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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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  • bobbydigits 06/30/2011 12:06pm

    The best news I’ve heard all day! Maybe there are a few sensible folks left in the world.

  • valleri 06/30/2011 7:55pm

    I don’t believe those paid with tax dollars should fall under any collective bargaining agreements. Those that manage such employees need full flexibility to adjust to revenue changes that result from economic rises and falls. However, many in the health care industry are working very long hours. I’m not sure if excessive workday hours applies in this case, but in the private sector they are quite common. I’m open to the idea of bargaining when it comes to health care, but that’s about it.

  • luminous 07/01/2011 7:03pm

    “I don’t believe those paid with tax dollars should fall under any collective bargaining agreements.”

    They need collective bargaining precisely because of the fact their paid by the government via taxes. Their employment contract is subject to the partisan whims of those whose carry the power and force of law.

    When a private employer doesn’t like part of the contract with their employee’s they will negotiate to change it and both sides of the contract are subject to the protection of law and fair hearing before the law(court), when legislators don’t like part of a contract with public employee’s they declare it null and void without fair hearing with no protection of law for the promises any such contract held before they declared it no longer counted.

    If their is any group that needs unions its public employee’s.

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