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AFGE Files Grievance Against Veterans Affairs

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The American Federation of Government Employees filed an internal grievance with the Veterans Affairs Department alleging “numerous unfair labor practices” related to the department’s implementation of workforce executive orders.

AFGE’s National Veterans Affairs Council, which represents VA employees, sent a filing to Kimberly McLeod, Executive Director in the VA Office of Labor-Management Relations. The filing accused leadership of illegally and unilaterally implementing elements of President Trump’s executive order reducing the availability of official time.

Last month, VA officials gave the union notice that the department intended to implement provisions of the official time EO unilaterally. They offered the union a chance to bargain on changes to the collective bargaining agreement after implementation. AFGE said its submitted counter-proposals through the post-implementation bargaining process “under protest”.

The grievance argues that VA managements’ actions to limit the use of official time to 25% of an employee’s work hours, as well try to evict the union from agency office space, violate both an existing collective bargaining, as well as the official time EO itself.

Guidance from the Office of Personnel Management suggests that agencies can implement new policies on official time unilaterally once a bargaining agreement expires, however, AFGE lawyers said that the union’s agreement remains in effect since parties have begun negotiations on a new contract before the EO was issued. The EO states “nothing in this order shall abrogate any CBA in effect on the date of this order.”

“The [CBA] states clearly and unequivocally that ‘if renegotiation of an agreement is in progress but not completed upon the terminal date of this agreement, this agreement will be automatically extended until a new agreement is negotiated,’” AFGE Staff Counsel Shalonda Miller wrote. “Pursuant to the Duration of Agreement [section], the CBA was extended on March 15, 2018, and did not expire. When the EO was issued on May 25, 2018, the CBA was in effect because of the March 15, 2018 extension.”

AFGE also criticized the department’s “chaotic” implementation of the EO provisions, saying there is inconsistent enforcement of the new policy and requests for clarification went unanswered.

“Facilities have begun implementing changes in an inconsistent and haphazard manner,” Miller wrote. “For example, [Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital] eliminated the Local president’s official time entirely; Milwaukee [VA Medical Center] has cut off union representatives [Personal Identity Verification] cards, preventing them from completing any work;… and the Denver [VA Regional Office] has applied the EO retroactively to limit the number of hours available to the local.”

AFGE wants VA to restore the CBA that had been in effect until July and stop enforcing the new official time rules until negotiations on a new contract are complete. They also asked the department to “make whole any employee affected by the agency’s violations.”