Status of Contract Negotiations for Veterans Affairs Workers

Members and allies:

We have now been at the negotiating table with Trump Administration representatives for six weeks in order to win a fair contract for the 260,000 dedicated public workers who serve our nation’s veterans in the Veterans Affairs system.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has injected the same anti-worker, union-busting framework into our VA negotiations as they have in other departments across the federal government. This week, a federal court rejected AFGE’s lawsuit to fight back against the administration’s efforts to destroy worker rights. Of course, this is on top of the administration’s steadfast pursuit of privatizing the VA system, refusal to fill vacancies in the VA system, and directing our veterans into the private health market.

Nearly 130 members of Congress, from both parties, have sent a letter to VA Secretary Wilkie demanding that he instruct his team to bargain in good faith with us. An excerpt from that letter reads:

"We are deeply concerned that the VA has pursued anti-labor policies with the union representing 260,000 of its frontline employees, the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (AFGE).

We believe the VA may be acting to precipitate a breakdown in negotiations by insisting on proposals that are similar to specific provisions of Executive Orders 13836, 13837, and 13839. Such proposals make it appear that the VA is seeking to circumvent the order of the United States District Court that enjoined many provisions of the Executive Orders.

Furthermore, beyond conflicts with the enjoined Executive Orders, we are alarmed that the VA's initial contract proposal is a gross departure from the current contract in place between the VA and AFGE. ​ We are concerned that these actions will have a detrimental effect on veterans depending on the VA for medical care and other vital services.

Notably, the VA proposal includes limiting medical professionals in reporting violations that could threaten patient safety, bars employees from filing grievances against unjust disciplinary actions, and removes the ability of workers to challenge employer errors on payroll."  

For emphasis, again: ​“We are concerned that these actions will have a detrimental effect on veterans depending on the VA for medical care and other vital services.” 

Sadly, that letter has been ignored.

From the outset of our negotiations, it became clear that the administration had no intention of bargaining in good faith with our union. The VA management, at the behest of the Trump administration, has submitted a proposal that would eliminate 28 entire articles of our existing contract, impose a 10-year contract term, and take the unprecedented step of forcing our union to re-sign all of our members at the beginning of each new year.

In short, the administration’s opening proposal would effectively eliminate the union’s voice altogether.

So where are we in contract negotiations today, after six weeks? Well, we have come to an agreement on the following pieces of the contract:

    ● Employee Uniforms (Article 38)
    ● Timely and Proper Compensation (Article 36)
    ● Employee Assistance (Article 15)
    ● Wage Surveys (Article 65)
    ● Affiliations (Article 42)
    ● Child Care (Article 8)
    ● Job Sharing (Article 34)

After six weeks at the table, that’s 7 articles out of the 67 articles of our previous contract. (The administration would like to simply delete 28 articles altogether.) Yet despite this lack of progress, the administration’s representatives have sought to end face-to-face negotiations entirely.

At the table, the administration’s representatives have refused to explain their position or provide factual support for their proposals. They have declined to answer questions raised by our bargaining team and have insisted on advancing non-negotiable and unlawful proposals.

That’s not good faith.

The administration is seeking to eliminate protections for employees including around leave time, teleworking, and filling vacancies. They want to take away our right to leave work to vote, to make court appearances, for emergency weather conditions, for military service, for religious observances, to attend family members’ funerals. They want to eliminate the right of workers to engage with their union representation while at work. They want to eliminate the right to file grievances, including for disciplinary action.

That’s not pro-worker.

The administration’s proposal will stifle the voice of frontline workers including medical professionals, and will prevent whistleblowers from coming forward with evidence of mismanagement or corruption. It will harm our workers’ ability to perform their jobs.

That’s not pro-veteran.

Where do we go from here? Our negotiating team will keep fighting at the table. Our workers will continue wearing red every Wednesday. We will keep having rallies. And we are counting on all of you to lift our voices in favor of a fair contract for the thousands of public workers who provide direct care to our nation’s veterans.

Thank you for all that you do.