Workers protest at PSNS

Hundreds of federal workers picketed outside the main gate of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Wednesday in protest of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s proposed amendments to the Department of Defense civilian personnel system.

According to Rick Williams, president of the Bremerton Metal Trades Council, Rumsfeld’s bill will take away many rights of federal employees including the right to step increases in pay, Sunday overtime pay, collective bargaining, veteran preferences, due process for disciplinary action and the right to negotiate.

Williams believes the bill could also wipe out local unions.

Most of the approximately 600 protestors at the rally were civilian military personnel.

Brian Grad, of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division in Keyport, said he came out to show his displeasure with the bill.

“I’m here to show support in protesting the proposed legislation which would rollback civil service workers’ rights, which we’ve worked so hard to achieve for many years,” Grad said.

Ray Agpawa, a marine machinist at the shipyard, said he was at the protest in support of all shipyard workers.

“We want our rights maintained,” Agpawa said. “We don’t want our rights taken away.”

According to a press release from the Department of Defense Web site,, Rumsfeld proposed the changes in the personnel system as part of the defense against threats such as terrorism. He states the changes would allow the system to be more flexible, but that it wouldn’t take away veterans’ preference or the right to collective bargaining.

“What it would do is bring collective bargaining to the national level, so that the department could negotiate with national unions, instead of dealing with more than 1,300 different union locals, a process that is inefficient,” Rumsfeld said.

A number of people spoke at the protest, voicing words of encouragement to the crowd.

Simon Faretta, constituent services aide for Rep. Jay Inslee, read a speech written by Inslee to the crowd.

“This recent anti-labor initiative is part of a continual assault by the Bush administration on organized labor,” Inslee had written. “I believe it is shameful for the current president and Republican Congress to do so in the name of national security.”

Rep. Norm Dicks also sent a representative to the protest.

“I wish I could be with you today to rally against the Department of Defense’s proposal to strip civilian workers of their right to participate in many of the essential elements of organized labor,” read Dicks’ district director Tom Luce from the sixth district representative’s speech. “This proposal by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is flat-out wrong, and I promise you today that I will do what I can to correct this injustice.”

Bremerton’s Mayor Cary Bozeman also spoke at the protest, saying he disagreed with the bill and that it would have a negative impact on Bremerton’s economy.

“This is a bill that takes away from our ability to be middle class citizens,” Bozeman said. “I’m with you in this fight.”

About 400 people at the rally signed petitions against the bill.

“I think it went pretty good today,” Williams said. “We had quite a few people show up, so it was a good turnout.”

Williams suggests people who want to take action against the bill contact their state representatives or sign a petition at their local union.

The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have already voted on the bill. The House passed a bill, HR – 1588, which included Rumfeld’s appropriations. The Senate’s bill, S – 1050, did not include the amendments. The two legislative branches will be meeting together to reconcile the two bills.

“Now we go to reconcile the Senate’s bill with the House’s bill — and with today’s rally, and with rallies just like this one that are being conducted all over the country, we are sending a clear and direct message that our fight is just beginning,” Dicks said.

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