VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Thursday set out new proposals to cut federally funded union time as the Veterans Affairs Department looks to renegotiate its collective bargaining agreement.
The proposals include an annual cap on the time all union workers can get paid by the VA to perform union work to 10,000 hours per year. Another provision would give "frontline supervisors" more authority over workers.
The current collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees has been in place since 2011. The union represents about a quarter million federal workers.
In a statement, Wilkie called for a reset of the "VA's approach to labor-management relations." The VA said that under the Obama administration's agreement, the government was paying more than a million hours' wages for employees to perform union work.
"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," Wilkie said. "With VA facing thousands of vacancies, these proposals could add more than 1 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."
Meanwhile, the AFGE slammed the proposal as a "sham."
"Secretary Wilkie is making a mockery of the collective bargaining process to do the bidding of President Trump," the AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. "This is all part of the Trump administration's strategy to force the VA to fail, thereby paving the road to privatization."
The union also argued that in the ramp-up to the expansion of community care for veterans under the VA Mission Act the department is " funneling resources to the for-profit private sector, and failing to fill 49,000 vacancies across the department nationwide."
The Trump administration has been riling unions for the past year, starting with an executive order issued last May that sought to claw back federal workers' time from union business when they're on the government payroll.
In that order, the White House specifically called out nearly 500 VA employees, including 74 nurses, who spent 100% of their work time on union duties.
As work ramps up to launch the expanded Community Care program for veterans, the VA's new proposed agreement said union contracts must not "interfere" with the department's ability to administer various laws including the Mission Act— which mandated the consolidation and expansion of VA community care.