WASHINGTON – Today, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest union representing more than 291,000 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reached a tentative agreement (TA) that modernizes VA hiring procedures and rolls over the remainder of the union’s 2011 master collective bargaining agreement for the next three years.
“AFGE is proud to have come to an agreement with Secretary McDonough in these negotiations to modernize our current contract language and improve the hiring process, while maintaining contract protections that will help the VA is to fill vacancies expeditiously and continue delivering world-class care to our nation’s veterans,” said AFGE National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC) President and chief negotiator Alma Lee. “For years our union has highlighted the danger of leaving tens of thousands of health care positions vacant, and we are hopeful this new agreement will help address this issue that is critical to both veterans and the VA workforce.”
The tentative agreement marks the end of a five-and-a-half-year struggle between AFGE and VA that began with the former administration’s reopening of the contract in December 2017. When the parties failed to reach agreement on the vast majority of the contract, the VA unilaterally filed with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) in December 2019 the result of which was a November 2020 decision that imposed the VA’s anti-worker proposals. NVAC members then voted overwhelmingly against ratifying those limited tentative agreements reached prior to the FSIP proceeding. Following unsuccessful mediation sessions and the election of President Joe Biden, negotiations were put on hold while the labor-management relationship at the VA was reset by a global settlement agreement in July 2021. Under the terms of that agreement, the parties returned to the bargaining table in March 2022 and completed 20 weeks of negotiations over the past year.
“Fully staffing the VA is a top AFGE priority. To that end, we agreed to a streamlined hiring process in the hope that this change will help the VA hire faster,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “Too often, the VA has lost qualified applicants due to the lengthy hiring process. We look forward to continuing work with VA leadership to address areas of concern and to make sure the VA remains the best source of care for our veterans and the best place to work for employees – a third of whom are veterans themselves.”
The tentative agreement is subject to member ratification, which will take place over the next 60 days. If ratified by AFGE members at the VA, the agreement will then be subject to agency head review. Upon completion of these steps, there will be a joint signing ceremony with both negotiating teams.