Fed workforce panel largely sides with VA in a labor ruling

The Federal Service Impasses Panel largely sided with the Department of Veterans Affairs in a contract ruling in a case between the VA and the National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC).

A federal workforce panel largely sided with the Department of Veterans Affairs in a labor contract ruling in a case between the VA and the National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC), part of the American Federation of Government Employees.

The Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP), composed of 10 presidential appointees who resolve impasses in agency-union negotiations, significantly altered the agreement in their decision issued Nov. 5, ostensibly to bring the labor deal in line with multiple executive orders from the Trump administration governing the federal workforce.

NVAC has filed a motion with the Federal Labor Relations Authority, FSIP's parent agency, for a stay of the decision until pending lawsuits about several articles in the agreement and the constitutionality of the appointment of FSIP members are settled.

Union leaders point to the incoming administration as potential for change in agency-labor relations.

"AFGE NVAC is disappointed with the panel's decision on the union's Master Collective Bargaining Agreement, but not entirely surprised that a Trump-appointed panel would rule the way they did," said Alma Lee, president of AFGE NVAC. "But there is hope. The union is confident that the incoming Biden-Harris administration will right the wrongs of the Federal Service Impasses Panel."

The panel struck several articles out of the agreement and cut back others, said Ibidun Roberts, who is representing NVAC.

In particular, the decision eliminated many requirements about adverse action against employees, including giving employees advance notice before suspensions.

The panel removed the section on pandemics within the safety article, which included provisions requiring that employees be notified about safety protocols and not be required to use their leave time if they were sent home due to a pandemic.

FSIP also pared back the ability of employees to challenge performance-related actions, including their ability to challenge awards using the grievance procedure, Roberts said.

Finally, the decision reduced the amount of time the union has to meet with and represent employees by imposing a limit of .65 hours per bargaining unit employee. This is less than the upper limit of one hour per bargaining unit employee advised to agencies in Trump's 2018 executive order centered on official time. Per the FSIP decision, official time also cannot be used for grievances.

"It's actually exacerbated by the fact that the VA is unique among agencies because the VA is subject to the Accountability Act," Roberts said, which makes firing employees easier and faster. "Now the union has less time than most other agencies to work with an employee and challenge these actions."

NVAC and the VA negotiations originally reached an impasse in December 2019, triggering the passing of the contract to FSIP.

Nine outstanding contract articles are currently in a pending lawsuit after the VA Secretary removed them from collective bargaining in 2019. The contract cannot be ratified by members until the status of those articles is resolved, Roberts said.

NVAC also filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in March alleging that the appointments of current FSIP members are unconstitutional since they were not subject to Senate approval.

AFGE is currently waiting on a decision, which should come "any day now," Roberts said.

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