Registered nurses with National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) are outraged by the latest union busting effort by this administration, an effort that aims to limit a Veteran Affairs nurse’s ability to advocate for the highest quality of patient care.
In what can only be described as a huge overstep of his legal authority, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced the elimination of the scheduled time registered nurses and other medical professionals use to advocate for co-workers’ rights on the job, or for best patient care practices, such as staffing levels, to insure the highest quality of care for our nation’s veterans. These hours are referred to as official time.
“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 Bonnie Castillo, executive director of NNU. “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. But this is a huge overstep by Wilkie and we intend to fight back against this illegal action.”
The VA has recognized official time for 40 years, since Congress passed the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, which affirmed official timeis an integral part of a collective bargaining agreement.
“Our nurses are out there on the front lines every day protecting, advocating for and caring for our respected veterans,” said Irma Westmoreland, RN, and NNU board member. “My job is to protect those nurses so they can speak out without fear of retaliation.”
“In announcing the move, the VA invoked the need for 430 workers to return to their care-giving duties, but this argument is false on its surface as the vast majority of nurses are already providing bedside care. In addition, these few hundred medical professionals represent the tiniest proportion of the more than 342,000 workers at the VA,” said Castillo. “If this administration is truly concerned for its veterans, we call on them, yet again, to fill the 40,000 vacant positions that currently exist in the VA.”
Just two weeks ago, the Secretary Wilkie disapproved the contract VA negotiators had reached with NNOC/NNU negotiators. Secretary Wilkie made note of 357 objections in the contract, of those 267 were provisions included in the previous contract signed by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in 2012. NNOC/NNU has filed a petition for review with the Federal Labor Relations Authority in connection with the disapproval.
In May, this administration issued a set of presidential executive orders that sought to strip federal employees of their hard-won union rights. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) challenged those executive orders in court. In August, U.S. District Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson struck down the majority of provisions in those orders, including one that attempted to cap official time. The Trump administration is appealing.
NNOC/NNU represents registered nurses at 23 VA facilities across the country.