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Expansion of Collective Bargaining Rights for VA Health Workers Passes Committee

June 30, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Committee of Veterans’ Affairs yesterday voted in favor of reporting legislation to expand collective bargaining rights for health care workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill would amend a section of U.S. law that Democrats say the Veterans’ Department is misusing to block certain VA health workers from negotiating over basic pay issues, like overtime, weekend pay, and physician incentive pay.

The language is contained in subsections (b) and (d) of section 7422 of title 38, U.S. Code, which covers collective bargaining rules for some, but not all, VA medical workers. The language states that workers can not negotiate over issues of “compensation.” The bill passed by the committee would replace the word “compensation” with the phrase “rates of basic pay,” thereby allowing workers covered under the language to negotiate on compensation issues other than their base salary.

Supporters of the bill say the change is about leveling the playing field in the VA and with public health care employees at other departments. “This bill is not about bargaining over pay scales, but about giving employees the right to challenge violations of the VA’s own pay rules,” Sen. Sherrod Brown [D, OH], the bill’s chief sponsor, said at a hearing on the bill. “It’s about fairness and ensuring VA medical professionals have the same rights as other VA employees and doctors and nurses at other federal facilities.”

All Republicans on the committee voted against the bill. And, of course, VA officials oppose it a well, arguing that “the ability to exercise pay flexibility is a vital recruitment and retention tool” that helps them compete with the private sector. No word yet on which side of the issue the Obama Administration will take, the union’s or the government’s.

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