“Our employees are upset, they're angry, they're frustrated. and they're hurt” says Teressa Altick, the local union president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
She says 150 employees at the Salem branch are being downgraded, losing a pay grade. It affects civilian pay technicians, claims assistants, program support clerks and accountants.
“We want to be paid for the work that we do. We want to be compensated for the higher graded duties that we do” says Altick. "My fear is it's going to evenutally impact the veterans because we're not going to get qualified people to do the jobs that are required."
Altick says the change will stop some employees from getting a pay raise, eventually costing some about $5,000 dollars a year and additional benefits like cuts in retirement.
“We just feel like we've been betrayed for one thing. We signed at a certain job level, we signed that contract, we've kept our part of the deal , the VA hasn't. Where's it going to stop?” says Patricia Burton, a civil payroll technician.
“I can't speak to the fact that it's necessarily budget driven. It's like I said an ongoing review that's done nationally on a cycle” says Ann Benois, a Salem VA Medical Center spokeswoman.
The Salem VA Medical Center said the decision was made after a review was called for on the federal level by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Network's Centralized Classification Unit. The two groups review each "position description" and decide what the pay grade should be.
“The review process is in place to make sure that all the positions within the federal government are aligned correctly. In other words, is the duties at one position at one facility being done the same way as another? So there's no disparities in the grade” says Benois.
The union has appealed as a group to the VA Central Office and filed a grievance saying the VA didn't follow the proper process in handling that appeal.
We contact the Office of Personnel Management but they directed us to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs but our calls were not returned.
Three Salem VA Medical Center employees contacted Sen. Mark Warner’s office. The following is a portion of the letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office Network Director Daniel Hoffman to Sen. Warner dated March 8, 2012:
“… Prior to filling any vacancy, it is our policy to review all position descriptions (PD) more than two years old to ensure the PD accurately reflects the work performed. Acting to fill a vacancy, the supervisor submitted this PD to the Network’s Centralized Classification Unit (CCU) for re-description.
Upon review, we discovered an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) classification appeal specifically regarding this work. After thoroughly reviewing the PD and classification appeal decision CCU staff determined that the appropriate grade of the position is a GS-0998-05.
The CCU forwarded the classification packaged to VA Central Office (VACO) Compensation and Classification Office for second level review on August 1, 2011. VACO concurred with the classification decision. The employees were notified by the Salem VAMC Human Resources (HR) Office of the downgrade of the position along with their right to appeal. The downgrade action was effected on October 23, 2011.
On October 5, 2011, the employees [redacted] submitted an appeal to the VACO. The employees notified the Salem VAMC’s HR Office that they were not notified of any outcome from their appeal request. The appeal was resubmitted to VACO on January 31, 2012. On February 21, 2012, VACO sent a response to all the appellants concurring with the classification determination of the CCU.
In VACO’s response, all appellants were made aware of their right to appeal to OPM. To date, we are unaware of any employees who have chosen to file an appeal with OPM.
Despite the downgrade of the PD, it is important o note that the affected employees suffered no pay decrease in accordance with 5 CFR [536.301]… “