implemented. The new rules severely limit collective bargaining rights and due process protections.
The Meek amendment, she said, "would have maintained the flexibility requested by DHS but clarified the employee rights requirements of the Homeland Security Act which have been called into question by the overbroad DHS regulations issued in February."
In addition to restoring collective bargaining and appeals rights for DHS workers, the Meek amendment also would have ensured that salaries for employees switching to the new pay-for-performance system would not fall below the levels they had under the General Schedule system.
Kelley said the new regulations "provide a unique and virtually unattainable standard for employees to meet in challenging agency determinations" about disciplinary matters. She added: "The existing rules create a system that is neither fair, credible or transparent—all critical elements if this department is to succeed in its mission. The failure of the committee to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the Meek amendment is disappointing to say the least."
The amendment also would have provided for a number of other "good government" initiatives, she said, including:
– More than doubling the budget of the DHS inspector general’s office to provide sufficient resources to allow it to conduct independent and objective investigations;
– Providing broad authority to the DHS chief information officer to protect and integrate all the department’s data and technology equipment; establishing regional DHS offices which would allow for rapid and coordinated responses to threats and other emergencies;
– Strengthening DHS’s privacy office, including helping ensure the independence of the office-holder by guaranteeing a five-year term for the position, among others.
"These are all vital matters for the nation, and steps need to be taken to incorporate them into DHS," Kelley said.
NTEU has filed a federal court suit seeking to prevent implementation of the regulations as moving well beyond the authority granted DHS and the Office of Personnel Management in HSA.