WASHINGTON – A bipartisan coalition of 128 members of Congress, led by Reps. Anthony Brown and Donald Norcross, is warning the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs that veterans could suffer if the agency succeeds in gutting the union contract covering 260,000 employees represented by the American Federation of Government Employees.
In a June 5 letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, the lawmakers say they are “deeply concerned that the VA has pursued anti-labor policies” in its negotiations with AFGE over a new contract and that the agency is attempting to circumvent last year’s court order blocking the Trump administration from carrying out three executive orders limiting federal employees’ union and workplace rights.
“We are concerned that these actions will have a detrimental effect on veterans depending on the VA for medical care and other vital services,” the lawmakers wrote. “If the contract VA proposes was implemented, it would diminish labor protections and the collective bargaining rights that Congress intended, and would have a severe, destabilizing effect on agency operations, employee morale and the VA’s ability to deliver high quality healthcare and benefits to America’s Veterans.”
The lawmakers called on Wilkie to bargain with AFGE in good faith over a contract with the goal of improving care for our veterans. “Unions representing VA workers help improve the care veterans receive and the services they rely on by creating an efficient working environment,” they wrote.
AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. thanked all the lawmakers who signed the letter for their support in our ongoing contract negotiations, which began May 27 and will continue for several months.
“There is no other group of employees more dedicated to the mission of caring for our veterans than VA employees – more than a third of whom are veterans themselves,” President Cox said. “Yet the VA wants to strip workers of their rights and protections and leave them with a union in name only. If the VA has its way, safeguards to ensure whistleblowers are protected from retaliation for standing up for veterans will be severely eroded, there will be no assurances that employees will receive the proper training to perform their jobs, and standards for providing safe facilities for VA workers and veterans alike will be dramatically weakened.”
“Thank you to Representatives Brown and Norcross for leading this bipartisan effort, and thank you to all the lawmakers who are standing up for veterans and the employees who work on their behalf every day,” Cox added.