Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida’s attempt to exploit the VA crisis and Walmartize the VA and the entire federal government failed on Tuesday when his colleagues, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, blocked an up-or-down vote on Rubio’s extreme legislation.
Blumenthal derailed Rubio’s plan to speed up consideration of his bill under a rule known as unanimous consent, which would allow the bill to pass by a simple voice vote. Rubio’s bill, S. 1082, would create an at-will VA workforce by stripping virtually every VA employee of due process rights so that managers can fire them without advance notice, opportunity to respond or get representation. This comes just one year after it was revealed that managers had fiercely retaliated against employees who exposed secret waitlists at VA medical centers across the country.
In addition to ending due process, the bill would increase the number of unfair terminations of recently hired veterans in the VA by extending the probationary period from one year to 18 months or longer. Since probationary employees have no appeal rights, this bill provision will also intimidate vast numbers of employees from speaking up against poor health care practices that endanger veterans.
Blumenthal has introduced his own bill, the VA Equitable Employee Accountability Act, S. 1856, that holds the minority of bad apples accountable without undermining the fundamental workplace rates of all other dedicated VA employees.
“Rubio’s bill hurts veterans and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “Our veterans and VA workforce need legislation that will address the root causes of VA mismanagement and protect employees from retaliation when they speak up for veterans. Senator Blumenthal’s bill, S. 1856, is the right tool for the job.”
S. 1856 is the only legislation before the Senate VA Committee that provides a multi-faceted, commonsense approach to ensuring real accountability. The bill gives managers broader authority to address dangers in the workplace, adds new whistleblower protections, limits paid administrative leave and curbs revolving door relationships between VA employees and contractors.
If Rubio’s bill becomes law, federal employees in other agencies can expect to see their basic rights on the chopping block before too long.
AFGE thanks members who made thousands of phone calls in just six hours urging their senators to oppose Senator Rubio’s plan. Your action made a difference.
This is a major victory for AFGE members, but Rubio will try to secure a vote on the bill again later this year or next year. We will keep you posted.