• Advertisement

Why Hasn’t Congress And Trump Filled The 50,000 Vacant Positions At The VA?

AFGE will be hosting rallies around the country to raise awareness of the dangers posed by short-staffing the VA

WASHINGTON – Veterans around the country are being forced to wait longer for care. Working people at the VA are struggling to do their jobs while staffing shortages are at near dangerous levels. And Congress is busy self-congratulating themselves for making it easier to fire civil servants at the VA – one-third of whom are veterans themselves.

In response to the growing lines and number of open positions at the VA, the American Federation of Government Employees will begin holding rallies around the country – starting Wednesday, August 16 – to raise awareness of the nearly 50,000 open positions at the agency, in the hopes that Congressional leaders will finally address the problem.

“For too long the hard-working men and women who have dedicated their lives work to serving our veterans have been bullied, intimidated, and abused. They have been made villains by insiders in Washington looking to push veterans out the door into ill-equipped, unprepared, private, for-profit medical centers, and it has to stop,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr.

“These faithful public servants are the ones who first brought to light that management was hiding wait lists. They’re the ones who let us know when facilities are falling behind. And they’re the ones who know best how to treat our veterans. Why can’t Congress give veterans the support they need? Why won’t Congress fill the 49,000 vacancies at the VA?” he asked.

Since January’s hiring freeze was announced, VA Secretary David Shulkin has been discussing the alarming number of vacancies at the VA, and the need to fill them. “We have 45,000 job openings. That’s too many,” Shulkin said in January. “I need to fill every one of those openings in order to make sure that we’re doing the very best for our veterans.” In the following months Shulkin began an upward revision of the openings, and in May announced that there were 49,000 in the entire system – with no plan to fill them in the works.

Instead, Congress passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which made it easier to fire front-line workers for little or no cause at all.

“We cannot allow veterans to be forced to wait for the care they deserve because Congress and the White House won’t take action,” said Cox. “We will be holding rallies in cities across the country to raise the awareness of thousands of open positions that no one seems interested to fill. Veterans want and need the VA, but without it being properly staffed, it’ll be harder and harder to give them the care they deserve,” he added.

High Praise For The Passage Of The Veterans Affairs “Choice Program”

Friday Congresswomen Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter both voted “yes” on a bipartisan bill to extend the Veterans Choice Program for six months and make critical investments in VA health care, which passed the House with a unanimous vote of 414-0.

“I’m pleased that we were able to come together on the VA committee and in the House to pass this reauthorization of the Choice Program and bolster support for veterans,” said Congresswoman Kuster. “In a state like New Hampshire that lacks a full service VA hospital, we need to ensure that veterans are able to access care outside the VA in a timely and efficient manner. The Choice Program has been an important tool for many Granite State veterans, but not all veterans have found success in the program. I’m committed to working with my colleagues on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to improve the Choice Program so that no veteran struggles to get the care they need.”

“I’m pleased that today’s bill includes an amendment I authored to improve VA hiring of mental health professions, who are on the front lines of our state’s efforts to combat the heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid crisis. Today’s bipartisan vote is an example of the good that can come when Democrats and Republicans work together to improve access to healthcare for our nation’s veterans. I was proud to support this bipartisan bill, which will extend the Veterans Choice Program for six months.  It makes much needed investments in the VA and includes several provisions that will help the VA fill its nearly 50,000 open jobs, most of which are in health care,” said Shea-Porter.

Both Congresswomen offered amendments that were included and approved in the final bill.

The new reauthorization also includes a provision from Congresswoman Kuster’s legislation, the GOOD Act, which will help improve veterans’ access to quality care by making the Department of Veterans Affairs more competitive when hiring physician assistants.

“I’m excited that this Choice Authorization includes language from my legislation, the GOOD Act,” said Kuster. “We need to make sure that the VA is competitive when hiring medical staff and my legislation will increase pay for VA physician assistants. I’m thrilled that earlier today the House passed additional provisions of GOOD Act and I urge the Senate to act on this commonsense legislation.”

For months, Shea-Porter has voiced deep concerns about failures in the administration of the Veterans Choice Program by the VA and its contractor, Health Net. In April, Shea-Porter sent a letter to Congressional leadership calling for the reorganization of VA’s Community Care programs, including Choice, into a permanent and sustainable program that meets the needs of New Hampshire veterans. The letter called on Congress to immediately address “problems with access to care as well as the Department’s inability to pay medical claims to community providers in a timely way.”

