Pentagon opens negotiations with unions after unfair labor practice complaint

The Defense Department has entered into talks with a dozen of its labor unions over precisely how it will move more than 1,000 information technology workers from other areas of the department to the Defense Information Systems Agency.

The move comes just a week after the American Federation of Government Employees, DoD’s largest union, lodged a formal complaint against the department for what union officials said had been total silence from Defense officials about the upcoming Fourth Estate Network Optimization initiative. AFGE had claimed the department was engaging in unfair labor practices by not consulting with the union about the impending move.

DoD has previously said approximately 1,200 employees who currently work for more than a dozen other Defense agencies would become DISA employees as of Oct. 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.

The department did not directly answer questions about whether those plans had changed. But Heather Babb, a DoD spokeswoman, said the department had now entered into a “consultative period” with its unions, and that the Pentagon would not be releasing any information on its plans during that time.

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“DoD intends to consolidate information technology network and services across fourth estate agencies into the Defense Information Services Agency later this year.  Before we finalize the details of the plan including how it will impact employees, DoD will engage labor unions at the department-level,” she said in a statement to Federal News Network. “DoD is committed to respecting the rights of its employees to organize and bargain collectively, and it is committed to consulting with its national labor unions over substantive changes in conditions of employment. DoD civilian employees are essential enablers of our mission capabilities and operational readiness — we cannot fight without them.”

But in a Friday email to the workforce at the Defense Contract Management Agency — one of the largest agencies affected by the change — union leaders said the new talks were a direct result of them having “put pressure” on DoD, and claimed that the workforce transfer plans had been suspended until further notice.

In a counterproposal to DCMA leadership a week earlier, AFGE Council 170 had claimed that the workforce transfer plan amounted to a constructive loss of bargaining rights, since the employees would be transferring into positions where there is no council or collective bargaining agreement currently in place.

Local union leaders also objected to the legal method DCMA had initially told them DoD was using to effectuate the transfer. The agency had labelled it a “transfer of work.” A union official, who asked not to be identified, said the term has no clear definition in law or regulation, adding more uncertainty to what the employees’ bargaining rights would be after the move to DISA.

The workforce changes are part of a broader initiative the Defense Department is using to consolidate its business IT functions. The Pentagon’s chief management officer ordered the changes as a way to reduce duplication among the Defense agencies’ IT infrastructure, and DISA officials estimate the consolidation will save roughly $170 million per year once it is complete.

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