Three federal unions have filed a lawsuit against the VA’s decision to stop allowing medical personnel to use official time, a case that—like a separate one already before an appeals court—tests management’s authority under federal employee labor law.
The suit is a response to the VA’s decision to invoke a provision of a separate law that it says makes matters implicating care of patients non-negotiable. Although only about 430 of the more than 100,000 VA employees in the medical field use any official time, the agency argues that it needs them to be using those skills full-time, especially since it is short-staffed in many of those occupations.
The unions argue that official time improves patient care by addressing problems that otherwise would go unaddressed. They are concerned that other agencies could make similar arguments that they need their employees to be performing their official duties at all times, making them ineligible for official time, as well. A decision in the unions’ favor could head off similar moves by other agencies, or cause them to reverse course if they already had made such moves by the time of the court decision.
The suit follows one in which unions also challenged what they consider an over-reach of management authority, involving three inter-related executive orders issued in May. In that case, a federal judge found that some provisions of those orders violated employee organizational rights under the labor-management provisions of the Civil Service Reform Act. That ruling is on appeal.
Said the AFGE union, which is party to both suits, “We don’t relish having to go to the courts every time the administration oversteps and tries to trample on our rights, but we’re not going to back down. We will fight to ensure every employee has a voice in the workplace, and we will not stop fighting until those rights are protected.”