WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal appeals court said Friday the Pentagon has the authority to pick and choose what labor issues it will negotiate with unions representing more than 600,000 civilian employees.
The policy has been on hold since early last year when a federal judge said it eroded collective bargaining rights.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned that ruling Friday, saying in a 2-1 decision that Congress temporarily authorized the policy change until 2009.
The policy gives Defense Secretary Robert Gates greater flexibility to change workers' assignments and refuse to negotiate over certain issues.
The American Federation of Government Employees said the policy also unfairly restricts the appeals process for unfavorable personnel decisions and allows the Pentagon to avoid negotiating at all.
``This undermines the fundamental concept of collective bargaining,'' said Ward Morrow, assistant general counsel for AFGE. ``If they disagree with our offer, they can just take it off the table. What kind of bargaining is that?''
The Pentagon has said the changes are critical to improving the management of the department's huge civilian work force, which includes support staff such as accountants, engineers, firefighters and mechanics.
Morrow said the union would appeal the ruling but Congress may address the issue first.
The House voted on Thursday to back a $646 billion spending bill that restores collective bargaining rights and access to an employee appeals process. The White House threatened a veto.