Employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs will no longer be able to use collective bargaining on issues indirectly related to their professional conduct, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced Aug. 17.

Under U.S. Code, collective bargaining does not cover issues of “professional conduct or competence,” as they have to do with direct patient care or clinical competence. In addition, issues of peer review and employee compensation under that title are also non-negotiable.

A 2010 memorandum of understanding approved by then-Secretary Eric Ken Shinseki, however, said that issues that are indirectly related or not related at all to patient care are negotiable. The MOU arose out of a working group comprised of both labor and management representatives.

Wilkie rescinded that MOU, characterizing the change as part of the agency’s commitment to veteran care.

“President Trump has made it clear that we want our providers laser-focused on caring for veterans and that’s exactly what we’re doing here,” said Wilkie in a news release on the change.

“This move today ensures that unions can’t bargain on issues related to our providers’ professional conduct or competence, essentially patient care. Our nation’s heroes deserve no less.”

The press release categorized the policy change as part of the implementation of recent presidential executive orders restricting the use of official time by federal employees. Those executive orders are currently at the center of a union-driven lawsuit that claims the orders are an overreach of presidential power.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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