Negotiations have begun between the VA and the AFGE union over a contract that will apply to employees in one of the government’s largest bargaining units, some 260,000 employees.
The negotiations begin amid a period of high tensions between federal labor and management in general, and in particular over issues such as the scope of grievance procedures, provision of working space and official time to the unions, and use of telework and alternative working schedules.
The VA is seeking to follow a similar path with its proposals—including, for example, one to allow employees to use official time for no more than 5 percent of their scheduled working hours and to limit such time to 10,000 hours annually department-wide, compared to the more than 1 million hours used in fiscal 2016, the latest year for which figures have been published.
Several agencies have declared negotiations over such issues at impasse and have either imposed their positions as new policies or have invoked the Federal Service Impasses Panel—which recently ruled in favor of the SSA in a dispute with AFGE over many similar provisions.
Like the bargaining positions, agency moves to promptly declare negotiations at an impasse generally reflect the intent of the administration’s executive orders of last year, key parts of which have been blocked by a court ruling that is now under appeal.