VA Employees Return to Bargaining Table After Rejecting Trump Labor Panel’s Imposed Contract

Categories: VA, The Insider

AFGE members at the Department of Veterans Affairs overwhelmingly voted against ratifying an unfair collective bargaining agreement imposed by an anti-worker labor panel appointed by the Trump administration. 

The vote was taken under protest following the VA’s illegal insistence that members ratify a partial agreement. The parties have since returned to the bargaining table with the assistance of a mediator. 

The failed ratification comes after the November 5 decision from a Trump appointed Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) to impose many of VA management’s anti-worker contract proposals on VA employees as the agency struggles to keep pace with a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“As we have not agreed to limitations on negotiations following a failed ratification, we look forward to renegotiating the agreement in a manner that will ensure ratification,” said Alma Lee, president of the AFGE National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC), which represents over 265,000 VA employees, in a letter to Michael Picerno, acting executive director/alternate chief negotiator of the VA’s Office of Labor Management Relations (LMR). “As the entirety of the Department’s conduct during negotiations failed to meet the bare minimum requirements of good faith, we respectfully request that the Department return to the table in complete reversal of its prior conduct.” 

“This failed ratification vote sends a loud and clear message to the VA that our members will not settle for an unfair contract,” said Linda Ward-Smith, president of AFGE Local 1224 in Las Vegas. “The VA continues to undermine the union’s right to an equitable contract and ability to negotiate. Until they can come back to the table and fairly reach a new contract, our members will not back down. We will continue to fight for protections that we are entitled to under the law in order to maintain a standard of care for our veterans while ensuring employees can safely do their jobs.” 

The panel’s decision cannot legally be implemented by the VA because the legitimacy of the panel’s ruling is still in question because of a controversy about the constitutionality of the members’ appointments, which will be resolved by the courts.

In addition, nine articles from the parties’ existing contract are the subject of a separate lawsuit in federal court. While VA members await the resolution of these matters, the FSIP decision is not in effect. Attempts by the VA to implement any part of the FSIP decision would be illegal. 

A major role by the Biden administration 

The VA’s years-long campaign to impose an anti-worker contract on hundreds of thousands of its employees could be reversed by the Biden administration. Biden will have the power to encourage the negotiation of a fair VA contract and bargain in good faith. 

The importance of a fair contract is a matter of life and death during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of 105 VA employees and over 7,000 veterans. Currently, more than 14,000 VA employees and 130,000 veterans have tested positive. 

Members of the AFGE NVAC have been fighting for a fair contract for years, demanding safe working conditions and adequate staffing levels, the space and equipment VA workers need to ensure veterans receive the best care possible, and mechanisms to protect workers from the whims of management.

We look forward to working with the Biden administration to make the VA a better place to work and to provide the best care to our country’s veterans. 

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