Federal employee unions filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs this week over the agency’s recent announcement that it was restricting the use of official time by some agency employees.
The VA said in an announcement released earlier this month that it was “moving nearly 430 medical professionals from taxpayer-funded union work back to health care jobs serving Veterans.” This means that the agency is imposing restrictions on allowing agency employees to work for a union while continuing to receive the salary and benefits of a federal employee.
Federal employee unions are having none of it, however. Their lawsuit asserts that the VA is illegally depriving medical professionals of their statutorily guaranteed right to serve under official time status. The lawsuit was filed by the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE).
The lawsuit was filed at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia requesting judicial review of the repudiation notice from the VA, citing federal law that guarantees the right of Title 38 employees to use official time to represent employees at the VA.
The unions argue that the use of official time at the agency is in the best of interest of the care of veterans.
“Official Time is in the best interest of the government, the taxpayer and, in the case of the VA, our veterans,” stated Randy Erwin, NFFE National President. “The crux of the issue is that under official time, VA employees serve as an independent voice regarding working conditions, safety issues and mismanagement.”
However, the VA disagrees, saying that when employees spend their time on official time it takes away from care of veterans.
An agency official said in a statement, “Allowing health care workers to do taxpayer-funded union work instead of serving Veterans impacts patient care negatively. President Trump has made it clear – VA employees should always put Veterans first. And when we hire medical professionals to take care of Veterans, that’s what they should do at all times. No excuses, no exceptions.”
The VA said that its employees “spent more than a million hours doing taxpayer-funded union work at a total cost of more than $49 million” in FY 2016.
The VA made its announcement around the same time that the Office of Personnel Management issued guidance to agencies, telling agency leaders to approach collective bargaining “in a good-faith manner that best reflects agency mission needs.” The OPM memo provided updated guidance issued after a recent court ruling that struck down significant portions of the executive orders.