The VA recently announced that it would be shifting approximately 430 medical professionals from union jobs to serving veterans. This essentially means that VA employees will not be allowed to work for a union if they would like to keep receiving the benefits and the salaries associated with being a federal employee.
However, the unions to which these medical professionals belong are fighting this decision through the courts. Together, the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), the American Federation of Government Employees(AFGE), and the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) have filed suit against the VA. They claim that serving under official time status is a right, and that the VA is preventing them from exercising that right.
The VA’s decision came down on November 7, and affects doctors, dentists, chiropractors, optometrists, doctor assistants, and registered nurses. It comes on the heels of other efforts by the government to limit how much time federal employees can spend on the clock performing union work. In May, President Trump issued an executive order reducing official time for government employees, but a district court judge struck it down after AFGE challenged the order in court.
The unions feel that official time helps VA employees be more of an independent voice when working to improve on issues like worker safety and working conditions. The VA feels that official time will take away from the actual care of veterans. The claim that the health workers are being paid by taxpayers to serve veterans, and that should be their priority while on the clock.
The VA claims that employees in 2016 were on official time for approximately 500,000 hours, which added up to a cost of over $49 million. The unions also claim that the concern from the government regarding veteran care is disingenuous considering that there are over 40,000 vacancies at the Veterans Health Administration and 24,000 in the VA’s medical and dental sections.
In the meantime, the unions and government have committed to bargaining in good faith as the lawsuit makes its way through the courts.