AFGE’s National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC) is pushing back against Trump appointees on the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) who ruled to impose anti-worker contract proposals on 265,000 Veterans Affairs employees as the agency struggles to keep pace with a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Trump administration has continually undermined the union rights and collective bargaining agreements for federal employees without regard for the efficiency of operations, service to the public, or the well-being of employees.
The Nov. 5 decision by the FSIP to impose many of VA management’s proposals is another example of these relentless assaults, prompting the NVAC to file a Motion for Stay of the panel’s decision with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). AFGE/NVAC asks that FSIP’s decision be stayed pending resolution of the lawsuit filed by the union over the constitutionality of FSIP’s members’ appointments as well as 22 pending negotiability appeals.
While VA members await the resolution of these matters, the FSIP decision is not in effect. Attempts by the VA to implement any part of the FSIP decision would be illegal.
“AFGE NVAC is disappointed with the panel’s decision on the union’s Master Collective Bargaining Agreement, but not entirely surprised that a Trump-appointed panel would rule the way they did,” said AFGE NVAC President Alma Lee. “Since he was first appointed to his post, VA Secretary Wilkie has sabotaged and worked against the union so that the panel’s decision on our contract reflects his anti-union and racist tendencies. But there is hope. The union is confident that the incoming Biden-Harris administration will right the wrongs of the Federal Service Impasses Panel and provide a strong, safe, and fair contract and workplace for all union members and VA employees.”
Here’s what the Trump-appointed panel is trying to impose on the VA workforce:
1. Abolish health and safety protections amid the COVID-19 pandemic
The panel gutted the Health and Safety article of the contract during a pandemic. All protections, processes, and procedures -- including commitments for PPE, committees, and inspections -- are gone. The ruling imposes this attack on employee safety despite acknowledging that employees are getting sick and dying due to insufficient action taken by the department to protect them during the coronavirus pandemic, as described by the VA Inspector General.
2. Gut workers’ EEO rights to fight discrimination
The panel chose to eviscerate Equal Employment Opportunity rights of VA employees by implementing VA management’s proposal in full, removing guidance and instruction for employees regarding EEO rights, taking away procedures and processes that support employees pursuing EEO claims, denying access to EEO documentation, and illegally prohibiting the use of official time for EEO matters for union representatives, which inhibits the ability of most employees to obtain a knowledgeable representative in EEO matters. All this is happening in the context of a department currently undergoing a Government Accountability Office investigation into shocking claims of systemic discrimination.
3. Undermine fair investigations
The panel stripped away all processes and procedures establishing fair and regular investigations, removing advance notice for interviews, stripping union access to agency materials, and removing additional official time for investigations.
4. Take away union reps’ time for representing employees
The panel eviscerated the time union officials have traditionally been able to use to represent employees and resolve workplace issues, even as problems continue to plague VA employees nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.
5. Take away progressive discipline
The panel stripped procedural and due process protections for employees, slashing the timeline for both disciplinary and adverse actions, and taking away the requirement for progressive discipline in a blow to due process.
6. End labor-management training
The panel ended all existing joint labor-management training, making it clear that the administration has learned nothing from its mistakes during COVID-19 and has no plans of listening to the concerns of front-line employees in the future.
7. Expand the scope of employee surveillance
The panel broadly expanded the scope and reason for surveilling employees to anything allowed under the law, stripping away all procedures and processes protecting employees’ rights and interests to privacy at work.
8. Impose a long duration of contract
In an attempt to lock in the anti-worker changes made to the contract, the panel imposed a seven-year term for the contract. Most collective bargaining agreements are for three or four years, making a seven-year term far outside the mainstream.
“It’s shocking that this administration continues to attack the dedicated employees, including front-line health care professionals, who come to work every day to care for our veterans and produce the high satisfaction scores the president loves to tout at his political rallies,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley.“But, as has become clear, the American people are tired of Trump’s divisive leadership. The next administration can undo this travesty and move the VA forward with a fair contract that ensures veterans and VA employees are treated with dignity and respect.”
Why we are fighting
The importance of a fair contract is a matter of life and death during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of 66 VA employees and more than 4,000 veterans.
Instead of listening to VA workers when they raised the alarm about PPE shortages at the start of the pandemic, Secretary Robert Wilkie and VA officials focused on evicting union representatives from office space as cases spiked and dismissing public reports of problems within the VA only to acknowledge the shortages once internal memos were leaked.
Currently, more than 7,000 VA employees have tested positive, and that number steadily increases as the VA continues to unnecessarily rush non-essential, telework-eligible employees back to worksites.
This unlawful attack on thousands of VA members could also be reversed by the Biden administration. Biden will have the power to encourage the negotiation of a fair VA contract, bargain in good faith and rescind Trump’s controversial VA executive orders, which Biden has prioritized on day one of his presidency to restore the rights of government workers to unionize.