The legislation passed Friday will provide $2.1 billion for the Veterans Choice Program, funding the temporary program for another six months while the Veterans Affairs Committees continue work on a permanent solution to streamline and improve access to community providers, as Shea-Porter requested.

The legislation also included several provisions to improve hiring at the VA and makes critical investments in VA health care facilities. Several of the hiring provisions were passed by the House in March as part of H.R. 1367. That bill created a database to improve hiring for critical open positions. Shea-Porter successfully amended the bill to require that the database include mental health professionals. The database provision, and her amendment to include mental health professionals, were included in the bill passed today (Sec. 208).

Image from AFGE rally for the passage of the VA Choice Program

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal union which also represents civilian employees inside the VA, is “encouraged” by the passage of this bill.

“Today Congressional leaders came together, put party politics aside, and passed legislation that is vital to the future of the VA. We are very encouraged by the passing of this bill, which will allow additional investment in the VA, and allow the VA to manage non-VA care better than the broken Choice program,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr.

“While we still stand with the veterans who overwhelmingly tell us they want the VA for their healthcare, it’s important that those who cannot receive care at the VA have outside options. The VA Choice and Quality Employment Act isn’t a cure-all for the VA or the Choice program, but is a temporary fix that will allow more veterans access to the care they need,” Cox added.

Cox also highlighted that many of the problems plaguing the VA come from years of neglect and austere cuts to funding.

“But after years of starving the VA’s funding for the Choice program, it’s the investment in veterans’ first preference for medical care that has us most in support of this legislation.”

“Infusing our nation’s largest healthcare system with $1.4 billion for hiring, workforce improvements, and the authorization of 28 new leases that increase the department’s internal capacity to deliver care will make a huge difference at a time when the VA is facing nearly 50,000 vacancies nationwide. With the VA now more able to gather data in recruitment, retention, and staffing, there will finally be some transparency – but it’s not enough.”

After praise the passage of the VA choice program, AFGE is also calling on Congress to take action of similar legislation to address the staffing needs of the VA.

“We at AFGE believe that for true transparency, and a fully-operational department, Congress must pass Rep. Anthony Brown’s bill, the VA Staffing and Vacancies Transparency Act of 2017. If Rep. Brown’s bill is passed, we will finally have transparency in the VA, and the ability to identify the necessary hires the department needs. That in turn will allow more veterans to receive more access to the only healthcare system created for veterans, and by veterans in this country.”

VA Union Calls on Senate to ‘Work on Fixing, Not Dismantling Veterans’ Healthcare’

AFGE applauds efforts to increase hiring, but finds that proposed legislation falls short of what’s needed

WASHINGTON – On Tuesday the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing to address proposed legislation aimed at improving veterans’ access to care. With 49,000 vacancies at VA hospitals and clinics nationwide and a growing veteran population, AFGE cautioned lawmakers that some of the proposals under consideration may lead to the dismantling of the VA healthcare system and undermine the VA’s efforts to hire desperately needed staff.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 250,000 working people at the VA, submitted written testimony to the hearing, “Pending Health Care Legislation,” that addresses the positive and negative bills that will alter the future of the VA.

AFGE’s comments focused on several bills that will increase the hiring and access to care for veterans at the only healthcare system tailored to their unique needs. In addition, the union’s statement raised concerns about proposals that would vastly expand the use of non-VA care to such an extreme as to threaten the world-class healthcare system’s long-term survival.

In its comments on S. 1325, the Better Workforce for Veterans Act from Senators Jon Tester and Jerry Moran from Montana and Kansas respectively, AFGE supported provisions aimed at improvement of management and human resources practices. But, the union expressed concern about the adverse impact of new hiring authorities on promotion opportunities for current employees. AFGE also questioned a bill provision to use expensive Public Health Service medical officers who lack the expertise and stability of VA’s own workforce, and another that tries to fix VA police recruitment and retention problems without affording them much needed law enforcement officer status.

“We support new legislation that will allow for the VA to fill the glaring number of open positions at the agency,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “Veterans want the VA. Veterans need the VA. They have said time and again that they don’t want to be forced out into the private sector with longer wait times, less access to care, and medical professionals ill-equipped to handle their unique needs,” he added.

