AFGE Mobilization Puts the Brakes on Bad VA Bill

The record breaking calls from AFGE activists to their elected members of Congress blocked efforts to rush a bad bill through both the House and the Senate before they leave town for the August recess this week.

The House on Wednesday passed H.R. 1994, a bill that would take away Department of Veterans Affairs employees’ due process protections. But because of the nearly 9,000 calls AFGE activists made, we gained support for an alternative House bill and stopped the Senate from taking up the bill this week to allow more education and debates.

The alternative bill – known as the Takano substitute introduced by Rep. Mark Takano of California – received eight more votes than we predicted. The Takano substitute, which is also a stand-alone bill H.R. 2999, garnered four more co-sponsors this week because of the hard work of our activists.

We were able to secure a strong veto commitment from the White House against H.R. 1994.

We were also able to persuade leadership to separate this bad bill from the VA emergency funding bill that would keep hospitals open and avoid employee furloughs.

The Senate will take up the bill in September, and our members’ energy and enthusiasm will help us secure real accountability at the VA.

AFGE thanks the members of Congress who gave impassioned speeches condemning H.R. 1994, championed by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, during the House floor debate on Wednesday.

Rep. Takano called H.R. 1994 an unconstitutional bill that won’t stand up in court. He said veterans need doctors and nurses to want to be there to take care of them. There are 41,500 unfilled medical jobs in the VA, and this bill would make the agency an even less desirable place to work.

“It’s wrong to assume that VA employees are guilty until proven innocent,” he said. “We should not throw out the constitutional rights because some people think it’s too difficult to follow the law.”

“This is just an attempt to demonize employees and privatize the VA,” Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada said bluntly.

“Yesterday in the committee I heard someone say ‘The goal is to close all the VA facilities and privatize it’,” said Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida.

Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland was equally straightforward. “This bill is nothing more than union busting.” She added that it would demoralize the workforce and shrink the government so it can’t do anything for the American people.

Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania said the bad actors are usually management people. Right now frontline employees can refuse to do what they think is not right. This bill would allow managers to retaliate against them for refusing to go along.

VA employees are extremely demoralized by Chairman Miller’s action and words. As one in three VA employees are veterans, they feel they are being attacked by the very elected officials who are supposed to support and protect veterans. They feel these elected officials ignored the independent Merit Systems Protection Board’s warning against weakening due process and turning the civil service into the spoils system it once was.

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