VA Takes Action to Restrict Collective Bargaining and Official Time

The VA is clamping down on unions’ use of collective bargaining in some situations.

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced last week that it is taking back rights it gave away under the previous administration to preclude collective bargaining on issues indirectly related to VA providers’ professional conduct or competence. Consequently, unions can no longer engage in collective bargaining when it comes to professional conduct and patient care by VA providers.

“President Trump has made it clear that we want our providers laser-focused on caring for Veterans and that’s exactly what we’re doing here,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This move today ensures that unions can’t bargain on issues related to our providers’ professional conduct or competence, essentially patient care. Our nation’s heroes deserve no less.”

Wilkie rescinded a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that VA entered into in 2010 with National Nurses United, Service Employees International Union, National Federation of Federal Employees, and National Association of Government Employees on VA’s application of 38 U.S.C. § 7422.

The VA announced last month that it had begun implementing one of President Trump’s executive orders outlining new guidelines for how union officials use official time when representing federal employees. The revocation of the MOU is the latest step forward in the process of restricting union activity within the agency.

According to the VA, the executive order affects about 1,700 VA employees using taxpayer-funded union time – including two doctors, 65 nurses and 405 other employees who spent 100% of their taxpayer-funded time working on nothing but union business.

Approximately 300,000 VA employees are represented by one of five national unions. The executive order’s restrictions regarding time spent on government work include member solicitation, lobbying activities, elections of union officials and collection of dues.

As part of VA’s implementation of the executive order, VA employees who previously spent 100 percent of their official work hours on union issues can devote no more than 25 percent of that time to the union. Union leaders also must request and receive approval of their use of taxpayer-funded union time to allow the VA to monitor the use of this time to ensure that it’s only used for authorized purposes.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.