The American taxpayers are on the hook for lawsuits’ costs as a result of the administration’s decision to eliminate the Department of Veterans Affairs’ process allowing health care professionals and unions to correct management’s errors and resolve issues at lower levels.
The VA Aug. 17 announced it has rescinded a 2010 policy for VA doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals on what issues can and cannot be negotiated and what can and cannot be challenged through a negotiated grievance process.
The agreement allowed our union to negotiate on issues indirectly related to patient care and to file a grievance over the VA’s violation of its own policies. We often grieved the VA’s failure to properly pay employees, properly conduct pay surveys, and properly schedule employees.
Expensive, lengthy litigation
Taking away the rights to grieve these important issues would leave nearly 100,000 VA health care employees with no choice but to turn to federal court for help, and the taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the massive costs of the VA defending itself.
We recently grieved the VA’s failure to implement changes concerning premium pay for overtime, night, Sunday, or holiday work for Title 38 registered nurses and “hybrid” employees – those covered under both Title 38 and Title 5 – as required by the Caregiver Act. The VA had issued policy implementing the changes to the law but was not complying with its own policy or the law. After the grievance, the VA corrected the error and began paying employees backpay. Rescinding collective bargaining would have prevented our union from resolving this issue and would have resulted in exorbitant court costs and delay if the employees had to file a federal lawsuit.
Taking away the rights to grieve these issues would also mean allowing the VA to cheat on its own employees.
During the hurricane season in the fall of 2017, for example, the VA made a series of timekeeping and leave errors concerning employees in Florida and Puerto Rico who had to come to work during non-work hours to care for veterans during these whether emergencies. They slept in their offices and filled in for their co-workers who couldn’t make it to work.
After the grievance, the VA worked with our union to correct those employee’s leave records and get them paid for the hours they worked to care for patients. Rescinding the 2010 agreement would have prevented such resolution from happening and employees would have gone unpaid for their work during a tumultuous time.
Harm to veterans
Prohibiting employees from challenging the agency on these issues could also worsen staffing shortages and harm veterans.
We recently filed a national grievance concerning the VA’s failure to follow its own policy allowing physicians to use leave in increments of one-hour. Previously, they had to use a whole day, even when they did not need a whole day. Such a change allows veterans more access to healthcare where there is already a staffing shortage, yet the VA is not implementing it. Given the repeal of the 2010 agreement, the VA will probably preclude this from the grievance process instead of working with our union to correct it.
“Taking away bargaining rights of front-line VA nurses and doctors is the administration’s latest vicious assault on dedicated clinicians who must be able to speak up for the patients they serve,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “This policy change discourages clinicians from coming to work for the VA and further worsen the current severe staffing shortage. Veterans will have to wait longer for care, endangering their lives.”