VA and union contract fight escalates to nationwide rallies

Negotiations for a newly proposed contract between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Federation of Government Employees reached a head June 5, as members of the union took to town halls, rallies and meetings with legislators to protest what they call a “plot” to strip workers of their rights.

The VA proposed a new contract May 2 that would cut official time use by 99 percent while removing 42 articles from the previous agreement that concern employee training, workplace health and safety, and protection from whistleblower retaliation, according to the union.

Negotiations over that contract began May 27.

“This latest Trump administration plot not only strips VA workers — about one-third of whom are veterans themselves — of their rights; it also threatens quality care for veterans and paves the way for a scheme to outsource veterans’ health care that no one wants,” said Alma Lee, president of AFGE’s National Veterans Council, in a news release.

“This administration’s proposal sets up VA employees to fail and will likely lead to worse care for our veterans.”

The June 5 “VA Day of Action,” included 60 locations across the country under the rallying cry of “Dignity. Fairness. Respect.”

The contract disagreements between the VA and its union are just a part of longstanding tensions between the Trump administration and unions, which were exacerbated when President Donald Trump signed three executive orders that targeted federal unions and employee management policies.

Significant sections of those orders were overturned by a district court judge in August 2018, and the case is currently awaiting an appeals court decision.

“This is not the Trump administration’s first attempt to gut workers’ rights for President Trump’s own political gain. Many of the VA’s proposals are lookalike anti-labor policies President Trump tried and failed to implement governmentwide last year,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. in a news release.

“We will do everything in our power to make sure that the Trump administration does not dismantle health care for our nation’s veterans. Our veterans can’t and won’t be political footballs.”

But VA Press Secretary Curtis Cashour said in a statement that the opposition to the contract is part of a larger opposition to change:

"Whether through its condemnation of the MISSION Act or its efforts to repeal the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, AFGE has consistently fought for the status quo and opposed attempts to make VA work better for veterans and their families. Now AFGE is taking the same approach with its refusal to accept commonsense improvements to its collective bargaining agreement.”

This article has been updated to include comments from the VA.

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