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House bill would gut rights of Veteran Administration workers

UPDATE (March 17, 2017) — HR 1259, the attack on union rights of Veterans Affairs employees, passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 240-175 vote on Thursday. Washington state’s congressional delegation voted on party lines with Republicans Herrera Beutler, McMorris Rodgers, Newhouse, and Reichert all voting “yes,” and Democratic Reps. DelBene, Larsen, Kilmer, Jayapal, Smith, and Heck all voting “no.”

In a statement issued today, AFGE President J. David Cox said, “While we are deterred by the House’s action, we are not defeated. We will fight this bill when it goes before the Senate, and we will continue to make the case to lawmakers and the public that attacking the rights of working-class men and women at the VA and across government is counterproductive to our shared goal of providing the best service to the American taxpayers.”


WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 16, 2017) — Chances are you’ve heard the saying, “Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Well, there are lots of wolves roaming the halls of Congress these days, and they’re donning their finest wool suits to sell a bill of goods to the American people.

Congressman David Roe (R-Tenn.) is the latest offender. He’s authored a bill, HR 1259, that he says would help improve the delivery of services to our nation’s veterans by cracking down on bad managers at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sounds good, right? But here’s the truth: Congressman Roe’s bill would undermine the VA’s ability to serve veterans by politicizing the workforce and gutting frontline employees’ basic worker rights.

This venomous bill would prevent doctors, nurses, benefits specialists, and other VA employees who are in danger of losing their jobs from seeking help from their union. Specifically, it would prohibit the union from filing grievances or using the arbitration process to challenge wrongful terminations, suspensions, or demotions.

TAKE A STAND! — HR 1259 is one of three bills moving through the House that would gut the rights of federal employees in the VA and across government. See a flier (JPG) with more information about all three bills. Please CLICK HERE to take a stand for our public servants and send an email to your U.S. Representative to oppose these blatant attacks on federal employees. You can also call your lawmaker today at 855-976-5397 (D.C. Office) or 855-974-4792 (District Office).

Taking away an employee’s grievance and arbitration rights is a flagrant violation the labor-management contract that agency leaders and employee representatives agreed to.

I can cite countless, real-life cases in which our union representatives have used the grievance process to save the jobs of hardworking VA employees, many of whom are veterans:

► A disabled veteran in Alabama who was wrongly targeted for demotion after serving on a project team designed to reduce the backlog of benefits claims;

► A veteran in California who faced termination after questioning actions by his supervisor that were potentially unethical and unfair;

► A veteran who was fired after filing a workers’ compensation claim for an on-the-job injury.

By eliminating the grievance and arbitration process, Rep. Roe’s bill would leave employees with just one avenue to challenge proposed demotions, suspensions, and firings: appealing to the Merit Systems Protection Board, a quasi-judicial agency headed by three political appointees.

But that’s not all. Rep. Roe’s bill would drastically shorten the deadlines for employees to appeal to the MSPB — from 30 days to seven days. And it would prohibit MSPB administrative judges from reducing penalties that have been proposed by the VA — for instance, reducing a termination to a suspension – even if the judge determines that the proposed penalty is too severe given the circumstances.

This isn’t about improving accountability at the VA, and it certainly won’t improve veterans’ access to quality care and earned benefits. It’s a backdoor way to dismantle the union and give political leaders near-unchecked authority to fire, demote, suspend, or discipline employees.

Rep. Roe’s bill is a wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing. Lawmakers must not be fooled.

AFGE-Cox-JDavidJ. David Cox Sr. is national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 670,000 federal and D.C. government employees nationwide. This column, which originally appeared at Daily Kos, is posted at The Stand with the author’s permission.

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