AFGE’s National VA Council and the Department of Veterans Affairs earlier this month signed off on ground rules for negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement for the 250,000 VA workers we represent.
Negotiating with VA management on the ground rules was difficult to say the least, with the chairman of the Federal Services Impasses Panel having to facilitate discussions in March after the VA declared an impasse.
Even after all of the terms had been agreed to in principle, the VA made a last-minute proposal that the union waive its right to arbitrate violations of the ground rules – something we refused to do. After another day of bargaining, both sides agreed on two separate documents that will constitute the ground rules.
Under the terms of the agreement, negotiations will begin in early June and proceed until at least Dec. 17, following a cycle of two weeks on and one week off. Negotiations will be held mostly in Washington. There are no limitations on the union’s ability to discuss negotiations as they occur.
Deliberations on a new contract come as VA employees face near-daily attacks on their workplace rights and protections. In August 2018, we scored two victories against the administration’s anti-union efforts: a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration had illegally attempted to wipe out official time through executive order, upholding our lawsuit, and a federal arbitrator found that the VA had violated the law by failing to adhere to the existing labor contract and eliminating opportunities for employees to improve their performance.
Three months later, in November 2018, the VA announced it was revoking official time for 430 medical professionals who help ensure workplace rights for more than 100,000 health care workers – prompting AFGE to file a lawsuit in federal court.