Arbitrator supports AFGE VA Council’s official time grievance
- By FederalSoup Staff
- May 19, 2020
When the Department of Veterans Affairs unilaterally implemented President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting official time two years ago, it violated the collective bargaining agreement and the executive order itself, an arbitrator ruled.
Finding that the VA improperly denied union representatives official time, the arbitrator on May 13 ordered the VA to award union reps back pay with interest. It also required the agency to restore the annual leave those reps spent performing representational duties the time the VA implemented of Trump’s executive order.
The May 25, 2018, executive order restricted the use of official time – the hours union volunteers spend representing their coworkers by filing grievances on retaliation or unfair termination, for example. The American Federation of Government Employees, along with other unions, filed suit in U.S. District Court, but while the lawsuit was pending, the VA implemented the official time executive order. That move prompted the AFGE’s National VA Council to “file a national grievance, arguing that the agency violated the master agreement, the executive order itself, and federal law when it failed to bargain with the council before implementing the official time executive order,” AFGE officials said.
When the court ruled against the administration, the VA rescinded its implementation of the official time order, but refused to restore any official time lost during the six-week implementation period.
The arbitrator on March 13 largely ruled in favor of the NVAC and ordered the VA to award union reps back pay and restore their annual leave. Under the Back Pay Act, any employee receiving back pay is also entitled to payment of interest.
“The department’s actions violated the Executive Order, the collective bargaining agreement and resulted in the commission of a number of unfair labor practices,” Arbitrator Kurt Saunders wrote in sustaining the union’s grievance. “Because of these violations the department suffered a back pay obligation that, but for the violations, would not have been incurred.”
“This decision is one step in the right direction of correcting the harm,” American Federation of Government Employees’ National VA Council President Alma Lee said. “The executive orders have done nothing but wreak havoc on the union and our ability to represent the employees of the VA. Even today, the effects continue as employees face hurdles when they seek us out for assistance in relation to VA’s COVID-19 response.”