(WASHINGTON) – The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today applauded Sens. John D. Rockefeller (D –W.Va.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Jim Webb (D-Va.) for introducing legislation to restore the collective bargaining rights for medical professionals in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill is the Senate companion of H.R. 4089, which clarifies Congress’ original intent to afford equal collective bargaining rights to VA medical employees as afforded to other federal employees.
“We applaud Sen. Rockefeller for having the courage to stand with VA employees,” said John Gage AFGE national president. “It was never the intent of Congress to deny registered nurses and doctors the right to appeal adverse management actions through the grievance process or the courts.
S. 2824 amends Title 38 of USC §7422, governing the collective bargaining rights of the employees in the VA. The Senate joins the House clarifying Congress’ original intent to allow RNs, doctors, dentists and five other professions on the front lines of veterans’ care employees to collectively bargain on workplace issues. The bill also clarifies their right to appeal arbitration decisions to federal court, and provides employees with a more level playing field in appeals through the VA’s Disciplinary Appeals Board.
Congress initially enacted Section 7422 of Title 38 in 1991 to provide medical professionals within the VA with collective bargaining rights to allow these health care professionals to negotiate file grievances and arbitrate disputes over working conditions. Despite clear legislative intent to allow grievances except in very limited exceptions, e.g. treatment modality, over the past five years, the Undersecretary of Health has upheld virtually all management decisions to block grievances filed by these employees, most often based on the assertion they are nongrievable “direct patient care” issues. As a result, nurses and doctors trying to challenge ordinary workplace issues such as scheduling, reassignment, access to information about nurse pay surveys and requests to participate in medical by-laws. Although the law makes clear that only the Undersecretary of Health can determine whether employees have the right to use the grievance and arbitration process, hospital human resources employees regularly overstep their authority by making these determinations themselves. .
“This new legislation is a strong endorsement for equity in the workplace. The medical professionals in the VA are among the best in the world and they deserve the voice guaranteed them by Congress,” added Gage.