Restoring Collective Bargaining Rights for VA Employees
Over the last several years, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare professionals have seen their collective bargaining rights practically eliminated. Agency management’s improperly broad interpretation of a certain provision in federal labor law, Sec. 7422 of Title 38, has allowed them to circumvent the bargaining process on numerous critical issues.
The effect is taking its toll on the morale of VA healthcare providers.
H.R. 2193/S. 1257, identical bills introduced in the House and Senate by Representative Mark Takano (D-CA-41) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), respectively, to eliminate the collective bargaining exceptions under Sec. 7422 of Title 38, would restore a meaningful scope of bargaining for VA healthcare professionals. NFFE strongly supports the passage of H.R. 2193 and S. 1257, as we cannot allow for the morale of the men and women who care for our nation’s veterans to dwindle.
In 1991, Congress amended Title 38 to provide VA medical professionals with collective bargaining rights (which includes the right 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 refuses 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. Short staffing has been shown to adversely impact the quality of care, patient safety, and workplace safety, and it leads to costly stopgap measures such as overuse of contract nurses and doctors.
Most importantly, passage of H.R. 2193/S. 1257 would give VA medical professionals the workplace protections necessary to risk voicing concerns, when doing so could reflect poorly on the facility. With Sec. 7422 exceptions in place, the culture of fear that exists at many VA facilities will remain intact.
It is time for Congress to do what is right for VA workers and the veterans for whom they provide care.