In their testimony, AFGE also highlighted several proposals for reforming current programs that provide non-VA care.  “AFGE strongly opposes the Veterans Choice Act of 2017,” from Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, AFGE said in its testimony. Adding, “This bill would vastly increase the use of non-VA care through a massive expansion of the Choice Program. Like the Concerned Veterans of America plan that was soundly rejected by the Commission on Care, this bill would erode the critical core of the VA health care system and put such an enormous financial strain on it threatens its very survival.”

In contrast, AFGE praised the Improving Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2017 from Sen. Tester. The union lauded the legislator’s efforts to modernize VA services, lay the foundation for VA-run integrated networks, and keep the VA as the primary provider and coordinator of VA care. AFGE said these provisions protect “the critical resources that the VA must retain in order to keep its promise to veterans”

“Veterans have overwhelmingly said that they want Congress to work on fixing, not dismantling veterans’ healthcare, and Sen. Isakson’s bill does nothing of the sort,” said Cox. “We believe that the Improving Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2017 is a much better approach – albeit with its own faults – to providing veterans options outside of the VA if they so choose.

“Ultimately, AFGE will stand with veterans who make up one-third of workers at the VA, and the millions that use it to receive world-class medical treatment. It’s been proven time and again that the VA is the best option for those who have borne the battle, and we’ll never stop fighting to make it the best that it can be,” said Cox.

NH Elected Officials, Seniors Group, And Labor Unions Speak Out Against Senate Version Of Trumpcare

By now you have probably heard about the Senate Republicans plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with a terrible new bill called the “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017“.

The text of the “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017” was released yesterday and it is worse that we thought it would be.  ThinkProgress laid out some of the details in their post last night.  Here are a couple of the top issues with the new legislation from ThinkProgress.

  • The bill would strip health care coverage from millions of low income Americans by rolling back the expansion of Medicaid — and then making even deeper cuts.
  • The bill would follow the Obamacare subsidy model, but help fewer people.  Subsidies would only be available to those making 350% of poverty instead of the ACA’s 400%
  • The Senate bill is a massive tax cut for the rich. Rolling back taxes on those who make $200,000 a year.
  • The bill will mean higher out-of-pocket medical costs for many people with insurance.
  • The bill will seek to limit the ability of insurers to provide coverage for abortions.
  • The bill will hit older Americans especially hard. Rates for older Americans raise astronomically, making healthcare completely unaffordable.

New Hampshire’s elected leaders are speaking out against this new GOP plan.

“The Senate Republican’s secretive healthcare repeal bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that would be devastating to the health of Granite Staters,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen. “If passed, it would mean less coverage for fewer people at higher costs, all while giving a tax cut to the wealthy. It would significantly cut Medicaid and the program’s expansion, hurting our state’s response to the opioid epidemic, place an age tax on New Hampshire seniors, and take aim at women’s health by defunding Planned Parenthood, which provides vital healthcare services to more than 12,000 Granite State women. Taken together, this is a bad deal for New Hampshire and a bad deal for the American people. I will do everything that I can to fight it, which is why I am holding an emergency field hearing in Concord tomorrow with Senator Hassan to hear directly from Granite Staters. I will also continue to urge my Republican colleagues to work across the aisle to make needed fixes to the Affordable Care Act, not repeal it, so that more Americans have affordable, accessible healthcare.”

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans took the House Trumpcare bill, which even President Trump admitted was ‘mean,’ and managed to make it even more heartless,” said Senator Maggie Hassan. “Under the Senate Trumpcare bill, if you buy your own insurance, you could have to pay more for your coverage. You could face an age tax, which would be especially harmful if you are between the ages of 50 and 64. And you could see states undermine the requirement that insurance companies must cover the most important services.

“The Senate Trumpcare bill also ends Medicaid expansion and makes even deeper cuts to the Medicaid program than the House bill, jeopardizing care for tens of thousands of Granite Staters including children, people struggling with addiction, seniors in nursing or at-home care, and people who experience disabilities. Trumpcare also fulfills Washington Republicans’ partisan agenda of defunding Planned Parenthood.

“There is no doubt that the Affordable Care Act needs to be improved, but Trumpcare would make things worse for most Americans – whether they currently get their insurance through their employer, buy it privately, buy it through the exchange or have Medicaid. Trumpcare would raise costs, take away coverage, and hurt people across New Hampshire, all to give billions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. I will do everything in my power to stop this devastating Trumpcare bill from ever becoming law, and I urge all Granite Staters to continue telling your stories and making your voices heard about how harmful this bill would be for you,” concluded Hassan.

