By further poisoning the already harmful Trump administration report with the federal labor organizations, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has rejected parts of collective agreements with four unions.
The title of a memorandum sent to union leaders is directed – "Notice of repudiation".
Repudiation is a hard word about President Trump's approach to federal unions. The warning is a warning to union leaders from around the government.
VA will unilaterally refuse the official timetable for some VA health workers, in effect next Thursday. At the official time, federal employees who are union managers of agencies can perform certain tasks, full or part time, even if they are paid by the agency. "Official time" is a legal term, but the administration calls it denigrating "union work financed by taxpayers".
"Labor union", however, is misleading. Federal law excludes "internal activities of a work organization", such as recruiting members, collecting quotas and holding union elections, from official time. Complaints are allowed to all staff members of a bargaining unit, even to those who are not members of the union. Participation in discussions on topics of general interest for the workforce, such as safety and productivity, is also allowed.
J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Governmental Employees and former VA nurse, denounced the VA move, calling it "a serious disservice to our nation's veterans". Using official time, he said, union leaders "jumped the whistle of waiting list scandals, fought against gender inequality and brought to light the growing shortage of staff across the VA".
While 430 VA employees will be withdrawn from official time, a press release from the department says "Repudiation will apply to all approximately 104,000 VA employees of 38 employees, eliminating all forms of tax payer-funded labor" for physicians, dentists , chiropodists, chiropractors, optometrists, registered nurses, medical assistants and dental assistants with extended service.
"It's a good sense," said VA's assistant secretary for human resources and administration, according to Jacquelyn Hayes-Byrd. "Allowing healthcare workers to do tax-funded union work instead of serving veterans negatively affects patient care".
The announcement of VA has important implications that go far beyond the boundaries of the agency. The rejection notice is in line with the three executive orders of President Trump, who have called for severe restrictions on official time. But the key elements of the May 25 directives have been blocked by a federal court decision that the administration is tempting. The action of the administration tries to get a part of what it could not do, at least so far, by executive order.
Furthermore, if the administration were to do this unilateral action with the VA, there would be nothing to stop similar moves in other agencies.
The leaders of the Union plan to fight the VA action in court.
"We are shocked that the Trump administration will try to take unilateral actions like this to undermine the VA employees' unions after they have been so thoroughly blocked by the courts on these matters just a couple of months ago," said Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE). "In our opinion this VA action is a clear violation of the law and the court order blocking the implementation of President Trump's anti-union executive orders …. The NFFE will seek immediate action by the courts on the subject. "The other unions involved are the National Association of United States Governmental Employees and National Nurses.
The VA claims that its move is separate from executive orders.
According to the federal law, "employees can not use official time when it negatively affects patient care," said Curt Cashour, VA's press secretary. "This action has nothing to do with any executive order".
The reaction of the Congress has fallen along the lines of the party.
Republican Phil Roe (Tennessee), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, took a decisive step with the administration. "President Roe supports the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to limit the amount of time VA employees can spend on tax-funded union time …", said a statement from his office. "Dr. Roe's main concern is that veterans are receiving the care and support they deserve. It is imperative that taxpayer-funded dollars are not wasted and that doctors, nurses and other VA medicine professionals do the work they have been hired to ensure that veterans can receive timely and quality care. "
Democrat Gerald Connolly (Va.), Member of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, has warned the administration that he will not be allowed to violate the law. "When Congress passed the Civil Service Reform Act, Congress noted that" trade union organizations and collective bargaining in civil service are in the public interest. "Official time is authorized by law, negotiated by the management of the agency with the union and is intended to promote the peaceful resolution of disputes and the efficient functioning of the government The Congress carefully elaborated a system of collective bargaining for the federal government that balanced the interests of the agencies, federal employees and the American public.
"This administration can not delve into US law for fiat."
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