DoD goes after vets’ job preference rights


DoD goes after vets’ job preference rights
by Mark Gruenberg

HONOLULU Don Bongo is both mad and sad at his military and civilian boss, Donald Rumsfeld. Bongo, you see, wears two hats: In regular life, he is a federal civilian defense worker at Pearl Harbor, one of almost 800,000 nationwide, and a federal union member. But for the last six months, until Jan. 19, he was an engineer with the Hawaii National Guard, serving in Iraq.

On April 12, Bongo told a Senate subcommittee hearing in Honolulu that he returned home to find that Rumsfeld, the man who sent him to war, wants to strip him of his veterans’ preference rights when he returns to his civilian defense job. This is being done under the guise of what the Pentagon calls the National Security Personnel System.

That system, which GOP President George W. Bush convinced the GOP-run Congress to implement, allows Rumsfeld to re-engineer the wages, working conditions, transfers, hiring, firing, promotions, whistle-blowing rules and virtually every other aspect of defense civilian workers’ lives, all on the secretary’s own say-so…

     Congress also told Rumsfeld he could not take away the collective bargaining rights of Bongo and his union colleagues, but Rumsfeld did just that anyway. That action led 36 unions, including the AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department which Bongo and IFPTE Pearl Harbor Local 121 Vice President Benjamin Toyama spoke for in Honolulu to sue the Department of Defense in federal district court in Washington, D.C.

The unions won on Feb. 27, when Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled DOD broke the law in implementing the system.

Bongo testified that as a returning veteran not only would he lose his union rights under NSPS, he would lose his veterans’ preference, too. Even more, Bongo said, he is upset that Rumsfeld says he is stripping those rights in the name of national security, as if the agency’s civilian workers could not be trusted.

The NSPS is nothing more than an unworkable and illegal personnel system that was created unilaterally by the Pentagon and the Office of Personnel Management, Bongo told Sens. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), the only two lawmakers at the Honolulu hearing. The NSPS is not about national security but about destroying the collective bargaining rights of the employee unions and diminishing the rights of the military veterans in the federal service.

Bongo explained that should the vets’ federal civilian jobs be eliminated, the NSPS would diminish the rights of vets like himself to bump non-veteran workers into lower-classification posts.

Under NSPS, the veterans really have lost most of their protection they enjoyed under current laws, Bongo explained. That includes changing the rules protecting vets from being RIFfed government language for being laid off.

As Bongo was testifying in Hawaii, Bush’s DOD was appealing Sullivan’s ruling in Washington. No date has been set for that appellate court hearing. A three-judge federal appellate panel heard arguments April 6 on a Bush administration appeal of another federal judge’s ruling. That ruling last year threw out a similar Bush anti-worker personnel system at the 125,000-worker Homeland Security Department.


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