Senator Shaheen and Senator Hassan are holding an emergancy field hearing on the Senate version of Trumpcare, today June 23rd, at 2pm, at the UNH School of Law. (More info here)

“Senate Republicans have crafted a cruel healthcare bill behind closed doors that would threaten access to healthcare for thousands of Granite Staters and millions of Americans,” said Congresswoman Annie Kuster. “This misguided legislation would be a disaster for hardworking families in New Hampshire and cannot be allowed to become law. I’m eager to work across the aisle to repair, not repeal the Affordable Care Act. There are members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, who want to work in a bipartisan way to make constructive improvements to the Affordable Care Act to expand access to care and lower costs. It’s long past time Republican leadership abandon its single-minded focus on repealing the Affordable Care Act and instead got down to the hard work of actually improving our healthcare delivery system for all Americans.”

“I am appalled by today’s Senate Republican healthcare repeal bill,” said Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. “Like the House bill I vehemently opposed, it would kick millions off their coverage, charge older Americans more, and leave people who have pre-existing conditions without coverage for the care they need. The bills don’t stop at repealing the Affordable Care Act – they also end Medicaid expansion and drastically reduce funding for Medicaid. Ending Medicaid as we know it would set our state back in the fight against the heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid crisis and put millions of kids, seniors in nursing homes, and people with disabilities at risk of losing their care.

“Senate Republicans know the majority of Americans oppose their plan, so they wrote it in secret sessions and are now trying to rush it to a vote next week. Every person in New Hampshire who gets health coverage through the individual market, Medicaid, or the New Hampshire Health Protection Program will be affected by this bill if it passes. Even people with coverage through their employer aren’t protected because states could strip back requirements that plans cover essential benefits like hospitalization, prescription drugs, or maternity care. Over the coming days, we must all speak out and make our voices heard,” Shea-Porter added.

The Alliance for Retired Americans represents over 4 million older Americans and “stand fervently against this legislation” calling the legislation as “mean” as the House version of Trumpcare.

“We all heard President Trump say he hoped the Senate version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) would be less ‘mean’ than the House version. Today, we finally got to see the secret Senate version, and it is still ‘mean’ by any reasonable test,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “No wonder Majority Leader McConnell hid this dangerous plan for so long. It will cause harm to millions of older Americans, all for the sake of tax breaks for the wealthy.

“The Senate bill decimates Medicaid. In this respect, it is worse than the House bill, enacting even deeper long-term cuts. Medicaid covers long-term care for millions of seniors and health care for people with disabilities, making this bill devastating to older and vulnerable Americans. President Trump promised on the campaign trail that he would not cut Medicaid and Medicare. He should promise to veto a bill that does not keep that promise.”

“The 4.4 million members of the Alliance for Retired Americans stand fervently against this legislation and urge senators to vote ‘no’ for the sake of seniors, the disabled and millions of working families,” Fiesta concluded.

Labor unions were quick to point out how terrible this legislation would be for working people across the country.

“The Senate’s bill follows the same failed approach as the House-passed bill. It would deny health care coverage to millions of Americans in order to lavish huge tax cuts on corporations and the wealthiest 1 percent,” said David Cox, President of the American Federation of Government Employees National, that represents over 700,000 workers. “The Senate may have written its health care bill behind closed doors, but the harmful effects this bill would have on millions of Americans could not be clearer. What Congressional leaders are doing is shameful and disgusting, and anyone with an ounce of compassion for their fellow humans should be outraged.”

“I wouldn’t have believed it possible but the health care proposal released today by Senate Republicans is in many ways worse than the version that House Republicans adopted,” Chris Shelton, President of the Communications Workers of America. “This plan, drafted in complete secrecy by a handful of Republican leaders – all men – would leave millions of Americans without health care coverage. It allows states to drop coverage for services like maternity care and emergency services.”

“Many states would be forced to kick low-income and disabled people off their health care coverage once federal funding for the Medicaid program is cut, as this Senate bill would do. The Senate’s attack on Medicaid is even worse than that of the House bill,” Shelton added 

The Communication Workers warned that union members would be punished under this new proposal as well saying “it is a slap in the face to millions of hard-working Americans who need and want access to quality, affordable care.”

“Health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers and of course the wealthiest Americans still would get tax cuts, just like in the House version.  Union members fortunate enough to keep their coverage, however, will be punished with higher costs under the “Cadillac tax” that Republicans left in place. Many Americans will find the cost of health care premiums simply unaffordable.”

