WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today introduced the VA Employee Fairness Act to support the goal of building a talented workforce to care for America’s veterans. The bill would create a better environment for attracting and retaining physicians, nurses, and other health care workers by restoring collective bargaining rights to medical professionals at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are also original cosponsors of the bill.
“The nurses, physicians, and health care workers at our nation’s VA medical centers, many of whom are veterans themselves, are the best at what they do. When they are able to collectively bargain and have their voices heard in the workplace, care improves for veterans. At a time when Americans are working harder and earning less for the time they put in, we should be making it easier for all workers to advocate for better working conditions, which leads to better veteran services and care,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown.
“Veterans are provided the best quality and timely care when the VA workforce can thrive,” said Rep. Mark Takano. “With more than 40,000 employee vacancies in the VHA alone, it is crucial to ensure that doctors, nurses, and other medical professional are equipped with the best tools to retain and recruit the best talent to serve veterans — this bill will help make that possible.”
While VA employees have had collective bargaining rights since 1991, health care providers are exempted from collective bargaining on matters of professional conduct or competence, peer-review, or changes to employee compensation. As a result, they are prevented from raising grievances about staffing shortages that undermine patient care or negotiating for competitive pay that will attract health care workers to the VA. The VA Employee Fairness Act removes this exemption, and grants front line health care providers their full collective bargaining rights.
The VA Employee Fairness Act is supported by the American Federation Government Employees (AFGE) and National Nurses United.
“Thank you to Rep. Mark Takano and Sen. Sherrod Brown for once again standing with the women and men who care for our nation’s veterans,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. “These health care professionals came to the VA because they believe in the agency’s mission, and they deserve the same collective bargaining rights afforded to all other health care professionals in the federal government. Without the ability to have advocate for other health care employees working under stressful conditions, or the ability to advocate for better patient care, the VA is going to struggle to attract and retain the best and brightest in the medical field and veterans will be at greater risk. It’s essential that Congress pass the VA Employee Fairness Act as soon as possible, so we can stop losing the professionals we have and hire the workers we need to continue serving those who have borne the battle.”
“National Nurses United applauds the introduction of the VA Employee Fairness Act. Registered Nurses in the VA serve as frontline workers delivering healthcare to our Nation’s veterans,” said Irma Westmoreland, R.N., Chair of the Veterans Council at National Nurses United. “As RN’s, we take very seriously our role as advocates for patients. Without full collective bargaining rights, our ability to speak out on behalf of our patients is reduced and threatened within the VA. As a result, we cannot advocate for the highest quality of safe patient care that our veteran’s deserve. The current restrictions on our collective bargaining rights make it impossible to advocate for safe staffing levels and address other patient care concerns. The VA Employee Fairness Act would restore our rights to bargain, and therefore make the VA a safer place for patients and nurses.”