By Mark Van Scyoc /

Largest Federal Employee Union Files Grievance Against VA

AFGE calls VA’s implementation of Trump’s official time executive order “inconsistent and haphazard.”

The American Federation of Government Employees on Wednesday filed an internal grievance with the Veterans Affairs Department alleging “numerous unfair labor practices” related to the department’s implementation of a series of controversial workforce executive orders.

In a filing sent to Kimberly McLeod, executive director in the VA Office of Labor-Management Relations, AFGE’s National Veterans Affairs Council, which represents VA employees, accused leadership of illegally and unilaterally implementing elements of President Trump’s executive order reducing the availability of official time. That order and two others are the subjects of a legal challenge in federal district court.

In July, officials at the VA gave the union notice that the department intended to implement provisions of the official time executive order unilaterally, offering AFGE the chance to bargain on changes to its collective bargaining agreement after implementation. The union said it has submitted counter-proposals through the post-implementation bargaining process “under protest.”

In the grievance, AFGE argued that management’s actions to limit the use of official time to 25 percent of an employee’s work hours, as well as to move to evict the union from agency office space, violate both an existing collective bargaining agreement, as well as the official time executive order itself.

Although guidance from Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon suggested that agencies can implement new policies on official time unilaterally once a bargaining agreement expires, AFGE lawyers said that the union’s agreement remains in effect since parties had begun negotiations on a new contract before the executive order was issued. The executive order itself states that “nothing in this order shall abrogate any collective bargaining agreement in effect on the date of this order.”

“The [collective bargaining agreement] states clearly and unequivocally that ‘if renegotiation of an agreement is in progress but not completed upon the terminal date of this agreement, this agreement will be automatically extended until a new agreement is negotiated,’” wrote AFGE Staff Counsel Shalonda Miller. “Pursuant to the Duration of Agreement [section], the CBA was extended on March 15, 2018, and did not expire. When the EO was issued on May 25, 2018, the CBA was in effect as a result of the March 15, 2018 extension.”

AFGE also criticized the department’s “chaotic” implementation of the executive order provisions, which has varied across offices and regions. Last month, union officials told Government Executive that they had received reports of inconsistent enforcement of the new policy, and requests for clarification from management went unanswered.

“Facilities have begun implementing changes in an inconsistent and haphazard manner,” Miller wrote. “For example, [Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital] eliminated the Local president’s official time entirely; Miwaukee [VA Medical Center] has cut off union representatives’ [Personal Identity Verification] cards, preventing them from completing any work; . . . and the Denver [VA Regional Office] has applied the EO retroactively to limit the number of hours available to the local.”

AFGE demanded that VA restore the collective bargaining agreement that had been in effect until July and cease enforcement of new official time rules until negotiations on a new contract are complete. The union also asked that the department “make whole any employee affected by the agency’s violations.”