Friday, 16 Nov 2018

VA, bypass order, kills "official time" for health professionals

The Department of Veterans Affairs, bypassing a blocked court order, will stop the "official time" for some medical employees. (Matt McClain / The Washington Post)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has also rejected important parts of the collective bargaining agreements with four unions, which has the effect of poisoning the Trump government's already deleterious relationship with federal labor organizations.

The header of a memorandum sent to union leaders is frank: "Notice of Repudiation".

Repudiation is a harsh word about President Trump's approach to federal unions. The notice is a warning to union leaders of the government.

VA will unilaterally deny the "official time" for some VA health workers, starting next Thursday. In statutory time, federal employees who are agency union officers may perform certain tasks, full-time or part-time, while being remunerated by the agency. The term "official time" is used in the law, but the administration calls it discouragingly "taxpayer-funded union work".

However, "union work" is misleading. Federal law excludes "internal activities of a trade union organization", such as recruiting members, collecting dues and holding trade union elections, in regulatory time. The filing of grievances for all bargaining unit staff, even those who are not members of a union, is allowed. Participation in discussions on topics of general interest for staff, such as safety and productivity, is also allowed.

J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees and a former VA nurse, denounced VA's move as a "serious prejudice to veterans of our country". He said union leaders whistle on the scandals of waiting lists, fight the wage gap between men and women and highlight the endemic understaffing of the entire VA. "

While 430 VA employees will be fired, the department's statement says that "the repudiation will apply to all nearly 104,000 VA employees out of 38, thus eliminating any form of taxpayer-funded union work" for physicians, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, optometrists, registered nurses, medical assistants and extended-service dental auxiliaries.

"It makes sense," said Jacquelyn Hayes-Byrd, Acting Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration for Virginia, in a statement. "Allowing health care workers to do taxpayer-funded union work instead of serving veterans has a negative impact on patient care."

The VA announcement has important implications that go far beyond the walls of the agency. The repudiation notice is in line with Trump's three decrees to crush the unions, including one calling for strict time restrictions. But key elements of the May 25 directives were blocked by a federal court decision that the administration is appealing. The action of the administration seeks to accomplish in part what it could not do, at least until now, by decree.

In addition, if the administration fought with this unilateral action on the part of VA, nothing could stop the similar movements of the other agencies.

Union leaders plan to fight VA's action in court.

"We are shocked that the Trump administration is trying to take unilateral action like this to undermine VA employee unions after being so completely stalled by the courts just a few months ago," said Randy Erwin. , President of the National Federation of Federal Employees. . "In our opinion, this VA action constitutes a flagrant violation of the law and the court decision blocking the implementation of President Trump's anti-union decrees. … The NFFE will request the immediate intervention of the courts on this subject. The other unions involved are the National Association of Government Employees and National Nurses United.

VA claims that its decision is distinct from the decrees.

According to federal law, "Employees can not use their official time when it harms patient care," said Curt Cashour, VA press officer. "This action has nothing to do with decrees."

The reaction of the Congress fell into the party lines.

Republican Phil Roe (Tennessee), chair of the House Veterans Committee, was in tune with the administration. "President Roe supports the work of the Department of Veterans Affairs to limit the time employees of the latter can devote to taxpayer-funded union time," said a statement released by his office. "… Roe's main concern is that veterans receive the care and support they deserve. It is imperative that taxpayer-funded funds not be wasted and that VA's doctors, nurses, and other health professionals do the work for which they were hired so that veterans can receive quality care. in right time. "

Gerald E. Connolly (Virginia), the highest Democrat on the government oversight subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, warned the administration that it would not be allowed to break the law. "When Congress enacted the law on civil service reform, he declared that" trade union organizations and collective bargaining in the public service are in the public interest. "Official time is allowed by the The law, negotiated by the agency's management with the union, is intended to: promote the peaceful resolution of disputes and the effective functioning of government.The Congress has carefully crafted a system of collective bargaining for the federal government that balances interests of agencies, federal employees and the US public.

"This administration can not eviscerate the American law by decree."

Read more:

Chief of Staff wants a yes with the unions, but the actions of the Trump administration say no

Trump's orders show flawless attack on federal unions and their employees

True Resisters: Federal Employees Who Beat Trump in Court


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