During AFGE’s National Nurses' Week, May 6 – May 12, Veterans Administration (VA) health care professionals will urge lawmakers to support HR. 949 and S.362 to close the collective bargaining loophole for VA nurses, doctors, dentists, physician assistants, and other front line health care providers.
Every day, public employees, including doctors and nurses working in other federal medical facilities, including DoD and Bureau of Prisons hospitals, use their collective bargaining rights to improve the quality and safety of government services. However, because of an arbitrary and overly broad interpretation of the statute, VA health care professionals whose rights are set by Title 38 (instead of Title 5 that covers most federal employees) have been barred from bargaining over even routine matters.
Within the VA, management has used an extreme and unreasonable interpretation of the law, denying employees the ability to bargain over routine matters such as assignment and work schedules. This arbitrary application of Section 7422 violates Congress’ intent to grant VA health care professionals with full rights. The abuses that follow deplete morale and make it harder for the VA to recruit and retain qualified professionals. This silencing employees’ ability to fully exercise their rights also jeopardizes their ability to maintain excellence in care and honor a sacred trust between health care professionals and patients.
At a March 25, 2010, House VA hearing, Veterans Service Organizations expressed their support for equal bargaining rights and for NVAC’s proposals to increase reimbursement of continuing medical education expenses and ensure a fair process for VA physician and dentist performance pay. Another recent development that weakens the VA’s contention that bargaining rights endanger patients: Last fall, Congress passed Public Law 111-84 which includes a provision to grandfather in for two years the Title 5 bargaining rights of VA nurses and doctors coming over from DoD at a merged Navy-VA facility in North Chicago.
In addition to pushing for legislative support for the bills introduced by Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), AFGE and the National VA Council are meeting with VA Central Office to look at the Department’s policies for applying these exclusions to Title 38 collective bargaining rights.