(WASHINGTON) – The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents thousands of employees at the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System (NF/SGVHS), today criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for refusing to act in good faith with its employees by failing to honor the union’s contract.
The impact of the officials at the NF/SGVHS decision to refuse to resolve employee grievances is having a direct affect on patient care. While the VA is forced to operate under another continuing resolution, funding throughout the department is being stretched thin. Unresolved grievances put greater strain on the budget by diverting funds from the system’s operating budget, denying employees the resources necessary to care for the area’s burgeoning veteran population.
“It has become standard operating procedure to deny union officials meetings to even discuss pending grievances, let alone resolve their underlying issues,” said J. David Cox AFGE national secretary treasurer and former VA nurse.
Administration officials’ refusal to honor the contract is also hampering the system’s ability to recruit and retain quality health care professionals. In many areas, particularly in the outlying clinics, staffing ratios are grossly inadequate.
“The North Florida/South Georgia system has more unresolved discrimination complaints than any other facility in the region, probably in most of the country” said Fred Brittain, president of AFGE’s local 1976 which represents employees in the Lake City division. “Instead of trying to resolve them, the administration acts as if they don’t exist.”
In addition to ignoring the agreed upon dispute resolution process NF/SGVHS officials have repeatedly denied union representatives access to employee’s in an attempt to strangle union activity throughout the system.
“The VA has to realize that its employees are the stewards of the department’s mission. By ignoring their agreements with us, they violate the promise of excellent medical care for our veterans,” said Robert van Slyke, president of AFGE Local 2779.