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WASHINGTON — A coalition of federal employee unions filed suit this week to block the Department of Defense from implementing its new civilian pay system, saying the changes are unfair and illegal.

A Justice Department spokesman told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday that the suit itself would not delay implementation of the program, but union attorneys plan to file a temporary restraining order motion next week to stall the process.

The lawsuit asks for much of the proposed National Security Personnel System to be struck down, and for defense officials to be reprimanded for not consulting with the unions more thoroughly in developing the major pay changes.

The new system is designed to replace the traditional grade- based payroll currently used for civilian defense employees.

Its multitiered pay banding process would rely on performance evaluations for pay raises and pay cuts, instead of the current years-of-service consideration.

But John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, called the new system “cronyism.”

Union officials believe supervisors will be able to use the new system to withhold pay raises for personal reasons, simply by handing out poor performance reviews that don’t reflect actual workplace achievements.

The new lawsuit is similar to one filed earlier this year, which also said that as written, the pay plan would undercut collective bargaining agreements and allow defense officials to ignore union requests.

A judge dismissed that legal move, saying the unions should wait until the process was finalized to seek judicial intervention.

All comments on the unions’ suit were referred to the Department of Justice.

Charles Miller, a spokesman for the department’s civil division, said officials there would not have comment on the issue until court proceedings begin, but that the lawsuit should not delay the launch of the new pay system.

Last month, the unions won a court victory against similar proposals in the Department of Homeland Security’s pay system when a judge delayed its launch, citing conflicts in its collective bargaining provisions.

Defense officials have said their proposal differs significantly from the homeland security plan.

The labor relations aspects of the NSPS go into effect next month, pending a Congressional review.

The pay and human resources provisions would be implemented in phases, starting in February. But defense officials said no paychecks would be affected until January 2007, after supervisors have had time to establish a performance baseline on which to evaluate employees.

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