Union Accuses Pentagon of Ducking Bargaining Rules With Transfers of IT Employees

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IT workers at the Defense Contract Management Agency are not being given the opportunity to accept or decline being moved to the Defense Information Services Agency, labor officials said.

The American Federation of Government Employees on Tuesday accused the Defense Department of neglecting its duty to consult with the nation’s largest federal employee union over a decision to transfer more than 1,200 IT employees to the Defense Information Services Agency.

The union filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the department last week on behalf of workers at the Defense Contract Management Agency, although the filing notes that the Pentagon’s April decision to transfer IT workers to DISA impacts several other agencies within the Defense Department whose workforces are represented by AFGE.

“On or about April 12, 2019, AFGE, through one of our bargaining councils, received notice that the Department of Defense was beginning to execute a plan to transfer IT personnel from the Defense Contract Management Agency to the Defense Information Services Agency,” the union wrote. “[AFGE] represents tens of thousands of employees that may be impacted by this plan, and the DoD in violation of law has failed to provide AFGE with a [National Consultation Rights] notice and give AFGE an opportunity to have its views considered prior to implementation.”

Victor Matos, western region vice president at AFGE Council 170, which represents DCMA workers, said that when an agency elects to significantly change the working conditions or conditions of employment for members of a bargaining unit, it is required to consult with union officials.

“Now, the union doesn’t have a right to affect whether [an agency] carries out a decision necessarily, but the union does have the right to negotiate over the impact and implementation,” Matos said. “The idea is to develop a mitigating strategy to lessen the blow or have a more phased implementation to help ease employees into those changes.”

The Defense Department first ordered its “fourth estate” agencies to migrate data and applications to the milCloud 2.0 system in May 2018. Federal News Network reported in April that implementation of that plan, according to a working capital fund budget from the Pentagon, would take the form of transferring more than 1,200 IT employees from those “fourth estate” agencies to DISA.

Upon being notified of the decision to transfer employees, Matos said AFGE put together a negotiating team to bargain over how it would be implemented, but said since April, the department has “stonewalled.”

“We’re putting proposals together, and they’re due by next week, and right now we’ve been submitting data requests, but we haven’t gotten much information from the agency at all,” Matos said. “One of the things we need to understand our bargaining position is learning what authority, regulations or statutes they are using to allow them to take these actions. But we’re not being given that info at all. It’s difficult to frame a procedural argument without that information.”

Matos said one thing that struck him about the Pentagon’s plan is that the employees slated for transfer to DISA may not have any choice in the matter.

“There are some people who have already spent 30 or more years at the agency, and they may be looking to retire or head out and don’t want to transfer,” he said. “And there are some employees who recently came from the DISA because they wanted to be with DCMA and now they’re being shoved back.”

Defense's plan could come into conflict with federal law governing the transfer of employees across agencies, Matos said. If an employee declines a transfer, that is supposed to trigger Reduction in Force procedures, which also comes with a duty to bargain with the union. Matos said he hopes that the union's unfair labor practice complaint will make the Pentagon rethink its refusal to engage with the union.

“I’m hoping that the agency, or DoD in general, will issue an order to tell them to come back to the table,” he said. “Work with us, and help us get something done for these employees . . . Right now, they’re not being given a choice with this transfer, and we don’t know what type of representation they’ll have once they transfer to DISA, because [DISA] doesn’t have a bargaining council or a master labor agreement, so we don’t know what kind of representation they’ll have, if any.”

The Defense Department did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. If the decision to transfer employees moves forward, implementation will take place by Oct. 1.

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