WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC), which represents 260,000 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees, released a national VA Workers’ COVID-19 Bill of Rights – calling on President Trump, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, and Congress to provide increased workplace protections to ensure veteran and employee safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to the launch the VA Workers’ Bill of Rights, AFGE local unions across the country are taking action by picketing outside of VA medical centers. Pickets have already taken place in Biloxi, Mississippi and more are being planned across the country. During these socially distanced protests, AFGE members and VA employees are holding signs and sharing their stories.
“About a month ago, I was assigned and given a direct order from my supervisors to begin screening patients and visitors for COVID-19 upon their arrival. After requesting and pleading with leadership to provide me with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), my request along with the requests of my coworkers were completely ignored. As a result of not being provided proper PPE, I contracted COVID-19,” said Myoshi North, US Army veteran and a member of AFGE Local 1045 based in Biloxi, Mississippi. “The VA continues to place both the veterans – whom we have the honor of serving – and the employees in harm’s way by failing to provide employees the necessary protections designed to prevent the spreading of the virus.”
The Bill of Rights comes after the deaths of eight COVID-19 positive VA employees, news that the VA is rationing PPE and other supplies, and activation of the VA’s ‘fourth mission’ – where VA medical facilities serve as a backup healthcare system to all Americans during a national emergency. The VA Workers’ Bill of Rights calls for adequate PPE, increased telework options, weather and safety administrative leave, hazardous pay, and accessible testing for exposed employees.
“If the VA wants to save the lives of veterans, employees, and the American people, they should be taking every precaution to keep us safe – but they are not. The leave policies are changing daily, and federal healthcare workers have been excluded from the national legislation regarding leave during COVID-19 pandemic. If employees are exposed or need to care for at-risk family members or children, they need to have clear leave options. That is the way we keep veterans, employees and our families, and the broader community safe,” said Frank Zapata Jr., President of AFGE Local 515 in Miami, Florida. “We are going to fight for that VA Workers’ COVID Bill of Rights because we have no choice but to ring the alarm at what the VA is doing.”
"The VA Administration is putting the safety of countless veterans, staff and community members at risk with their actions. Our front-line medical personnel taking care of COVID-19 veterans do not have adequate PPE. There are not enough N95 masks and employees are being told to reuse surgical masks." said Regina Smith, President of AFGE Local 424 in Baltimore, Maryland. “We need a VA Workers’ Bill of Rights because it’s the only way to keep all of us safe.”