Congressman Donald Norcross

Representing the 1st District of New Jersey
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Norcross, Brown Lead Bipartisan Letter Pushing Back Against Department Of Veterans Affairs’ Union-Busting Efforts

Jun 10, 2019
News Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Donald Norcross (NJ-01) and Congressman Anthony G. Brown (MD-04) sent a letter co-signed by a bipartisan group of 128 Members of Congress to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, pushing back on the department’s anti-labor policies in its collective bargaining with AFGE, the union representing 260,000 of its frontline employees.

In the letter, the Members assert their belief that the VA is not acting in good faith, and is attempting to, “precipitate a breakdown in negotiations by insisting on proposals that are similar to specific provisions of Executive Orders 13836, 13837, and 13837.” Provisions of these Executive Orders, designed to remove barriers to terminating employees, cut official time, and curb union power, were recently struck down by the courts. This has not deterred the administration, however, which now aims to undermine thousands of civil servants at the bargaining table.

“In order to improve the VA, we must empower our civil servants who are on the frontlines standing up for our veterans day in and day out. That means our VA employees must be able to join together and advocate to raise wages and improve their benefits, like health care and retirement,” said Congressman Norcross, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and member of the House Armed Services Committee. “I know how important it is for workers to have a voice in the workplace because I lived it. I sat at the negotiating table fighting for working families for decades and, now, we must make sure workers at the VA can continue to exercise their rights. The Administration must stop these draconian actions that fly in the face of court decisions and aim to keep VA employees away from bargaining tables."

“This strategy from Department of Veterans Affairs is unacceptable, and fits a disturbing pattern of assault on our nation’s civil servants by the President and his administration,” said Congressman Brown, an Iraq War Veteran and Vice Chair of the House Armed Services Committee. “Improving the VA is a bipartisan priority, and by pursuing this cynical strategy, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Secretary Wilkie, and President Trump and sabotaging the bipartisan work Congress is doing to strengthen the VA."

“There is no other group of employees more dedicated to the mission of caring for our veterans than VA employees – more than a third of whom are veterans themselves,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. “Yet the VA wants to strip workers of their rights and protections and leave them with a union in name only. If the VA has its way, safeguards to ensure whistleblowers are protected from retaliation for standing up for veterans will be severely eroded, there will be no assurances that employees will receive the proper training to perform their jobs, and standards for providing safe facilities for VA workers and veterans alike will be dramatically weakened."

Notably, the VA proposal includes limiting medical professionals in reporting violations that could threaten patient safety, bars employees from filing grievances against unjust disciplinary actions, and removes the ability of employees to challenge errors in payroll. If the VA-proposed contract was implemented, it would diminish labor protections and bargaining rights established by Congress, would severely destabilize the agency, and undermine the VA’s ability to deliver health care and benefits to America’s veterans.

The full letter can be found below:

Dear Secretary Wilkie,

We are writing this letter regarding the collective bargaining rights of federal workers at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. We are deeply concerned that the VA has pursued anti-labor policies with the union representing 260,000 of its frontline employees, the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (AFGE).

We believe the VA may be acting to precipitate a breakdown in negotiations by insisting on proposals that are similar to specific provisions of Executive Orders 13836, 13837, and 13839.  Such proposals make it appear that the VA is seeking to circumvent the order of the United States District Court that enjoined many provisions of the Executive Orders.

Furthermore, beyond conflicts with the enjoined Executive Orders, we are alarmed that the VA’s initial contract proposal is a gross departure from the current contract in place between the VA and AFGE.  We are concerned that these actions will have a detrimental effect on veterans depending on the VA for medical care and other vital services.

Notably, the VA proposal includes limiting medical professionals in reporting violations that could threaten patient safety, bars employees from filing grievances against unjust disciplinary actions, and removes the ability of workers to challenge employer errors on payroll.

If the contract VA proposes was implemented, it would diminish labor protections and the collective bargaining rights that Congress intended, and would have a severe, destabilizing effect on agency operations, employee morale and the VA’s ability to deliver high quality healthcare and benefits to America’s Veterans.

As such, we strongly encourage the VA to bargain with AFGE in good faith, in full accordance with the established ground rules, and with the objective of improving care for our veterans.  Unions representing VA workers help improve the care veterans receive and the services they rely on by creating an efficient working environment.

Thank you for your consideration.

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Contact: Ally Kehoe, Communications Director
ally.kehoe@mail.house.gov