The good news is that Democrats in the Senate are united against this horrible piece of legislation, but Republicans should also be outraged at this bill and take a stand for the American people.

“It’s time for those Republican Senators who today are expressing such concern about the impact of this shameful plan on ordinary Americans to show the courage of their convictions,” Shelton concluded.”

EPA Union Blasts Pruitt Over Budget Testimony

AFGE says Administration’s proposed budget will hurt community health across the country

WASHINGTON – In response to today’s testimony from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt about the proposed budget for the agency in 2018, American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. issued the following statement:

“More than 40 years ago, President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we live on. It was a critical moment as local and state governments didn’t — and still do not — have the capacity, incentive, or resources to address issues like cross-state pollution. And for the last four decades, working people at the EPA have dedicated their lives to fulfilling the agency’s mission, and protecting community health in this country.

“It is absolutely outrageous to me that Administrator Pruitt supports a 31 percent cut to the EPA. It’s the only agency that keeps America’s air clean and drinking water safe. How can he think that reducing more than 20 percent of the agency’s workforce, cutting essential programs, and rolling back regulations will help citizens of this country?

“Administrator Pruitt and the President want the American people to think that these cuts – and the rollbacks of life-saving regulations – are good for our country. They’re not. Study after study has proven that regulations put forth by the EPA have saved lives and money, and have actually spurred innovation and created jobs.

“For example, the Office of Management and Budget found that from 2000 – 2010, regulations cost between $44 – $66 billion annually. Comparatively, those very same regulations had an annual benefit ranging up to $651 billion.

“Working people at the EPA take no sides when it comes to politics. They only want to follow through on their agency’s mission. They’ve dedicated their careers to making sure we all have air and water that is free of dangerous pollutants.

“If we want to continue to protect generations of Americans from air- and water-borne illnesses, we must fight against the President’s 2018 budget, and save the EPA.”

AFGE Union Says: Trump Budget Cuts Civil Service Pay, Jobs, And Benefits To Line CEO Pockets

Trump budget cuts civil service pay, jobs, and benefits to line CEO pockets, union says

Budget delivers huge tax breaks to CEOs and wealthy on backs of federal workers

WASHINGTON – President Trump’s budget funds huge tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest Americans by slashing take-home pay, benefits, and jobs for the civil servants who care for our veterans, guard our borders, support our military, and ensure our health, the head of the largest federal employee union said today.

Federal workers would be forced to pay more toward their retirement – amounting to a six-percent pay cut – and would see those retirement benefits shrink through a change in how benefits are calculated and the elimination of annual cost-of-living adjustments.

“Thanks to years of pay freezes, meager wage hikes, and mandatory increases in retirement, federal employees earn 6.5 percent less today than they did at the start of the decade when adjusted for inflation,” Cox said. “President Trump’s budget continues this race to the bottom by penalizing the working-class people who serve and protect their fellow Americans.”

WATCH NOW: President Cox delivers a reality check on President Trump’s budget

 

 

Specifically, the budget would:

  • Increase current workers’ out-of-pocket payments toward their pensions by about 6 percent, not including payments they already make into the Thrift Savings Plan and Social Security.
  • Reduce future pension benefits by averaging an employee’s highest five years of salary, instead of the highest three years.
  • Eliminate annual cost-of-living adjustments for current and future employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System, and cut the COLA for employees under the older Civil Service Retirement System by 0.5 percent from the current formula.
  • Eliminate supplemental payments to employees who retire before age 62, such as law enforcement agents and firefighters.

“This budget rips away any sense of financial security that federal workers currently have and shows how little regard this administration has for the everyday Americans who keep our government running,” Cox said.

The retirement cuts total about $117 billion over a decade, which would be on top of $182 billion in cuts to federal employee pay and benefits since 2010. Federal employees also are at risk by budget proposals that would eliminate subsidized student loans and end student debt forgiveness for those who enter public service.

The budget also proposes eliminating thousands of current jobs, with significant cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture, Interior, and Treasury departments.

“The federal government has roughly the same number of workers today as it did when Dwight Eisenhower was president, serving a population that has doubled in size,” Cox said. “Federal employees do a tremendous job serving the public with limited resources and little appreciation. Unfortunately, this budget stacks the deck against them by cutting their jobs, wages, and benefits – all to benefit Wall Street executives and the wealthy elite.”

