(WASHINGTON)— The American Federation of Government Employeesand its National Veterans’ Affairs Council today applauded the Department of Veterans Affairs’ decision to halt the downgrade of low wage positions within the agency. Over the past two years low wage employees who provide vital support services within the VA health care system, including patient support assistants, medical record clerksand transportation assistants have been subjected to the agency’s unfounded and arbitrary downgrades. The majority of the public servants in these positions are veterans, women and minorities. AFGE held a rally in Washington on June 13th, where hundreds of VA employees and other union activists protested outside VA headquarters.
“We’ve been fighting these downgrades for several years and we are finally starting to see results,” said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee. “Management gave no thought to the impact these downgrades would have on veterans’ access to care or Secretary Shinseki’s own pledge to bring more veterans into the VA workforce. Moving forward, we must ensure all stakeholders are at the table so that position reclassifications are carried out fairly, equitably and with the utmost respect to our dedicated veterans’ health care staff and the veterans they serve.”
AFGE has argued that the VA arbitrarily targeted the lowest paid segment of the VA workforce for classification reviews that led to the downgrades, and failed to produce any evidence that the downgrades of VA support personnel will improve the functioning of the agency or its ability to serve veterans.
“We’ve known from the very beginning that these downgrades are a complete disservice to our public servants and our nation’s veterans,” said AFGE National President John Gage. “The bullying of the lowest wage earners under the pretense of saving a few dollars must end. It has severely harmed the agency’s morale and impeded patient care.”
Two weeks after AFGE and its VA Council took its concerns to the public and Congress, the agency’s Human Resources Management Office issued a letter calling for a ‘temporary stand down on changes to lower grade actions,’ effective immediately. A Classification Oversight Working Group has been established which is designed to develop options in balancing position reclassifications.
AFGE and its National VA Council have requested three representatives be included in the working group and will continue to advocate on behalf of employees adversely affected by these downgrades.
“Our efforts have led to this move by the VA and we won’t stop here,” said AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox. “Finally, management has seen the light and recognizes their process is flawed. We have challenged these downgrades from the very beginning because of their discriminatory and arbitrary nature.”
“To deliver the message to our members, and public servants nationwide, that AFGE will fight against discriminatory practices wherever we find them is of great importance to us,” added AFGE National Vice President for Women’s and Fair Practices Augusta Thomas. “We have taken the VA to task on these issues and will continue to play a major role in representing the interests of affected employees during this position reclassification process.”