The department is downgrading the grade levels of patient support assistants, housekeepers, building maintenance workers, and payroll and tax support staff, among others. Those affected by the downgrades are at the lower General Schedule grades, such as GS-5s and GS-4s, according AFGE.
“Does it make sense to downgrade positions at the bottom of the [Veterans Health Administration] pay scale?” asked Alma Lee, president of the American Federation of Government Employees’ National Veterans Affairs Council. “I wonder why the department is only conducting classification reviews of support personnel rather than agencywide review of all positions.”
Forty-two percent of VA employees at the GS-5 level are veterans, and 46 percent at the GS-4 level are veterans, Lee said.
“Once these employees take a downgrade, even if their base salary is maintained through a ‘safe pay’ provision, these employees essentially lose all benefits in regards to [reduction-in-force] rights, any type of rewards and pay increases for, potentially, years,” Ami Pendergrass, staff attorney at the AFGE VA Council, said in an interview during the protest.
VA did not respond to requests for more information about how positions are being downgraded.
VA spokeswoman Josephine Schuda said in an email that ““VA has worked diligently to protect employees in the Medical Support Assistants specialty affected by this process, and will continue to make every effort to minimize the number of individuals affected by these actions. VA will continue to provide grade and pay retention to any impacted employees so they can maintain their current salaries.”
AFGE is pressing the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to impose a moratorium on the downgrades, said council lobbyist Mike Rosenblatt.
Congress “has the power to tell the VA to stop spending money on these downgrades, to stop carrying out more until it is investigated, to reform the system, and to do what is right,” said Marilyn Park, another council lobbyist.