The American Federation of Government Employees, the National Federation of Federal Employees and the National Association of Government Employees filed a lawsuit Nov. 14 in D.C. District Court to prevent the Department of Veterans affairs from implementing rules to exempt certain medical employees at the agency from using official time.
The VA’s Nov. 7 decision to eliminate official time for physicians, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, optometrists, registered nurses and physician assistants is the latest in a series of Trump administration efforts to reduce the time federal employees use to conduct union work while on the clock.
A May executive order curtailing official time across the government was struck down in August by a District Court judge after another lawsuit, also brought by AFGE, challenged President Donald Trump’s authority to take such action.
But the Office of Personnel Management encouraged agencies to use their bargaining with employee unions to push for some of the same practices called for in the executive orders.
“This year the president has launched several attacks against working people, with a heavy emphasis on targeting the women and men who have dedicated their lives to caring for our nation’s veterans,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. in a news release.
“From his now-illegal executive orders in May, to the recent decision by the VA to remove Title 38 workers from official time — President Trump has made it clear he doesn’t want doctors, nurses, dentists and many others to have a voice in the workplace. And he’ll go to extreme lengths to silence them and bust their union.”
The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which dictates much of the federal government’s workforce management practices, designates official time use as a matter for contract negotiation between unions and agency representatives.
“Last week’s announcement that the VA was removing 430 workers from official time defies Congress by circumventing the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 that established official time as necessary for workers and taxpayers alike,” said Cox.
“This action is the latest overreach in their quest to bust unions and ensure that workers have no ability to blow the whistle or fight harassment, discrimination and retaliation in the workplace.”
AFGE cited the more than 40,000 vacancies at the Veterans Health Administration, with more than 24,000 in the medical and dental field, as evidence that the limitations on official time were not, in fact, a part the VA’s desire to increase care available to veterans.
“Without official time, we never would have known about the VA wait-list scandal in 2014,” said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee in the news release.
“Kathleen Dahl wouldn’t have been able to blow the whistle on a Legionnaires’ outbreak at her VA that killed six veterans and sickened 16 others. Dr. Michelle Washington wouldn’t have been allowed to testify before Congress about a shortage of doctors to treat troops returning from war with PTSD. But thanks to official time, Dr. Washington and Ms. Dahl’s stories were heard and lives were saved. If the president and his administration get their way, workers will be intimated into silence and our veterans will suffer.”
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.