New Trump-Named Regime Guts Workers’ Rights, Refuses to Sign VA Contract

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The new Trump-installed regime atop the Department of Veterans Affairs is illegally gutting workers’ rights there – rights guaranteed by laws covering federal workers – and refusing to sign a new contract with one of the agency’s two main unions, those unions report.

As a result, more than 100,000 workers face denial of their workplace rights while the Trump government executes arbitrary actions against them, the Government Employees (AFGE) and National Nurses United (NNU) add. And there’s no contract covering 11,000 NNU-represented RNs.

The administration’s actions against the VA workers specifically come against the backdrop of its larger anti-federal worker union crusade.

That crusade includes a Trump freeze on workers’ pay, attempted imposition of pro-management executive orders – since overturned in court – orders to agencies to submit “management plans” with significant pay and personnel cuts and overall GOP denigration of the nation’s two million federal workers.

And it includes the so-called “Mission Act,” which Trump signed in March, designed to make it easier for VA bosses to fire workers – by curbing appeal rights – while letting VA outsource more care to private providers who do not know veterans and their ills. That outsourcing is a key right-wing goal.

Trump’s Office of Personnel Management also denied workers use of “official time” to handle grievances and complaints, contrary to federal labor law, and threw the unions out of their small offices within agency buildings. Shop stewards must now defend workers on their own time and on their own dime. And a federal arbitrator overturned another OPM action, which killed opportunities for workers to improve their performance.

 

And even though U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in August threw out Trump’s anti-worker executive orders, several Trump agencies – including the VA and the Department of Education, run by ideologue anti-worker Secretary Betsy DeVos, a GOP big giver – are defying the judge, too.

Jackson called Trump’s edicts both illegal and unconstitutional, as they would deprive workers of their 1st Amendment rights to free speech, with members of Congress.

At the VA, AFGE reports Trump’s team will ban 430 union volunteers from being shop stewards as of Nov. 15. VA is trumpeting the return of those workers to full-time federal employment as one step towards easing a 45,000-worker shortage at VA hospitals and other medical facilities. Besides those vacancies, the VA has 342,000 workers caring for eight million veterans.

AFGE President J. David Cox summed up the whole scenario in two words: “Union-busting.”

NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN, used those same words, adding that taking away shop stewards deprives RNs of their ability to advocate for better patient care – or to blow the whistle on higher-ups who oppose it or cover-up inadequate care.

“This just isn’t a dangerous policy – this is breaking the law,” said Cox, a retired VA psychiatric nurse from North Carolina.  “The Trump administration and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie have committed a grave disservice to our nation’s veterans.”

Castillo said Wilkie “hugely overstepped his legal authority” by eliminating official time. RNs and other medical professionals use it not just to defend workers’ rights but to advocate best patient care practices, including safe staffing levels, she noted.

“This is the latest salvo from this administration in its prolonged and orchestrated attack on the legal rights of our nurses who are committed to providing the highest quality of care to those who served our country,” said Castillo.

“This administration attempted to usurp official time, and silence the collective voice of nurses by issuing presidential executive orders, but the courts found the administration had exceeded its legal authority. Now Secretary Wilkie is attempting to do the same thing. We intend to fight back against this illegal action.” Castillo did not say how.

"Removing access to this time is like asking the fire department to operate without firetrucks or a firehose – and the result will be just as disastrous for our veterans. Make no mistake, this is an attempt to silence the voices of VA employees at a time when such oversight is more critical than ever,” Cox added.

He reminded listeners that rank-and-file unionized VA nurses blew the whistle on VA management’s cover-up of refusal to care for vets in a timely manner – and that the unions had to then defend the whistleblowers against retaliation.

Two weeks before the latest uproar, Wilkie also threw out the new contract VA’s own bargainers reached with NNU, the union said. He had 357 objections, including 267 to clauses carried over from the previous NNU-VA contract, signed by Democratic President Barack Obama’s then-VA Secretary, Eric Shinseki, a former general.

The union petitioned the Federal Labor Relations Authority – the equivalent of the National Labor Relations Board for the nation’s federal workers – to review Wilkie’s move.

“Nurses are dedicated to advocating for their patients, and they are best able to do so collectively through their union. This is especially critical when it comes to our service veterans who are best cared for by the experienced VA nurses and their expertise in caring for our veterans’ unique, specialized patient care needs,” said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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