A true labor-management partnership at the VA

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In recent weeks Congress has continued to wage war against working Americans and their right to earn a decent living. Legislation that decreases employees’ rights and damages labor and management collaboration not only harms workers, but also weakens the government institutions like Veterans Affairs (VA) that millions of Americans depend on.

The VA faces daunting challenges, the VA’s employees have long acknowledged this view. The employees are committed to providing 21st-century care to America’s veterans.  Labor-Management Collaboration is crucial to achieving this goals. Preserving “official time” (paid federal time spent by union officials performing representational activities) is a key element that facilitates the two bodies working jointly to address the institution’s problems.  Therefore, we stand united against recent legislative proposals to scrap official time.

{mosads}The bill (H.R. 1461-“The VET Protection Act of 2017”) introduced by Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) solely attacks VA employees’ rights and offers nothing to improve the quality of service. Arlington has set his sights on a single issue, official time/union activity. The law currently supports “official time” (paid federal time spent by union officials performing representational activities) which is not detrimental to the public interest.

This bill breaks the independent voice of unions and employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs, under the guise of improving accountability. Arlington’s declaration that “union members are spending zero percent of their time caring for our veterans” is holistically incorrect. The unions who represent VA employees are committed to providing high levels of care and services for the men and women who have sacrificed for our country. 

Labor and Management have always made improvements in VA care by working together. Unions and Management use official time as a mechanism for the advancement of veteran care. The agreement on standards of professional qualifications a product of labor and management working together in the interests of America’s vets. Furthermore, the partnerships have also produced better healthcare services. Programs like “Safe Patient Handling, one of the largest national recognized programs is used to reduce the injury rate for employees and improve safe transfers for veterans, emerged from employees working cooperatively with management to identify problems and implement solutions.

The innovative thinking generated by our partnership established the system to support military medics transition period from the military discharge to VA medical facilities without loss of employment or applying rigorous standards before gaining employment. The ability for the labor and management to work together toward a common goal is especially important in times of crisis. During the recent Zika and Ebola virus crisis, labor and management developed and deployed new initiatives for high-risk communities.

It is clear that labor and management cooperation is essential and that official times facilitates this process.  The costs of official time are relatively minor to tremendous benefits created by the partnership.

As a unionist and VA employee, our priority is to serve the VA mission as employees and to honor veterans and their families for their sacrifices. Our ultimate goal is to always put our veterans first and provide the best care possible. This only works when we have the VA labor-management partnership model is recognized as the truly important tool that it is, crucial for driving innovation and improved care for our nation’s veterans.

Jeff Shapiro is president of the National Federation of Federal Employees VA Council. 

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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