VA Union Slams Pending Anti-Worker Legislation

AFGE says H.R. 1461 undermines public servants and hurts veterans’ care

WASHINGTON – In response to H.R. 1461, as amended by Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, passing through the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs today, American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. issued the following statement:

“We are sick and tired of the political witch hunt unfolding before our eyes in Congress. Federal public servants are under constant attack because of the narrow agendas of insiders on Capitol Hill, and the latest salvo makes a terrible idea even worse.

“We strongly opposed H.R. 1461 – introduced by Rep. Jodey Arrington of Texas – when it was first announced because its sole intention was to break the back of the union and undermine federal employees’ rights at work. Now, that horrendous bill has been amended to double down on Arrington’s cynical attacks and put the health care system millions of American veterans and their families rely on at risk.

“Official time allows for the very best way for federal employees to bring forward evidence of waste, fraud, and abuse.  AFGE uses official time to protect whistleblowers on issues large and small. And by denying the medical professionals who care for our nation’s heroes protections on the job, Congress is placing their misguided ideals far above the rights and needs of working people in our country’s most important health care system – many of whom are veterans themselves.

“There are more than 49,000 job vacancies in the VA right now. That means there are fewer doctors and nurses to care for veterans, fewer intake staff to handle incoming patients, and an inadequate number of support staff to keep these medical centers running. Instead of focusing on remedying the obvious problem, Congress seems content to make the hiring – and retention – of these necessary positions more difficult.

“Today we call on Congress to stop the political posturing with their extremely anti-union legislation and solve the real problem facing the VA. The men and women who served our country – and who now make up one-third of the VA’s workforce – deserve a world-class health care system. And that system is the VA. To ensure it can continue to deliver the high-level of care we know it’s capable of, Congress must vote ‘NO’ on H.R. 1461.”

Mixed Reactions To 5 Month Government Funding Bill

The Senate passed the Omnibus Spending bill that will keep the government open for another five months.  The bill moves to the White House where President Trump is expected to sign it.   Before and after the bill’s passage advocacy groups were split on whether to support or oppose the bill.

Prior to the vote, the Transportation Trades Department (TTD-AFLCIO) urged Congress to support the legislation highlighting some of the funding gains for our nation’s infrastructure.

“We applaud Congress for coming together to complete an omnibus appropriations bill that funds critical transportation investments, rejects anti-worker riders, and avoids a needless government shutdown. We urge lawmakers to swiftly pass this legislation.

“This bill lives up to the authorized funding commitments in the FAST Act for mass transit and highway programs funded out of the Highway Trust Fund. And we applaud appropriators for funding a series of key projects with Capital Investments Grants (CIGs), which play an important role in meeting transportation challenges around the country.

“Congress is also reaffirming its support for Amtrak by funding the company’s needs at near-authorized levels as directed by the FAST Act. This decision by appropriators sends a clear, bipartisan signal that Congress supports a national passenger rail network that serves both rural and urban communities.

“This legislation also endorses full funding for the Maritime Security Program (MSP), which is vital to maintaining our military’s sealift capability during times of war and humanitarian missions. Adequate funding for MSP ensures the Department of Defense does not have to rely on foreign-flag ships, keeps taxpayer costs down, and supports thousands of middle-class U.S. mariner jobs.

“We also applaud the robust funding levels in this bill for FAA operations, Next-Gen improvements to our air traffic control system, and airport improvement grants. These funds support the safest and most efficient air system in the world, and the workers who make it possible.

“With the passage of this bill, over 22,000 retired coal miners and their families will maintain critical health care that was promised to them by mining corporations that exploited bankruptcy laws in order to avoid their moral obligation.”

David J Cox, President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) also praised the legislation and urged its passage to avoid another government shutdown.

“I applaud Congress for coming together on a bipartisan bill that will keep the people’s government open for business through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. I urge lawmakers to quickly pass this budget and avoid a government shutdown at the end of the week.

“In reaching this agreement, lawmakers wisely rejected billions of dollars in harmful cuts to medical research, education programs, housing grants, and other domestic programs that were proposed by the Trump administration. Those who need our help the most would have been hit the hardest by these cuts, and Congress was right to reject them.

“This budget provides needed funding to strengthen our military, improve border security, and boost cancer research. It also permanently extends health care benefits to 22,000 retired coal miners who were in danger of losing their coverage.

