Navy attorneys representing the Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center walked out of a federal arbitration hearing on Thursday, declaring that they do not recognize the arbitrator's continuing jurisdiction over a contentious dispute between the Navy base and an employees union.

Union leaders reacted to the Navy action with outrage. "I've been doing this work for 19 years, but I've never heard of such conduct," said William P. Milton Jr., director of representation and education for the local. "It's contemptuous."

In October, federal arbitrator Hugh Jascourt issued a ruling lambasting Indian Head for a continuing failure to follow rulings in arbitration cases. "What has occurred which is in the purview of this arbitrator reflects a tremendous waste of human resources adversely affecting effective government," Jascourt wrote.

On Friday, the Navy asserted that Jascourt no longer has authority over the dispute. "The Navy contends that Mr. Jascourt does not have jurisdiction to hear any further complaints involving noncompliance," said a statement released by the Indian Head division.

Thursday's hearing was the third Jascourt has conducted in attempts to enforce the October ruling in favor of the local office of the American Federation of Government Employees AFL-CIO Local 1923, which represents 800 workers at Indian Head.

In its statement Friday, the Navy contended that Jascourt cannot rule further in the case because his October opinion "constituted a final decision," which the Navy has appealed. According to its statement, the Navy is challenging the decision before the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The Navy claims that action in the case must be put on hold pending a ruling on the appeal.

"Having made this argument concerning Mr. Jascourt's lack of jurisdiction, the Navy will appeal to the Authority [FLRA] any determination by the arbitrator that indicates that he has jurisdiction," the statement said. "Appropriate legal avenues are in place to manage this issue."

The Navy further contends that it has complied with Jascourt's previous decisions.

But at an "All Hands" forum in October ordered by Jascourt, Capt. John Walsh, commander of the Indian Head division, acknowledged that the division had violated federal laws through a pattern of failing to comply with arbitration orders.

"Stated simply, the agency's conduct violated a number of arbitration awards, some of a long-standing nature, and thus violated the Federal Service Labor Relations Statute," Walsh said at the forum, which was videotaped.

"They have not complied. It is a blatant lie," said union representative Milton. "It's further evidence of mismanagement by Captain Walsh and [Indian Head Division director] Mary Lacey."

At Thursday's hearing, Navy attorneys attempted to quash subpoenas authorized by Jascourt requiring testimony by Walsh and Lacey, the top civilian at the installation. Jascourt rejected their motion. "By a procedural motion, you tried to block what I believe was essential," Jascourt told Richard Dale, counsel for the Indian Head division.

The Navy attorneys then argued that the proper procedure for enforcing Jascourt's ruling would be the filing of an unfair labor practices charge.

After several hours of testimony, the Navy representatives returned late from a lunch break about 3:45 p.m. and asked that Jascourt issue an immediate ruling on the question of jurisdiction.

When Jascourt declined to do so immediately, the Navy attorneys left the proceeding.

Shortly afterward, a building manager in the Navy office informed the officials that the building was closing and that they needed to move the hearing out.

Jascourt and the union officials packed up and reconvened the hearing at the union hall.

"We've never been in an arbitration hearing where we got kicked out," Milton said.