During AFGE’s National Nurses’ Week, May 6 – May 12, Veterans
Administration (VA) health care professionals will urge lawmakers to
support HR. 949 and S.362 to close the collective bargaining loophole
for VA nurses, doctors, dentists, physician assistants, and other front
line health care providers.
Every day, public employees, including doctors and nurses working in
other federal medical facilities, including DoD and Bureau of Prisons
hospitals, use their collective bargaining rights to improve the quality
and safety of government services. However, because of an arbitrary and
overly broad interpretation of the statute, VA health care
professionals whose rights are set by Title 38 (instead of Title 5 that
covers most federal employees) have been barred from bargaining over
even routine matters.
Within the VA, management has used an extreme and unreasonable
interpretation of the law, denying employees the ability to bargain over
routine matters such as assignment and work schedules. This arbitrary
application of Section 7422 violates Congress’ intent to grant VA health
care professionals with full rights. The abuses that follow deplete
morale and make it harder for the VA to recruit and retain qualified
professionals. This silencing employees’ ability to fully exercise their
rights also jeopardizes their ability to maintain excellence in care
and honor a sacred trust between health care professionals and patients.
At a March 25, 2010, House VA hearing, Veterans Service Organizations
expressed their support for equal bargaining rights and for NVAC’s
proposals to increase reimbursement of continuing medical education
expenses and ensure a fair process for VA physician and dentist
performance pay. Another recent development that weakens the VA’s
contention that bargaining rights endanger patients: Last fall, Congress
passed Public Law 111-84 which includes a provision to
grandfather in for two years the Title 5 bargaining rights of VA nurses
and doctors coming over from DoD at a merged Navy-VA facility in North
In addition to pushing for legislative support for the bills
introduced by Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Rockefeller
(D-W.Va.), AFGE and the National VA Council are meeting with VA Central
Office to look at the Department’s policies for applying these
exclusions to Title 38 collective bargaining rights.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the
federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.