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VA secretary’s proposal strips workers’ rights, union says

American Federation of Government Employees members (AFGE/Released)
May 09, 2019
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The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the federal employee union that represents some 250,000 Department of Veterans Affairs employees, said they will not approve a proposal they received on May 2 from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie because they say it removes workers’ rights.

The union representatives vetoed the 331-page proposal that would impose a “major overhaul of the collective bargaining agreement, to include drastic cuts to on-the-clock official time spent on union activities,” Military.com reported this week.

The VA projects that $48 million could be saved and spent on health care just by reducing the number of hours that union workers spend on union activities. They estimate that the current amount of time spent is “more than one million hours per year,” but that amount could be reduced to 10,000 hours.

These hours, considered to be “official time,” are defined as “paid time spent by federal employees performing representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work. In other words, official time is treated as work time, thus is funded by the American taxpayers,” Military.com reported.

However, “official time” has been named one of the biggest culprits in recent VA failures by Republicans in VA hearings.

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The VA offered its own news release and said the proposal’s changes would vastly improve employee culpability and health care while “maximizing value for taxpayers.”

Wilkie said, “It’s time for a reset in VA’s approach to labor-management relations. A reluctance to challenge the status quo produced the current agreement, which includes many benefits that favor the union rather than the veterans we are charged with serving.”

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees and a registered nurse at the VA for more than 20 years, said, “This is all part of the Trump administration’s strategy to force the VA to fail, thereby paving the road to privatization.”

On Friday, the AFGE said in a union news release, “VA Secretary Robert Wilkie is “making a mockery of the collective bargaining process to do the bidding of President [Donald] Trump.”

AFGE District 3 National Vice President Phil Glover said, “As a veteran myself, it makes me sick to see how little regard this administration shows to the workers who serve our veterans day in and day out. VA employees deserve to be treated with the same respect we expect them to show the veterans they serve.”

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