Lawmakers Raise Concerns Over VA, Union Negotiations

A group of 128 bipartisan lawmakers has issued a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie regarding on-going negotiations with the union representing 260,000 frontline employees, the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (AFGE). Lawmakers expressed concerns regarding the collective bargaining rights of federal employees and adequate care for veterans.

Last month the VA offered a series of new collective bargaining proposals which would reduce official time; ban union representatives from using departmental office space, equipment, supplies, and parking; and end labor-management working groups for both parties.

The proposal also would have eliminated 28 articles of AFGE’s existing collective bargaining agreement with the VA. This alteration would prevent or change the union’s ability to bargain over topics related to telework, relocations, temporary reassignments, and promotions.

Secretary Wilkie defended these plans, stating, “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.”

On the other hand, AFGE has argued that these rules “set up VA employees to fail,” hurting both the employee and the veterans they serve.

In a letter to Wilkie, lawmakers predicted these proposals sought to rejuvenate President Trump’s Executive Orders 13836, 13837, and 13839, which similarly limited union involvement in agency affairs. These Executive Orders were enjoined by a District Court Judge and lawmakers accuse Secretary Wilkie of attempting to circumvent the court’s ruling in order to independently implement the policy.

According to the letter, “If the contract VA proposes was implemented, it would diminish labor protections and the collective bargaining rights that Congress intended, and would have a severe, destabilizing effect on agency operations, employee morale, and the VA’s ability to deliver high quality healthcare and benefits to America’s veterans.”

Ultimately, the lawmakers concluded that they “strongly encourage the VA to bargain with AFGE in good faith, in full accordance with the established ground rules, and with the objective of improving care for our veterans.”

Negotiations began last month and will likely continue until December.

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