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AFGE supporting legislation to expand bargaining rights

05.21.10

MAY 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

AFGE supporting legislation to expand bargaining rights

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, April 26th- The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Union and its National Veterans Association Council (NVAC) urged the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to support legislation which would provide full collective bargaining rights for physicans, dentists, registered nurses, and other Veterans Administration health care professionals covered by the Title 38 personnel system. The legislation could pave the way for current non-bargaining unit employees at the Veterans Hospital in Wilkes-Barre Township in Luzerne County to become union members. AFGE Local 1699 represents employees at the medical center.

In a statement to the House Veterans Subcommittee on Health, the union complimented the Veterans Affairs for changing its stance of opposition of the legislation and urged the Committee to capitalize on the change in momentum.

“The deep desire of Veterans Administation health care professionals to care for veterans is undermined by personnel policies that deny Veterans Administration professionals basic rights and dignity provided to their federal counterparts outside of the Veterans Administration with full Title 5 bargaining rights. When this legislation was initially proposed two years ago, the Veterans Affairs opposition was based entirely on fear and distortion,” stated Alma Lee, President of the National Veterans Association Council.

The most recent example of that transformation came after the White House issued an Executive Order, creating labor-management forums. In its response the Executive Order 13522, which was signed by President Obama, the Veterans Administration’s implementation plan recognizes that “cooperative, constructive working relations between labor and management are essential to achieving common labor-management goals and objectives,” said Alma Lee.

The Veterans Administration’s implementation plan also specifically addresses bargaining and negotiation rights.

The plan states the Department of Defense is committed to pre-decisional involvement in workplace matters, without regard to whether those matters are negotiable subjects of bargaining. The Department is committed, wherever appropriate, to engage the labor partners on issues that historically have been outside the scope of bargaining.

The American Federation of Government Employees stated in light of this of heart by the Veterans Affairs the union is urging the House Veterans Administration Committee to seize the momentum and enact this deeply important legislation.

“It’s time to put into place policies that can bridge the unfair, arbitary disparities that exist between Title 38 Veterans Administration health care professionals and their counterparts in their own agency, the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Prisons who use their Title 5 rights to speak up for safe patient care and working conditions. The Veterans Administration faces too many challenges to allow this legislation to languish any further. Now is the time to act,” said J. David Cox, AFGE national secretary-treasurer and former nurse for 23 years.

The American Federation of Government Employees is the nation’s largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia including nearly 200,000 in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Besides locally representing employees at the Veterans Hospital, AFGE Local 1647 represents employees at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Monroe County.

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