(WASHINGTON) – The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and its National VA Council (NVAC) today, urged the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to support legislation, H.R. 949, which would provide full collective bargaining rights for physicians, dentists, registered nurses and other VA health care professionals covered by the Title 38 personnel system. In a written statement to the House VA Subcommittee on Health, the union complimented the VA for changing its stance of opposition and urged the Committee to capitalize on the change in momentum.
“The deep desire of VA health care professionals to care for veterans is undermined by personnel policies that deny VA professionals basic rights and dignity provided to their federal counterparts outside of the VA with full Title 5 bargaining rights,” said Alma Lee, president of the NVAC. “When this legislation was initially proposed two years ago, the VA’s opposition was based entirely on fear and distortion.” Since that time, the VA has shifted away from its former counterproductive interpretations of collective bargaining law.
The most recent example of that transformation came after the White House issued an Executive Order, creating labor-management forums. In its response to Executive Order 13522, the VA’s implementation plan recognizes that “cooperative, constructive working relations between labor and management are essential to achieving common labor-management goals and objectives.” The VA’s implementation plan also specifically addresses bargaining and negotiation rights. The Implementation Plan says:
“[T]he Department is committed to pre-decisional involvement in workplace matters, without regard to whether those matters are negotiable subjects of bargaining under 5 U.S.C. § 7106…..The Department is committed, wherever appropriate, to engage the labor partners on issues that historically have been outside the scope of bargaining.” (Emphasis added).
In light of this change of heart by the VA, AFGE is urging the House VA Committee to seize the momentum and enact this deeply important legislation. “It’s time to put into place policies that can bridge the unfair, arbitrary disparities that exist between Title 38 VA health care professionals and their counterparts in their own agency, the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Prisons who use their Title 5 rights to speak up for safe patient care and working conditions.,” said J. David Cox, AFGE national secretary-treasurer and former VA nurse for 23 years. “The VA faces too many challenges to allow this legislation to languish any further. Now is the time to act.”