Steady Drop in Black Army Recruits (Washington Post, 03-09-2005)

WASHINGTON ( – Even as the Pentagon watches Black recruitment into the uniform services decline, morale among civilian employees has been strained by a controversial new personnel system.

A coalition of 10 Department of Defense unions even filed suit in federal court in late February to stop the new “National Security Personnel System” for the Department of Defense. They claim that Pentagon personnel officials ignored a congressional mandate to include union representatives in the development of the plans.


Critics of the new system say it will also make hiring, promotions, transfers and pay raises more political. Outraged Black employees feel it will be even easier under the new system for racial prejudice to enter into personnel decisions.

“I’ve heard quite a few African Americans say that, ‘It’s just like going back to slavery times.’ We’ve always had to fight for our rights,” said Curtis Mitchell, AFGE Deputy Shop Steward at Stiller Air Force Base in Oklahoma, in an interview. “We’re going to be the last ones in, in terms of race, being hired, and the first ones out.”

The general public seems to agree. The union lawsuit was filed during the Pentagon’s open comment period, before the system is implemented July 1. More than 27,000 comments were filed during open comment period. The vast majority of them may have been from letters sent by union members, but most of the “original” comments show the public is opposed to the proposed changes, according to published reports. Much more power will be placed in the hands of supervisors, with fewer checks and balances on their decisions.

“If you sue about it not being fair now–predicated on the system and regulations they’re supposed to (already) be enforcing–how is it going to be fair when that system is put into place when you give them all the rights to say when you can work overtime, when you can get a raise?” Mr. Mitchell asked rhetorically. “It’s a pecking order. If you’re not in that special interest group, you’re subject to not get that raise.”

At least one random comment from the general public agrees. “From what I read about this system, it begins to read something like the old spoils system,” wrote Daniel Field, an Air Force employee, according to The Washington Post. “This gigantic change in the way the government has worked will only breed the boot lickers.”

Managers, for example, will be able to retain a one-year employee with an “outstanding” rating over a 20-year employee with an “excellent” rating.

“They talk about (the) want to have a young vital workforce,” said Mr. Mitchell. “The older person has the most experience. When you put them out because you’re looking for a younger workforce, we don’t think that’s a fair system, not looking at people equally and as a whole.”

Things can only get worse for government workers, even for private sector workers, he predicted. “This is vital to employees, as a whole. This sets the tone for not only federal workers, but other workers, as well. They start here, where will they end up next?”

Union workers also reject the labels that they are “unpatriotic” because of their demands.

“We’re supporting our country right now as we perform these jobs. But don’t strip the rights away to help us continue to perform those jobs because we’re not carrying a gun. We stand behind those troops and we’re willing to do anything and everything, day-to-day, to help them and assist them,” Mr. Mitchell maintained.

Unions involved in the suit, along with AFGE, include: the Association of Civilian Technicians (ACT); International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF); International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE); Laborers International Union (LIU); Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO; National Association of Government Employees (NAGE); National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) and the United Power Trades Organization (UPTO).