The Department of Veterans Affairs is not playing nice.
Instead of fulfilling the promise of the Biden-Harris Administration to expand collective bargaining rights and empower federal workers, VA negotiators are demanding that AFGE’s National VA Council (NVAC) accept concessions in nearly every article of the contract.
Over the past two weeks, we met at the Orlando VA Medical Center to negotiate just one subject: Article 23 (Merit Promotion). This article applies to the vast majority of our bargaining unit, including Title 5 employees such as housekeepers, food service workers, and veterans service representatives, and hybrid Title 38 employees such as medical technicians, social workers, and physical therapists.
Article 23 includes vital protections that prioritize the fundamental elements of a healthy workplace, like fairness, open competition, and upward mobility. It requires the VA to advertise job announcements in a transparent manner, rate and rank applicants based on job-related qualifications, and first consider internal VA employees before hiring an external candidate. We know that VA employees are in the best position to provide care and services to veterans.
AFGE/NVAC is fighting to preserve our contract and expand the protections in Article 23, but VA negotiators insist that they need "maximum flexibility" and "discretion" in the hiring process.
“We all know that VA's proposal will create a culture of favoritism that would weaken the merit-based hiring system in the federal government,” said the NVAC negotiating team.
“We spent more than 14 weeks at the bargaining table last year with VA fighting for a pro-worker contract that will provide a safe working environment where VA employees can best serve veterans and their families. Like all negotiations, our union expected to engage in spirited debate and hear different points of view. But we did not expect that VA negotiators would be sitting across the table advocating to strip workplace protections from the 2011 Master Agreement. That is not what we're here to do.”
Our union will continue to push back against these anti-worker proposals at the bargaining table. We'll be in San Antonio, Texas, on Feb. 6-17 for bargaining session #9. Stay tuned for further updates.