Bill Guts VA Workers' Rights

On March 16, H.R. 1259 passed in a House of Representatives vote 237 - 178. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe (TN-1) is the first of three bills in the 115th Congress that is aimed squarely at taking away workers’ right to representation, penalize the workers who use official time to represent their colleagues, and make it impossible for AFGE to stand up for our members and all government workers.

“Make no mistake – this legislation is not about improving accountability at the VA, and it certainly won’t improve veterans’ access to quality care and earned benefits,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “This is part of an orchestrated attack on the rights of federal workers and employee unions that’s ripped from the playbook of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.”

Details about H.R. 1259:

  • This bill prohibits the use of the grievance and arbitration procedures in our collective bargaining agreements for demotion, suspension, and termination.
  • It makes it easy for VA to fire, demote, suspend, or discipline employees for alleged misconduct or poor performance.
  • It drastically shortens time periods for going to the Merit Systems Protection Board to appeal demotions, suspensions, or firing (from 30 days to seven days).
  • It prohibits the MSPB Administrative Judge from reducing the penalty that the VA wants, even if they judge it to be too harsh (they can no longer reduce a termination to a suspension, for example).
  • It allows VA to take back retirement benefits and bonuses of any VA employee convicted of a felony that the agency claims is related to the job — a practice that is never allowed in the private sector.

If the bill becomes law, there is also concern that it will impact the ability of whistleblowers to report threats to the health and safety of veterans. Rep. Mark Takano (CA-31), and Rep. Ruben Kihuen (NV-4) offered amendments that bolstered frontline worker protections.

“Under the bill, a whistleblower can be still be fired during the expedited procedure with limited recourse,” said Kihuen during his introduction of his amendment. “One-third of our VA employees are veterans. This amendment also works to protect them from unjust firings without due process.”

“The brave men and women who have put their lives on the line should be provided with the best quality of care,” Kihuen said. “It is imperative that the whistleblowers who have stood up to protect our veterans should be fully protected from retaliation.”

Ultimately, both Takano and Kiheun’s amendments were defeated.

“While we are deterred by the House’s action, we are not defeated,” Cox said. “We will fight this bill when it goes before the Senate, and we will continue to make the case to lawmakers and the public that attacking the rights of working-class men and women at the VA and across government is counterproductive to our shared goal of providing the best service to the American taxpayers.”

To see a full list of lawmakers who supported and opposed the H.R. 1259, visit this page.

Visit to learn more about the two remaining bills that threaten workers’ right to representation. 

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