Federal workers rally outside local VA hospital

Photo by Ke'Sha Lopez
By  | 

WACO, Texas (KWTX) Just a few feet from the rows of American flags waving at the Doris Miller Veteran Affairs Hospital campus in Waco a group of federal employees sent a message loud and clear.

They were looking for a better collective bargaining agreement between the American Federation of Government Employees and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The two are in the process of renegotiating the terms.

While holding signs and chanting outside the VA gates, the group said they want fair pay, a system that allows them to be able to use their "leave" time when they need to take it, and a better grievance process.

The one currently proposed, according to the group, would eliminate grievances being filed locally and force employees to file them in Washington.

Others are concerned that there will be instances that the employee and union representative would be forced to appear for a face-to-face meeting or hearing, which would cost time and money on behalf of the employee.

Nancy Bryant, Legislative and Political Coordinator for AFGE Local 1822 said, there are a third of the veterans in the U.S. work for Veterans Affairs.

Forty-percent of workers in the VA system in Central Texas are veterans.

They added that nearly 50,000 jobs have gone unfilled in the V.A.

The group wants those positions filled with government employees.

Bryant, being a retired 30-year V.A. worker said this issue should matter to everyone.

If employees are over-worked and underpaid, the level of service to the clients could be affected.

Bryant explains if the V.A Hospital system is privatized that patients will suffer.

The Veterans Affairs' new "MISSION" or "Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act" launched June 6 to address concerns with the former Choice Act to help veterans in rural areas by allowing them to seek healthcare outside of the VA system.

Bryant worries about the nine-million veterans currently enrolled.

"If the V.A. cease to exist tomorrow and the government dumps all of our veterans into contracts for private sector, they can't absorb that."

Derrick Mathis has worked for the V.A. for decades.

He said his grandfather retired from there and he never really know how rewarding the work he does could be.

The group added, contract employees are often not as vetted or vesting as government workers and the government loses accountability.

"There's veterans here I can tell you everything about them I know their behavior better than some of my relatives behavior," said Mathis.

Union officials said rallies like the one held in Waco are planned for other locations across the country until an agreement is reached.

They expect that to happen in December.