VA Labor Contract With Union Favors Union Bureaucrats over Vets for Jobs

By Published on January 14, 2016

Federal laws and regulations give veterans hiring preference in the civil service, but the Department of Veterans Affairs contract with its biggest employee union requires the agency to favor government bureaucrats over former members of the U.S. military.

The Master Agreement between the Department of the Veterans Affairs and the American Federation of Government Employees states: “Prior to considering candidates from outside the bargaining unit, the department agrees to first consider internal candidates for selection … in all cases … first and full consideration shall be given to any best qualified candidates within the facility.”

Under federal civil service hiring rules, veterans are supposed to get “preference points” against other applicants, but at VA such points are seemingly negated by a hard-and-fast rule that a job can’t go to anyone unless no qualified union member wants it.

The Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) also allows vets to apply for jobs that otherwise are open only to current employees, but thanks to the union contract, it is futile for them to apply — at least for plum positions — because the VA must consider union members first.

Both situations leave veterans largely relegated to bottom-of-the-barrel positions like scrubbing the toilets of administrators who make a living supposedly caring for vets.

The rules apply to any union-covered jobs that are filled competitively. Under the law, the Veterans’ Recruitment Appointment allows agencies to skip the competitive process and directly appoint recently discharged veterans into jobs.

But based on a Daily Caller News Foundation analysis of all 3,000 currently-open VA job postings, the agency almost never limits a job to applications from veterans. 21 percent were explicitly available only to current employees, seventeen percent were open to current employees and vets, and 58 percent were advertised to the public.

When the agency uses VRA, it generally decides to do so after reviewing applications from other sources — for example, if no qualified union member applied. Often, vets can’t even apply unless union members have already declined to take the job.

Last month, for example, the Caribbean VA medical center posted two job ads for “health system specialist.” Asked by a veteran if vets could apply to at least one of the jobs, John Hernandez, a VA human resources specialist, emailed “unfortunately” no, because of the union.

“Unfortunately, under Article 23 Section 8 of the Master Agreement it stipulates that all positions that are bargaining unit will be announced facility wide before any other considerations are given, unless the position is filled by the stipulations stated in Article 23, Section 7 of the Master Agreement. In this case Article 7 [sic] does not apply.”

Section 8 says current employees must be given first dibs at all jobs, except if they are filled under Section 7, which covers direct appointments of certain classes, including veterans under the VRA, but does not mention VEOA.

Department of Veterans Affairs spokespersons did not dispute TheDCNF’s findings. The union said it is up to the department when to fill jobs under Section 7.

“The determination of recruitment source — whether external, internal, VRA, etc. — is determined by the agency alone. Each source comes with its own rules regarding who qualifies, whether vets preference is applicable, etc. The union has no negotiability in this regard,” AFGE spokesman Tim Kauffman said.

“The contract cannot override VEOA, or any other federal law, for that matter,” he added.

Ryan Honl, a veteran who worked at the VA hospital in Tomah, Wisc., before becoming a whistleblower and telling Congress about mistreatment that he witnessed in the facility, told TheDNCF that “VA’s first objective was to originally ‘care for those who have borne the battle.’ Today, the VA’s original mission has become secondary.  Its primary mission is now to serve bureaucrats and those in power” by sustaining high-paying administrative jobs for civilians.

Since Honl voiced his concerns, VA employees have threatened to sue him and tried to discredit him by making public his personal medical information. 

Even as the VA agreed to language raising current government employees over veterans, agency officials used the idea of connecting veterans with jobs as a way to employ even more unionized bureaucrats. The Veteran Employment Services Office was created within VA to help get jobs for veterans, including jobs at VA. The department would not say how many bureaucrats are employed there, or how many of those are vets.

A $118,000 “Employment Coordinator” whose job it is to help vets find work, for example, is only available to current VA employees. Even $64,000 “peer-support specialists,” a low-level position that by law must go to veterans and consists of going to veterans’ houses and talking about the emotional challenges they share, is only open to VA employees who happen to be veterans, forming one more blow to combat vets who may have already struggled with feeling lost and apart in civilian society.

Despite the union provision, the VA does hire a sizable number of veterans overall. Nearly 38 percent of new VA hires in 2014 were vets. That figure is a lower percentage than the departments of Defense, Transportation, Justice and the Social Security Administration.

In 2013, the figure was 34.1 percent, behind the departments just named and the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Labor and the Department of Energy. The average across all agencies was 33.5 percent in 2014 and 31.4 percent the prior year.

But those figures don’t convey the rank, authority or prestige of the jobs. The union contract makes it most likely that competitively hired veterans get low-ranking positions that no current VA employees wanted. Veterans do still get preference over members of the public.

TheDCNF asked the VA weeks ago for a breakdown of veteran employees by rank, but a spokeswoman said the data wasn’t available, despite “moving heaven and earth” to find out, thus apparently indicating that the VA is not actively tracking and trying to increase the number of vets in positions of authority.

 

Copyright 2016 Daily Caller News Foundation

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