Unions not satisfied with judge’s VA decision

Requirement to log time spent on union activities draws ire

A federal judge recently struck down key provisions of President Donald Trump’s executive orders that had restricted federal union employees’ use of work time for union activities, but the unions involved are not satisfied.

“Is everything OK now?” asked Andy Scherzinger, president of the American Federation of Government Employees at Van Zandt VA Medical Center, one of four unions that filed suit contesting the executive orders. “The short answer is ‘No.'”

It’s true that the unions — which also included the National Federation of Federal Employees, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the National Treasury Employees — got the bulk of what they wanted when Washington, D.C., District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson struck down executive order provisions that:

– Limited the time union officials could spend on union activities to 25 percent of their total hours.

– Limited collective union activity on work time to one hour per employee per year.

– Limited contract negotiations to six months and bargaining over ground rules to six weeks.

– Limited bargaining to written proposals.

– Prohibited unions employees from petitioning Congress.

– Banned employees from using work time to prepare and present grievances.

– Restricted union use of agency office space and computers.

– Prohibited reimbursements for nonagency business.

But AFGE — and Scherzinger — are still not satisfied with the VA’s insistence that the court order left in place a requirement that union officials log their union activities through the VA Time and Attendance System for tracking official time.

The National Veterans Affairs Council has filed a national grievance, arguing that in 2017, the VA itself told the union that VATAS was designed to be used by management — and that union officials weren’t obligated to “enter their official time.”

The VA should have — but didn’t — bargained with the unions to get the VATAS changes it wants, the grievance states.

Moreover, Jackson’s ruling includes dismissal of the VATAS requirement, according to Scherzinger.

Unions are concerned that VATAS gives management clues about collective bargaining strategy by requiring union officials to document why they plan to take union time, who they’re meeting with and when, according to Scherzinger.

Scherzinger has filed three grievances with the hospital, four unfair labor practice complaints with federal authorities and three complaints with the U.S. Office of Special General Counsel, he said.

He objects to disciplinary action he says the hospital imposed on him for ignoring the executive order limiting his official time to 25 percent of his total time.

Normally, as local union president, he is entitled to spend all his time on union business.

Not only does Jackson’s ruling make it clear that he should have been able to continue to devote all of his time to the union, but the union’s longstanding contract with the hospital specifies that he can use all those hours for union business as the local president, he said.

Scherzinger also contends that the hospital is obligated to make up the vacation and other personal time off that he and other union officials — whose union time is also specified by contract — used up during the time the executive orders were in force, he said.

Van Zandt can’t respond to the specifics of Scherzinger’s complaints because Scherzinger declined to give the required written permission to the Mirror for the hospital to do so, said Van Zandt spokesman Shaun Shenk.

The hospital, however, acted according to guidance provided by the central VA office after the executive orders came down, and then according to the revised guidance from the central office after Jackson ruled, he said.

Scherzinger said he has no objection to the hospital’s talking about the case but declined to provide written authorization, because he didn’t believe the hospital genuinely needed that authorization, as “they’ve talked about (his case) before.”

“Our hands are tied,” Shenk said.