Bill Sends Strong Message on Workplace Rules

By Stephen Barr
Thursday, June 22, 2006

It's sort of a one-two punch.

In February, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that the Pentagon's regulation creating new workplace rules, called the National Security Personnel System, did not protect collective bargaining rights or ensure fair treatment of civil service employees facing major disciplinary action.

Late Tuesday, the House adopted an amendment to the fiscal 2007 defense appropriations bill that would prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars for the areas that the judge faulted.

The amendment was sponsored by Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and approved on a voice vote. The amendment, Inslee said, "seeks to protect very basic job securities for Department of Defense employees."

How much weight should be attached to the amendment, and the scope of the amendment, was unclear yesterday.

As congressional aides and union lobbyists noted, the measure has a long way to go before getting to the president's desk. The Senate has not taken up the issue, and amendments approved without roll-call votes sometimes get dropped by House-Senate negotiators writing final versions of legislation.

But the amendment clearly sent a message to the Bush administration. Two years ago, a similar Inslee amendment lost on a vote of 218 to 202. This time, no House member spoke up on behalf of the NSPS.

Union lobbyists, in trying to sway House members to their side, used Sullivan's ruling to bolster their argument that the Bush administration had overreached in issuing new workplace rules.

The new Pentagon rules "did not live up to the spirit of cooperation and collaboration between the government and labor that was promised," Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-N.H.) said during the House debate. He said he was concerned that the NSPS would undermine "tremendous efficiencies and progress" at the Portsmouth naval shipyard.

Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) said "at times we have an arrogance" at the Pentagon. "They have continually ignored our advice, and I am very nervous about the way they have handled things." Murtha said. "I have never seen so many union representatives" bringing concerns, "and then the court, the court itself, says they are not being treated fairly."

The amendment would bar the Pentagon from waiving or modifying four sections of civil service law to create the NSPS. Most of the four sections focus on union rights and employee discipline, and Sullivan blocked the Bush administration from revamping rules in those areas. His ruling has been appealed by the administration.

The United DoD Workers Coalition, a group of unions that represent Defense Department employees, essentially lobbied House members to reinforce the judge's ban by eliminating funds for new workplace rules.

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