WASHINGTON -- On Nov. 5, Trump appointees on the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) ruled to impose anti-worker contract proposals on 265,000 Veterans Affairs employees as the agency struggles to keep pace with a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision is sure to be controversial, generating an unusual dissent from certain members of the panel, the composition of which is under a cloud of legal uncertainty.
The importance of a fair contract is a matter of life and death during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of 64 VA employees and more than 4,000 veterans. Instead of listening to VA workers when they raised the alarm about PPE shortages at the start of the pandemic, Secretary Robert Wilkie and VA officials focused on evicting union representatives from office space as cases spiked and dismissing public reports of problems within the VA only to acknowledge the shortages once internal memos were leaked. Currently, more than 7,000 VA employees have tested positive, and that number steadily increases as the VA continues to unnecessarily rush non-essential, telework-eligible employees back to worksites.
The panel’s decision cannot legally be implemented by the VA at this time. The legitimacy of the panel’s ruling is still in question because of a controversy about the constitutionality of the members’ appointments, which will be resolved by the courts. Likewise, nine articles from the parties’ existing contract are the subject of a separate lawsuit in federal court. Moreover, even if the panel’s appointment is ruled as sound, FSIP only has jurisdiction to resolve impasses. The panel does not have the authority to rule on unresolved negotiability matters, overrule tentative agreements between the VA and the union, or resolve matters that have not reached the point of impasse.
While VA members await the resolution of these matters, the FSIP decision is not in effect. Attempts by the VA to implement any part of the FSIP decision would be illegal.
This unlawful attack on thousands of VA members could also be reversed by the Biden administration. Biden will have the power to encourage the negotiation of a fair VA contract, bargain in good faith and rescind Trump’s controversial VA executive orders, which Biden has prioritized on day one of his presidency to restore the rights of government workers to unionize.
The American Federation of Government Employees’ National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC) has filed a Motion for Stay of the panel’s decision with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). AFGE/NVAC asks that FSIP’s decision be stayed pending resolution of its lawsuit and the 22 negotiability appeals filed with the FLRA after the VA claimed, without any legal support, that a host of issues were non-negotiable.
The Trump administration has continually undermined the union rights and contracts of federal employees, without regard for the efficiency of operations, service to the public, or the well-being of employees. The latest decision contains many subject areas where the panel’s decisions are wholly consistent with that pattern of behavior:
A copy of the full ruling is available upon request. AFGE NVAC leadership and workers are available for media interviews to discuss this decision and what the next administration may look like for the union.
“It’s shocking that this administration continues to attack the dedicated employees, including front-line health care professionals, who come to work every day to care for our veterans and produce the high satisfaction scores the president loves to tout at his political rallies,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “But, as has become clear, the American people are tired of Trump’s divisive leadership. The next administration can undo this travesty and move the VA forward with a fair contract that ensures veterans and VA employees are treated with dignity and respect.”
“AFGE NVAC is disappointed with the panel’s decision on the union’s Master Collective Bargaining Agreement, but not entirely surprised that a Trump-appointed panel would rule the way they did,” said Alma Lee, president of AFGE NVAC. “Since he was first appointed to his post, VA Secretary Wilkie has sabotaged and worked against the union so that the panel’s decision on our contract reflects his anti-union and racist tendencies. But there is hope. The union is confident that the incoming Biden-Harris administration will right the wrongs of the Federal Service Impasses Panel and provide a strong, safe, and fair contract and workplace for all union members and VA employees.”
A brief timeline of the contract dispute is below:
“This decision shows members of the union what a world without a fair contract looks like,” said Linda Ward-Smith, president of AFGE Local 1224 in Las Vegas. “The panel has denied the union a fair and equitable contract and ability to negotiate. Every article we had the panel didn’t like, because it ensured employees of their rights and that they would not be discriminated against when it came to those issues. The panel wanted management to have all of the decision-making power and we know that’s not fair. This is no longer a partnership – it’s a dictatorship. However, the results of this election prove that better days lie ahead for the union.”