“I also thank Congress for retaining the longstanding ban on contracting out federal jobs using the flawed A-76 outsourcing process. Taxpayers benefit when federal jobs are performed by civil service employees, who are less costly and more accountable than private-sector workers.”

After the bill passed the Senate, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) praised the bill’s additional funding to combat the growing opioid epidemic.

“More help is on the way for those on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic,” said Shaheen. “This funding can’t come soon enough to states like New Hampshire that are reeling from the opioid epidemic. Treatment providers and first responders are in desperate need of these additional resources and until we get control of this crisis, I’ll continue to fight for funding to support their life-saving efforts. I’m relieved that Congress continues to build on bipartisan progress made over the last year to address this epidemic. However, I continue to be very concerned that efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act will undo this progress. As our state battles one of the worst public health crises in its history, we cannot afford to lose the mental health and substance misuse treatment provided through this law, which is why I intend to work across the aisle to stop this repeal effort in its tracks in the Senate.”

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO was quick to condemn the bill as a giveaway to the Washington “special interests”.

“While the funding bill does provide assurance that we will have functioning government for the next five months, it undermines programs that help and empower working families. Our elected leaders have settled for a budget that underfunds our priorities and deepens austerity, setting the bar low. America’s working people deserve better.

Every time politicians take America to the edge of a government shutdown, working families pay the consequences. This irresponsible and dangerous political maneuvering should not be the norm.

Thankfully, House Democrats held the line against almost all of the poison-pill amendments and restored much of the funding that would have been cut under the administration’s original draconian budget proposal. As work begins on the 2018 budget, we call on politicians from both parties to put the needs of working families above the special interests.”

Paul Rinaldi, President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), has been outspoken about Congress’s inability to provide steady funding for the National Airspace System.

“NATCA is pleased Congress has passed an omnibus spending bill that will fund the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through the end of the current fiscal year. NATCA is especially appreciative that the FAA has received an increase in its operations budget. It should enable the FAA to move forward on key issues such as improving air traffic controller staffing and continuing to plan, develop, and implement the myriad of ongoing NextGen modernization projects.

“However, this bill only provides a short-term fix to a long-term problem – the unstable, unpredictable, stop-and-go nature of the current funding stream. The mere threat of a government shutdown causes agencies like the FAA to suspend and delay critical projects in preparation for a shutdown. That means progress is slowed, meetings are postponed, plans are put on hold, and the system suffers. It takes significant time and effort to bring a large agency to a halt, so that must begin before a shutdown even occurs, and it takes even more time to restart it again once a shutdown threat subsides.

“We believe the efficiency of the National Airspace System and the livelihoods of the men and women safeguarding it should not be negatively affected by disagreements over issues unrelated to aviation.

“We thank members of Congress for passing the omnibus funding bill and ask that they continue to address the need for long-term stability of the funding stream.”

Government Executive highlighted some of the other winners and losers in the omnibus spending plan including additional funding to the Defense Department and Transportation Department, and deep cuts to the Department of Education and the State Department.

The Hill highlighted a few other areas where Democrats preserved funding for key agencies and programs like Planned Parenthood, funding for Sanctuary Cities, and environmental protections.  While funding for Planned Parenthood was protected in the Onmibus spending bill, the US House passed their “repeal and replace” Obamacare bill that blocks funding for Parenthood.

AFGE And TTD Push For Passage Of Transportation Security Officers Act

AFGE members of the Local 556 Orlando (2010). Image by AFGE FLIKR

WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees and the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) both announced their support of a bill granting Title 5 rights to TSA Officers from Representatives Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Nita Lowey of New York.Introduced last year as The Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act, this year’s bill finally grants transportation security officers (TSOs) the same workplace rights as all federal employees, including their colleagues in the Department of Homeland Security.

“Implementing basic worker protections for those charged with protecting our skies is a necessary step to increase security and improve workforce morale. TSA’s current personnel system has not served the agency well and lacks the means to attract and retain a strong workforce,” said Rep. Thompson. “This legislation we introduced today will ensure TSA’s personnel and labor management systems are brought in line with the rest of the federal government under Title 5.  I hope my colleagues will agree that these frontline security workers should receive the rights and benefits they earned.”

