(WASHINGTON) – The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is proud to honor the work of nurses throughout the federal government as it celebrates National Nurses Week, May 6–May 12. AFGE represents thousands of nurses nationwide at VA medical centers, military hospitals, federal correctional facilities and other federal health care sites. These dedicated health care professionals are on the front lines every day delivering specialized, high quality care to patients of all ages with complex medical and mental health needs.
A strong voice in the workplace is essential to the ability of federal sector nurses to deliver safe, quality care, and also is a valuable recruitment and retention tool for employers. AFGE applauded the Obama administration for its December 2009 Executive Order on Labor-Management Forums (E.O. 13522) that serves as an effective antidote to anti-union labor relations that exclude the input of front-line workers. Sadly, some federal employers retain policies that weaken the voice at work of health care professionals. AFGE is responding on multiple fronts to change these counterproductive policies. For example, AFGE and the National VA Council are pursuing legislation to restore full and equal bargaining rights for registered nurses and other Title 38 health care professionals at the VA. The VA continues to impose policies from the prior administration that prevent VA health care professionals from bargaining over routine workplace matters such as schedules, reassignment, and proper payment for weekend and evening work. This extreme and unreasonable interpretation of the law is not what Congress intended when it passed Section 7422 of Title 38 in 1991.
“This overly broad interpretation of the law has made it extremely difficult for the VA to recruit and retain qualified health care professionals,” said AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox. “Management has distorted the intent of this law, silencing employees’ ability to fully exercise their rights. This only hinders the agency’s ability to maintain excellence in care and honor the trust between health care professionals and the veterans they serve.” AFGE and its National VA Council appreciate the leadership of Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Representative Bob Filner (D-Calif.) in introducing legislation again this year to permit bargaining over compensation matters other than setting pay.
Federal nurse issues also are addressed through the AFGE Nurse Steering Committee, led by AFGE District 8 National Vice President Jane Nygaard. The Steering Committee convenes monthly to address legislative and legal concerns, and disseminate information to AFGE members and lawmakers. Bargaining rights for VA nurses has been a top issue for the committee, along with legislation to provide true overtime for nurses within the Bureau of Prisons and Department of Defense, safe patient handling and ensuring safe staffing levels for nurses who work throughout the federal government.
“This committee plays a vital role in organizing our members and highlighting the unique challenges faced by nurses nationwide,” said Nygaard. “We will continue to move forward, especially legislatively, to address issues that will strengthen nurses’ voices at work.”
To commemorate National Nurses Week AFGE has launched radio ads in select markets around the country that highlight the work of America’s nurses. The two ads, narrated by Cox and Nygaard, urge listeners to honor the work of our nation’s nurses and support their voice at work within the VA.