National President Dougan Calls for Full Bargaining Rights for VA Workers in Congressional Testimony
Yesterday, NFFE National President William R. Dougan submitted testimony to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, urging the extension of full collective bargaining rights for Veterans’ Administration workers.
“Agency management’s improperly broad interpretation of a certain provision in federal labor law has allowed them to circumvent the bargaining process on numerous critical issues, and the effect is taking its toll on the morale of VA health care providers,” said Dougan.
This issue came about 1991, when Congress amended Title 38 to provide Department of Veterans’ Affairs medical professionals with collective bargaining rights (which include the rights to use the negotiated grievance procedure and arbitration). Under Sec. 7422 of Title 38, covered employees can negotiate, file grievances and arbitrate disputes over working conditions, except for matters concerning or arising out of professional conduct or competence, peer review, or compensation. Increasingly, VA management is interpreting these exceptions very broadly, and refusing to bargain over virtually every significant workplace issue affecting medical professionals.
VA medical professionals have extremely limited collective bargaining rights in the first place, and the broad interpretation of Sec. 7422 of Title 38 is narrowing the scope of bargaining to the point that it is practically meaningless. As a result, RNs, doctors and other impacted employees at the VA are experiencing increased job stress, low morale and burnout. This in turn exacerbates the VA’s well-documented recruitment and retention problems. Chronic short staffing has been shown to adversely impact the quality of care, patient safety, and workplace safety, leading to costly stopgap measures such as the overuse of contract nurses and doctors.
Passing H.R. 949 and its companion bill in the Senate, S. 362, would help to address many of these concerns by restoring a meaningful scope of bargaining for Title 38 VA professionals. Eliminating these exceptions will extend our veterans’ health care providers the same rights as other VA workers including psychologists, LPNs, and pharmacists, as well as other federal employees.
“It is time for Congress to do what is right for VA workers and the veterans for whom they provide care by passing H.R. 949, which will eliminate the collective bargaining exceptions under Sec. 7422 of Title 38,” said Dougan.
Restoring meaningful bargaining rights will greatly increase morale at the VA, allowing them to continue recruiting the best and brightest medical professionals our nation has to offer. At a time when tens of thousands of veterans are returning from conflict abroad, this is the least we can give them.