WASHINGTON – Today, the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, (AFGE), along with three other unions who collectively represent nearly 350,000 employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), sent a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Committee’s on Veterans’ Affairs, requesting assistance in reestablishing labor-management dialogue within the VA, after failed attempts at the national, Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) and local levels.
“The Department and the VA unions have a long history of working together that has a widely recognized, successful track record of carrying out the Department’s mission of caring for those who have served, and supporting the Department’s fourth mission in times of national emergencies such as Hurricanes Katrina and Maria and the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak,” the unions said in a joint letter. “Yet, now, when the benefits of labor-management working together are especially needed, the VA is refusing to include our union leaders, our health and safety experts and the front-line health care workers we represent in the Department’s response to COVID-19.”
In the letter, the unions discussed hearing daily reports of serious problems with personal protective equipment, leave policies for exposed employees and staffing assignments for patient screening. The unions also requested that VA Secretary Robert Wilkie take several steps to engage labor partners including:
“History shows that labor-management collaboration is the key to a successful work environment. Unions are the voice of the employees and we need a seat at the table when these COVID-19 response plans are being established,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “The VA reported that 185 VA employees already have confirmed cases of coronavirus, but many more employees have been exposed and don’t have access to adequate testing. They are also assigning non-medical staff and untrained employees to screen patients. Employees are putting their health on the line to work around the clock caring for our nation’s heroes during this crisis. Something needs to change, and it is imperative that employees’ voices and best interests are represented when decisions are being made.”