In the Federal Diary in the Nov. 8 Metro section, the name of the assistant general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees was incorrect. Joseph Goldberg, not Greenberg, holds that position at the union. (Published 11/10/2005)

Organized labor was back in court yesterday, filing a suit to stop new workplace rules at the Defense Department.

Ten unions, representing more than 350,000 Defense civil service employees, asked a federal court to block a regulation that would allow top Pentagon officials to override union contracts and to streamline the process for hearing employee appeals of major disciplinary action.

A similar lawsuit was filed against the Department of Homeland Security this year, and unions have prevailed in the first round of court tests.

In addition to reducing the clout of unions, Defense and Homeland Security are planning dramatic changes in how civil service employees are paid and promoted. The Bush administration has proposed extending some of the changes to the rest of government and would abolish the General Schedule, the largest federal pay system, by 2010 and replace it with pay-for-performance systems.

The lawsuit filed yesterday claims the Bush administration went far beyond what Congress intended when Pentagon and Office of Personnel Management officials wrote the rules for a new personnel system covering Defense civilians.

The 30-page suit alleges "procedural defects" and "illegalities, to the extent we know the details," in the regulation creating the National Security Personnel System, said Mark D. Roth, general counsel at the American Federation of Government Employees.

The unions also contend that the Pentagon veered from the goals laid out by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at a Senate hearing in June 2003.

The lawsuit quotes from a part of Rumsfeld's testimony in which he pledged NSPS "will not end collective bargaining" and would "bring collective bargaining to the national level so that the department could negotiate with national unions instead of dealing with more than 1,300 different union locals, a process that is inefficient."

Roth said yesterday that the Pentagon has shown no interest in national bargaining, a more streamlined way to modify or introduce workplace policies through negotiations between union and top department officials.

Instead, the lawsuit alleges, the Pentagon intends to permit top officials, including political appointees, to issue directives that void contract provisions. Over time, Roth predicted, the directives will reduce the subjects that can be put on the table for negotiations -- leading, he said, to an "incredible shrinking scope of bargaining."

The union lawsuit also contends that the Pentagon overstepped the boundaries of fairness and due process when it created a new process for handling appeals from employees facing major disciplinary action.

The regulation would require administrative judges and arbitrators to give "great deference" to the department's choice of punishment, to uphold the penalty unless it was "totally unwarranted" and to always impose the "maximum justifiable penalty," the lawsuit said.

Joseph Greenberg, assistant general counsel at AFGE, said such requirements give "the appearance of fairness where there is no fairness."

In addition to AFGE, unions joining in the lawsuit are the National Federation of Federal Employees, the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, the Association of Civilian Technicians, the National Association of Government Employees, the United Power Trades Organization, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Laborers' International Union of North America and the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Union officials said they had been informed by OPM that the Pentagon plans to start implementing its labor-management system Nov. 28.

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said administration officials have not seen the lawsuit. "Once we do, we will make a determination about what steps to take," he said.

The lawsuit does not challenge the Pentagon's plans to replace the General Schedule pay system with a performance-based salary system.

Aetna on Diary Live

The enrollment season for the 2006 Federal Employees Health Benefits Program begins next week. Tom Bernatavitz, Aetna's executive in charge of government programs, will take questions and comments at noon tomorrow on Federal Diary Live at Please join us.