Federal Employee Unions Unhappy With Homeland Security Bill

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Federal employee unions are angry over worker provisions in the Department of Homeland Security bill now being debated in Congress, claiming the legislation would allow for workers' civil service rights to be ignored.

While President Bush admits he wants "managerial flexibility" in the hiring and transferring of employees, "the notion of flexibility will in no way undermine the basic rights of federal workers," the president said.

"I reject that, as strongly as I can state it," Bush said in a White House speech Friday. "I have great respect for the federal employees."

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents the Customs Service and Border Patrol workers, employees of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, would see about 12,000 of its 155,000 members shifted into the new Homeland Security department.

NTEU president Colleen Kelley stated that the administration's legislation does nothing to protect workers' rights.

"I know the administration has been trying to say all the right things about preserving these rights for homeland security employees that other federal workers enjoy, but the [administration's] legislation does nothing to guarantee these rights," Kelley said.

"The director of the new department, working with the head of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), clearly would have a free hand in determining what, if any, rights these employees would have," Kelley said. "That is an unacceptable set of circumstances."

But Kay Coles James, head of OPM, said the legislation ensures that when and if the Department of Homeland Security is established, "[federal] employees represented by unions will continue to be represented because their bargaining units will move with them."

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) would see about 30,000 of its members transferred to the new department and believes the administration's "philosophy of allowing political managers unregulated freedom to mismanage the new Department of Homeland Security" should not prevail.

"Homeland Security requires a secure workforce," said AFGE president Bobby Harnage. "Federal employees need the protections of a system that allows them to speak out about mismanagement in a new agency, without fear of losing their job.

"The new Department of Homeland Security must be able to recruit and retain a highly skilled, well trained and professional and capable workforce," Harnage said. "Denying basic rights and protections will make recruitment difficult and the retention of skilled and experienced employees even harder."

Bill Samuel, political director of the AFL-CIO (parent union of both AFGE and NTEU), said his union is gearing up a "grassroots effort" to support the federal employees, because "there's an important principle at stake here that people not be denied their collective bargaining rights."

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