Jul 21, 2015

House Panel Votes to Strip VA Employees of Workplace Protections

WASHINGTON, DC – The House inched closer to voting on a bill that would strip workers at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) of their due process rights. Passing the subcommittee on a party-line vote, the bill now heads to the full House Committee on Government Affairs for discussion and vote. The legislation comes as a response to the 2014 scandal, where it was revealed at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care at a VA hospital.
The VA Accountability Act of 2015, H.R. 1994, would permit Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald to fire, reduce the pay of, or demote any VA employee for reasons related to “performance or misconduct.” These powers would extend over every nurse, doctor, custodial, and civilian employee in the VA. Additionally, H.R. 1994 would significantly limit employees’ appeal rights during the adjudication process.
“This bill would make VA employees permanently probationary employees. It would place them at the mercy of the VA managers. We need to protect VA workers so they can do their jobs to help our veterans. We do not need to give bad managers more tools to create an even worse workplace environment,” argued Ranking Member Corinne Brown (D-FL) during her opening statements.
The VA already has the tools in place to handle poorly performing employees, but Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) and his GOP contingent believe the circumstances call for more extreme measures.
National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) National President David J. Holway responded for comment saying, “Congressman Miller’s bill is the equivalent to imposing martial law in the workplace. Not only will this not solve the VA’s problems, it assumes the employees are guilty until proven innocent.”
The bill does not stop there. H.R. 1994 commissions the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the amount of time spent by VA employees carrying out labor organizing activities and the amount of Department space used for such activities. “Make no mistake, this is a right to work debate,” noted Congressman Walz (D-MN).
Meanwhile, Subcommittee Chairman Miller (R-FL) was quick to pit the congressmen between the VA’s staff and the veterans they serve daily, repeatedly asking the subcommittee “Are you going to stand with the veterans or with the bureaucrats?” 
“One third of VA employees are veterans. Let me repeat that: one-third of VA employees are veterans,” Rep. Brown responded emphatically.
“To accuse Democrats on the VA Committee of being anti-veteran by opposing this bill is utterly reprehensible,” President Holway stated.

We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few; but we can't have both. - Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis
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