The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is finally attempting to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with AFGE rather than violate the one currently in effect.
It is about time, and not because I agree or disagree with the current CBA. The current agreement has a lot of positive elements for the 250,000 AFGE members at VA. However, it does put the interests of the rank and file VA employees ahead of the needs of veterans and the agency. That is my take on the CBA.
Aside from all that, the reason I support the change is that the agency has repeatedly refused to follow the 2011 CBA after the passage of 38 USC § 714 in 2017.
Why have a contract in place that you refuse to follow?
It creates an asymmetrical information advantage at the agency since only the agency knows when it will or will not follow the CBA.
VA says the new proposed changes are designed to ensure taxpayer resources are being used to benefit Veterans, first.
“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,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “With VA facing thousands of vacancies, these proposals could add more than one million man-hours per year back into our work force – a vital influx of resources that would make an almost immediate difference for Veterans and the employees who care for them. These proposals make clear that service to Veterans must come first in all that we do, and I look forward to working with AFGE to ensure we achieve that goal.”
Significant changes to the CBA include:
- Reducing taxpayer-funded union time for VA/AFGE employees from more than one million hours per year to 10,000 hours per year – redirecting more than $48 million per year back to direct services and medical care for Veterans
- Empowering front line supervisors
- Streamlining the hiring and job classification process – potentially reducing the time it takes to hire certain positions by weeks or months
- Ensuring the contract does not interfere with the VA’s ability to take action under the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, the MISSION Act and the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act
As an attorney, I have helped a few disabled veterans with problems they faced working at the agency. In that time, I can tell you the agency senior leadership does not follow the CBA 100% of the time.
But, the CBA is an agreement, and I do not believe it is proper for our federal government to make agreements it refuses to follow. So, good, bad, or otherwise, it seems like a good idea to create a new CBA since the current one is not being followed.
What do you think about the proposed changes?