Unions Provide Checks and Balances against an Abuse of Power

Some members of Congress are plotting to take away our protection against tyranny. There's a bill pending in Congress that would let them do exactly that. 

The bill, H.R. 1461, would take away an important tool Department of Veterans Affairs employees (and potentially those at other agencies) use to correct unsafe, unfair working conditions. This tool is called official time, a practice where union volunteers are allowed certain hours of their workdays to deal with problems impacting employees and patient care. A misinformation campaign against official time led by Rep. Jodey Arrington of Texas is not only damaging to the VA but also the principles our country was founded upon.

In order to form a more perfect union 

There’s a reason there are three branches of government – to create a check and balance system in which no one branch of our government could become too powerful. Our founding fathers had several goals, but the most important of all was to avoid tyranny and defend democracy. This concept is central to the creation of labor unions. Unions provide checks and balances in the workplace against bad management and an abuse of power.

Official time is a tool against tyranny in a workplace 

Everybody wants to work somewhere that’s safe, treats its employees fairly, and accomplishes the mission. Official time empowers workers to stand up to nepotism, abuse of power, and other obstacles to deliver quality services to the public.

This is particularly true at VA hospitals where millions of veterans depend on a system that delivers them the best, seamless care. At a VA hospital, everyone plays an important role in giving veterans the best care they deserve. Those on janitorial duties make sure the operating rooms are clean and sanitized. Food service employees make sure veterans have nutritious food. Nurses and doctors treat their illnesses.

VA employees are passionate about their mission. After all one in three VA employees are veterans themselves. But often times, they are so understaffed and have to work so much they don’t have time to take care of themselves. That’s where their union comes in. Union reps make sure their facilities follow health and safety standards. They make sure employees come to work without fear of being harassed. They make sure employees can report waste, fraud, and abuse without fear of retaliation from bad manager. They make sure employees are not discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, or sexual orientation.

Without official time, union reps won’t be able to do any of it because they will be consumed by their own daily work. This union rep’s story on how she uses official time is a great example of what it’s like to work at a VA hospital and do whatever it takes to deliver the best care possible for our veterans. 

We need to keep the system of checks and balances 

AFGE thanks members and activists who’ve reached out to their members of Congress asking them to protect official time, but we need to keep the pressure on. 

This is not only about the VA. If this bill becomes law, it will “go viral” and your agency will be next. 

We need all hands of deck. Call your members of Congress now. 

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