Photo credit : Andy O’Brien
Originally published in the Maine AFL-CIO News on Apil 20, 2023
AFGE’s National VA Council (NVAC) and the US Department of Veterans Affairs have reached a tentative agreement that defends critical protections for VA workers while modernizing the hiring process. The agreement, which ends years of bitter negotiations, will now be put before members for a ratification vote, which will be held over 60 days.
“The contract is 300 and some odd pages long and it includes everything from hiring, promotion to occupational health,” said AFGE Local 2610 President Chris Bovie, who represents employees at the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta. “The benefit it gives the employees is outstanding.”
In a press release, AFGE said that the agreement saves existing health and safety protections, disciplinary procedures, performance plans, investigation rights, official time for union reps, bargaining rights, fair overtime procedures, transparent telework rights, upward mobility, and career advancement. The negotiating team also fought hard to secure revisions to Article 23 that will modernize and improve the VA’s hiring procedures for the benefit of VA workers and the veterans they serve.
“Together, with the help of thousands of members, we fought through years of bad-faith bargaining under the Trump Administration, held over 50 local rallies, gathered more than 5,700 petition signatures, organized countless #RedforFeds Wednesdays, and withstood a barrage of attacks to weaken worker protections from the VA – and now we’re proud to announce that NVAC has reached a tentative agreement with VA that delivers the strong union contract we’ve all been fighting for,” said NVAC President Alma Lee.
For decades, AFGE members have sounded the alarm over the VA’s chronic staffing shortages, and NVAC members across the country have spoken up about the impact these shortages have on veterans and employees. NVAC members implored the VA to work with the union to improve the hiring process.
“During recent discussions between the negotiating team and VA leaders, including Secretary McDonough, we all agreed that fully staffing the VA is our number one priority. NVAC members know better than anyone how insufficient staffing leads to burnout, high turnover, morale issues, access/backlog problems for veterans, unsafe working conditions, and more,” Lee added.
The contract was updated in 2011 and AFGE has been in a fight for a fair contract since 2017 when the VA first reopened the contract under the Trump administration. During that time the Trump administration engaged in bad faith bargaining and anti-worker behavior, prompting the council to file multiple grievances. In 2021, the council and the VA reached a global settlement, resolving pending litigation and outlining the parameters for the upcoming negotiations of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Andy O’Brien is the communications director for the Maine AFL-CIO, a statewide federation of 160 local unions representing 40,000 workers. However, his opinions are his own and don’t represent the views of his employer. He is also a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445.