WASHINGTON – Today, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest union representing over 283,000 Veterans Affairs (VA) workers is calling on Congress to vote on the VA Employee Fairness Act of 2021 (H.R. 1948/S. 771), which recently surpassed 200 bipartisan cosponsors in the House.
If enacted, the legislation – introduced last year by Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) – would give tens of thousands of front-line, VA employees including doctors, registered nurses, and dentists full collective bargaining rights to negotiate for better working conditions, making the VA a better place to work.
“Passage of the VA Employee Fairness Act is critical to recruiting and retaining top talent at VA facilities, which are already severely understaffed and underfunded,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “The extreme limitations placed upon the collective bargaining rights of VA medical professionals are unwarranted and unjust. It makes no sense that Title 38 health care employees at the VA are deprived of the same rights provided to their VA colleagues and those who do the same jobs within other federal agencies. Congress must act now.”
While some VA employees have collective bargaining rights equal to other federal employees, healthcare providers who are classified under Title 38, including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, chiropractors, nurses, nurse anesthetists, physician assistants, and expanded-function dental auxiliaries have been prohibited from negotiating over matters such as professional conduct or competence, peer-review, or changes to employee compensation. Additionally, they are barred from raising grievances about staffing shortages that undermine patient care or negotiating for competitive awards that will attract future VA employees. The VA has interpreted the statutory exemptions very broadly, essentially nullifying the right of VA healthcare workers to raise concerns or negotiate for better conditions.
"On behalf of the 283,000 VA employees we represent at the Department of Veterans Affairs, we thank the over 200 cosponsors of VA Employee Fairness Act for standing with the hardworking employees dedicated to caring for our nation’s heroes,” said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee. “For decades, the VA has been chronically understaffed, losing medical professionals to private sector practices that provide better working conditions and competitive salaries. To ensure our VA is fully equipped to service our veterans, it is critical that all VA workers have a voice on the job, regardless of their job title.”