Temple: Federal workers rally outside VA hospital

(Photo by Megan Vanselow)
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TEMPLE, Texas (KWTX) Demonstrator outside the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Center Wednesday in Temple say they are looking for a better collective bargaining agreement between the American Federation of Government Employees and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The federation and the VA are in the process of renegotiating the terms of the agreement.

The demonstrators said Wednesday they want to prevent privatization of the VA and want a system that allows them to be able to use leave time when it’s needed as well as fair pay and a better grievance process than the one now under consideration that would require grievances to be sent to Washington rather than filed locally.

"We want the people to know and it's not about us trying to get this and get that from management. As employees the number one issue is the veteran, the quality of patient care and all that it takes to get to the veteran to get that quality patient care,” said Fredna White, president of 10th District VA Council of the AFGE.

The federation held a similar rally in Waco two weeks ago and says it will continue to demonstrate across the country until an agreement is reached.

The VA, however, says the changes its seeking to the 2011 agreement are intended “to align with the statutory rights Congress provided to federal employee unions and (the) VA while ensuring taxpayer resources are used first and foremost to benefit veterans,” according to a lengthy fact sheet provided by Deputy VA Press Secretary Jordan Eason.

“Whether through its condemnation of the MISSION Act or its efforts to repeal the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, AFGE has consistently fought for the status quo and opposed attempts to make VA work better for veterans and their families,” Eason said.

“Now AFGE is taking the same approach with its refusal to accept commonsense improvements to its collective bargaining agreement.”

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has said that the department is working with the AFGE to ensure that services to veterans come first.

“It’s time for a reset in VA’s approach to labor-management relations. A reluctance to challenge the status quo produced the current agreement, which includes many benefits that favor the union rather than the veterans we are charged with serving,” he said.

“With VA facing thousands of vacancies, these proposals could add more than one million man-hours per year back into our work force, a vital influx of resources that would make an almost immediate difference for Veterans and the employees who care for them.”