In a major victory for Department of Veterans Affairs employees and the American Federation of Government Employees, the VA last week ordered an immediate suspension of all downgrades of employees related to its reclassification program. The only downgrades that are allowed to continue are those associated with unacceptable performance and inappropriate conducts.
More than 500 AFGE members and activists gathered last month in front of VA headquarters in Washington, D.C. before marching over to Lafayette Square calling on the VA to immediately stop the arbitrary downgrades of 50,000 of the lowest-paid employees across the country. The VA claimed it was trying to “modernize” position descriptions, but the union called it a slap in the face to the employees who themselves are veterans or have dedicated decades of their lives to serving our veterans. At the Temple VA hospital, where the first and largest re-classification took place, three out of four employees who were downgraded are veterans.
Under pressure from AFGE members and their supporters, the VA decided to establish a Classification Oversight Working Group to “create options on how to balance position classification standards and equal pay for equal work with the potential number of resulting changes to lower grade.” The group will decide which downgrades will be allowed to continue. AFGE immediately submitted a request for joint labor-management participation in efforts to develop an action plan for addressing classification issues as well as the fate of pending downgrades.
“VA has finally heard the VA Council’s concerns on these cruel and arbitrary downgrades,” AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee said. “But the fight is not over: we have to make sure that every impacted employee gets relief and that we are at the table along with other key stakeholders to ensure the creation of a fair, consistent classification process that makes the VA health care system stronger, not weaker.”
“I am so proud of AFGE today,” AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox said. “We took our concerns to Congress and the public and we were heard loud and clear: stop balancing budgets on the backs of veterans and low wage employees, and start working with, not against, AFGE to build a strong VA workforce.”