The Department of Veterans Affairs announced late last week that it is quickly moving forward with implementing new restrictions on its union that have been authorized by President Trump’s executive orders.
The VA made the announcement after a federal court recently ruled that the orders will now be allowed to go into effect. Prior to this ruling, an injunction had been in place preventing them from being implemented by agencies while the unions fought the administration over the new restrictions in court.
The VA said that the new rules “include numerous changes that will improve VA medical care, customer service and staff accountability while maximizing service to Veterans and value for taxpayers.”
Among the benefits cited by the agency that will come with implementing the executive orders:
- Limiting the free or discounted use of government property for union business, potentially enabling the department to repurpose hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space currently used by unions.
- Reducing the maximum amount of time VA employees can spend during the workday serving unions, redirecting man hours back to direct services and medical care.
- In FY 2016, VA employees spent more than a million duty hours on taxpayer-funded union time at a cost of more than $49 million.
- $49 million is the cost of roughly: 355,000 naloxone injection kits to prevent Veterans’ death by opiod overdose; ($137.92/kit, according to the VA formulary) employing more than 550 VA suicide risk management social workers for one year; (GS-11, step 10 ($88,450/year)) or, providing a year of housing to more than 2,800 homeless Veterans. (VA’s Grant and Per Diem Program provides $47.36 per day per Veteran house)
VA secretary Robert Wilkie said, “These executive orders will help VA continue to improve by ensuring our employees and resources are focused squarely on serving Veterans.”
The Office of Personnel Management has also advised federal agencies to move out quickly on implementing the labor relations executive orders.
Not everyone thinks these changes are good news, however. AFGE, the union that represents VA employees, is very unhappy about what is coming down the pipeline.
“Any attempts by agencies to enforce these provisions outside of the collective bargaining process will be met with immediate legal challenge by the union,” said J. David Cox Sr. , the union’s national president.
Cox maintained that the executive orders are illegal despite the court’s recent rulings, and the agency’s efforts are simply an attempt to remove the union from the worksite in the name of improving care for veterans.