Judge again rules against DHS

Federal court opinion favors federal employee unions in their dispute with the Homeland Security Department.

The National Treasury Employees Union claimed another legal victory in a continuing court battle to block the Homeland Security Department from imposing new labor rules and pay regulations on the department’s 180,000 employees.

Colleen Kelley, NTEU’s president, held a press conference hours after the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling favoring NTEU’s position that the labor rules are illegal.

Judge Rosemary Collyer denied today the department’s request that she narrow the application of her earlier injunction against DHS’ proposed labor rules. “The court cannot oblige,” she wrote in a 15-page opinion.

In today’s ruling, Collyer basically upheld a previous ruling in which she found that labor rules proposed by DHS fail to ensure federal employees’ collective bargaining rights and improperly interfere with the Federal Labor Relations Authority’s regulatory role.

She wrote that federal lawmakers wanted DHS to have flexibility in human resources but not at the expense of employees’ collective bargaining rights.

DHS had asserted the flexibility to take any necessary actions to carry out its mission, not only in emergency situations but also to prepare for and prevent emergencies. By claiming that flexibility, Collyer said, DHS was illegally asserting “full authority to follow or ignore the terms of collective bargaining agreements almost at will.”

Kelley said DHS should set aside the new labor rules and pay regulations and “work with us on the critical priorities facing this nation,” adding that ports and borders are understaffed, employees are not receiving the training necessary to do their jobs and incoming cargo is not being inspected. “That is where our time, efforts and resources should be directed,” she said.

Kelley said DHS officials have spent two years crafting unnecessary changes in federal labor rules and pay regulations. “They are far overreaching in trying to fix problems that don’t exist.”

The department had planned to begin phasing in the controversial labor rules and pay system Aug. 1. Lawsuits that NTEU and other unions filed and a subsequent court injunction delayed their implementation.

In mid-August, Collyer blocked DHS from implementing a new personnel system when she ruled that major elements of it were illegal. She concluded that significant aspects of the proposed system violated the Homeland Security Act, which created DHS, and other federal laws.

The department subsequently asked Collyer to narrow her injunction. NTEU, meanwhile, argued that the provisions ruled illegal by the court could not be carved out of the personnel system and asked that the entire set of new labor rules and pay regulations be blocked.

DHS has 60 days from today to appeal the latest federal court ruling.