“More than 42,000 Transportation Security Officers who serve on the front lines of aviation security at airports across the United States are denied worker rights and protections, including full collective bargaining, the right to a fair grievance and arbitration system, and statutory civil rights protections. Transportation Security Officers should be treated like their fellow employees across the Federal government. Our bill would grant TSO these rights, enhancing America’s security by retaining experienced and dedicated officers with improved workforce morale. To truly provide comprehensive transportation security, we must take care of those who take care of us,” said Rep. Lowey.

The new legislation would put TSOs on the General Schedule pay scale and provide them with much needed statutory worker protections like the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Being recognized as equal counterparts to their fellow federal employees would greatly improve workplace conditions and boost morale – which fell to an all-time low last year – at the agency.

“Thank you to Representatives Thompson and Lowey for once again recognizing how important it is to offer fair treatment to the men and women who risk their lives guarding our airports every day,” said AFGE TSA Council President Hydrick Thomas. “Last year our TSA Officers stopped a record number of firearms, dealt with a massive influx in passenger volume while being understaffed, and once again kept our flying public safe – all while being treated like second class citizens in their workplace. Being offered fair pay, workplace protections, the right to appeal adverse decisions to a third party, and full collective bargaining rights are long overdue and will help boost morale for the working people who safeguard our skies,” he added.

“Last year our TSA Officers were faced with a nearly insurmountable task, but they rose to the occasion and got the American traveling public to where they needed to be,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. Adding, “We are thrilled that Representatives Thompson and Lowey have once again introduced legislation that will finally offer our officers the same rights and protections as the rest of the federal workforce. TSA Officers have safeguarded our airports for 16 years, and have done an admirable job. Equal treatment by the federal government is desperately needed and very appreciated by the men and women who make sure you can fly without fear.”

“We applaud Reps. Bennie Thompson, Nita Lowey and Bonnie Watson Coleman for introducing legislation that gives our nation’s hardworking Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) the workplace rights and protections they deserve,” said Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD).

“Every day, our nation’s 45,000 TSOs play a critical role in keeping our nation’s transportation system safe from security threats. Yet, because of a loophole in federal law, these men and women lack the basic protections afforded to other federal employees. The legislation introduced today will right these wrongs and bring much-needed reforms to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that will boost employee morale and retention rates and improve the agency’s ability to protect us from security threats.

“As Congress debates reauthorization of the TSA, lawmakers must standup for our nation’s transportation security officers who play an indispensable role in keeping our country safe,” Wytkind concluded.

AFGE and TTD both urge Congress to pass the Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act to recognize the daily sacrifices TSA Officers make to protect the flying public.

VA Executive Order Can Only Succeed if Workers’ Rights Are Preserved

AFGE supports new tools to reduce mismanagement and misconduct but cautions against law changes that silence frontline employees

WASHINGTON – In response to President Trump’s Executive Order on Improving Accountability and Whistleblower Protection at the Department of Veterans Affairs, American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. issued the following statement:

“We fully support and appreciate new tools to ensure the correct response to mismanagement, bad managers, and underperforming employees at the VA. When employees are found to have engaged in misconduct or performance that fails to meet the highest standards required by the VA, they should be terminated.

“Today’s order addresses the potential bad actors and chronically underperforming managers, reduces layers of management, and allocates new resources to protect employees who report mismanagement and other risks to veterans – all of which are supported by AFGE.

“But, we are concerned that so-called accountability legislation introduced by Sen. Rubio of Florida that is also supported by the administration will destroy the best accountability tools: the voices of frontline workers – and potentially turn the VA into an at-will workforce that could lead to the agency’s demise.

“Any new office created by this order must be staffed by individuals who are free of political affiliation and can render bias-free judgments, and can only be effective if the frontline employees who want to come forward with their concerns keep their due process rights and rights under their collective bargaining agreements.

“The VA – and all federal agencies – must present evidence that misconduct or performance failure has occurred. And those who judge that evidence must be an impartial third party. If those conditions are not met, we risk harming the innocent and encourage corruption and politicization of the agency – consciously or not.

“Time and again it’s the frontline employees who have come forward and spoken up against management covering up wait times. We cannot risk providing cover for incompetent or malicious managers.

“Veterans care is paramount to the focus of the VA – including the one-third of the workforce who are veterans themselves. All future actions must consider the needs of the veterans being cared for at the hospital, as well as those who work there. Although this is a positive step toward improving veterans’ care, there are still 45,000 vacancies that must be addressed.”

  • Subscribe to the NH Labor News via Email

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 12,332 other subscribers

  • Advertisement

  • Advertisement