The Department of Veterans Affairs is moving forward with its anti-employee, anti-veteran agenda by submitting management proposals, many illegal, to the impasses panel that has the authority to impose management directives.
The AFGE National VA Council and the VA began contract negotiations in May last year, but the agency tried to gut the contract covering 260,000 employees represented by AFGE and instead implement Trump’s anti-worker executive orders limiting employees’ workplace rights.
The disagreement led both parties to the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP), which the Trump administration has packed with anti-union zealots and used to impose management directives and/or Trump’s executive orders. Shocked at the lengths this administration will go to fulfill their union-busting agenda, the council earlier this year sued the panel and its parent agency, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) for illegally appointing impasses panel members.
The contract negotiations, however, continue despite the complaint. Both sides have submitted their proposals to the FSIP. Sadly and unsurprisingly, the VA is once again seeking to impose the Trump administration’s anti-worker directives.
Here are five of the VA’s most outrageous proposals submitted to the panel:
1. Prohibit grieving on important issues
In its proposal under Article 43 Grievance Exclusions, the VA wants to prohibit employees from filing a grievance on several important issues, such as removals, leave, official time, training, and awards.
The VA especially wants to exclude removals from the grievance procedure. On page 60, the agency laments arbitrator review of removals of bargaining unit employees under the Accountability Act.
But these Accountability Act removals are not appealed to the FLRA. It is perplexing that the VA is claiming FLRA is a “hurdle” for them in relation to these removals. It appears the VA does not know the appeal avenues of the statute exclusively designed for it – the Federal Circuit Court, the same route as if it were filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board.
They also call employees toxic: “Under the current grievance process, the party experiencing behavior modification is the management official, not the toxic employee.” (page 63-64)
2. Require annual renewal for deduction of union membership dues
Under Article 45 Dues Withholding, the VA claims employees should have to opt-in to paying dues annually. But this violates employees’ designation to pay dues. No other voluntary allotment has such a requirement at the VA. Employee associations like the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs do not require annual renewal for deduction of membership dues.
Similarly, other items do not have annual renewal requirements. Thrift Savings Plan contribution, for example, automatically resumes in the next year. Thrift Loan Repayment continues for the life of the loan. The Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance, savings allotments, an allotment to a political action committee, and many other items don’t need to be renewed every year.
This is pure union busting.
3. Remove employees from telework without notice
Under Article 20, the VA derides the union’s interest in treating employees equally. It generally wants to pull employees back to the office for unspecified reasons and without notice. This proposal was made before the coronavirus outbreak, so it’s not about the pandemic.
4. Shift responsibility for a safe workplace entirely to employees, the union
Under Article 29 Safety, the VA shifts responsibility for a safe work place entirely to employees and the union: “[the proposals lists] employee responsibilities to protect themselves and coworkers,” or excuses itself from the responsibility entirely: “While recognizing the importance of employee safety, the VA proposal considers that many safety issues arise from factors outside the Department’s control; thus, the VA proposal limits its safety obligations to matters under its purview.” Even if a matter is outside of the VA’s control, it is still required to take steps to keep employees safe.
5. Remove employees without fitness for duty exams
The VA did not state in their submission under Article 19 Fitness for Duty, but at the bargaining table, the VA said they would not need to do fitness for duty exams because they would just remove employees who they believe can’t do the work under the Accountability Act. VA team member Charles Arrington made this statement and the other VA team members did not disagree with him or correct him.
Even though the Accountability Act does not specifically provide such authority to the VA, the agency’s attitude about this issue is alarming. The Accountability Act was meant to be a tool to help the agency get rid of unethical managers sparked by the waitlist scandal years ago, but instead the VA has been using the law to empower managers to fire low-level employees. Many of these lower-level jobs are occupied by veterans and disabled veterans. Managers are using the Accountability Act to fire first time offenders – those missing deadlines or moving slowly after an injury – hardly an offense that warrants immediate termination. Many veterans got their VA jobs through the VA’s Compensated Work Therapy program, which provides jobs to veterans with mental illnesses or physical disabilities who would otherwise have had difficulties finding a job.
If the VA fired workers without conducting fitness for duty exams, there would likely be an uptick in discrimination complaints.