April 8, 2023 - WASHINGTON – Yesterday, VA reached a tentative agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) – the union that represents more than 291,000 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees – on a master bargaining agreement.
The tentative agreement, if ratified, will help VA’s dedicated public servants continue delivering more care and more benefits to more Veterans than ever before in our nation’s history. It will also help VA better retain employees, hire more quickly, and add the staff required to implement the PACT Act – the largest expansion of Veteran health care and benefits in decades. The tentative agreement is subject to final ratification by AFGE members then VA agency head review, which will take place over the coming months.
This is a part of VA’s broader efforts to support bargaining unit employees and execute President Biden’s Executive Order on Worker Organizing and Empowerment. More than 79% of all VA’s public servants are bargaining unit employees, and VA is committed to supporting them as they serve our nation’s Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.
“This tentative agreement is a great step forward that will help us hire, support, retain, and onboard VA’s great public servants – which, in turn, will help us better serve our nation’s Veterans,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “A unionized VA workforce is a strong VA workforce, and we are proud to work with AFGE to continue delivering world-class care and benefits to Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.”
This tentative agreement follows three key agreements VA made with the National Federation of Federal Employees in February. Over the past two years, VA has taken several critical steps to support bargaining unit employees, including 1) reestablishing the National Partnership Council, a forum for open communication between labor leaders and VA leadership; 2) restoring official time for Doctors, Nurses, Physician Assistants, and other Title 38 employees, meaning that these employees can use work hours to advocate on behalf of their bargaining unit coworkers; 3) reestablishing yearly and Semi-Annual Labor Management meetings with VA union partners; and 4) including the unions pre-decisionally in critical employee-centric decisions, such as the creation of the VHA REBOOT Task Force to address employee burnout.
The tentative agreement with AFGE will help VA continue hiring staff – and delivering care and benefits to Veterans – at an unprecedented rate. VHA welcomed 22,759 new hires in the first five months of Fiscal Year 2023, the highest hiring level in the history of VA for that time period. This puts VHA on track to achieve its 52,000 new hire goal for the fiscal year. VBA’s total workforce has grown by 1,369 employees (5.27%) in the first four months of FY23 – the highest growth rate in the past 20 years. These efforts build on additional hiring and retention efforts from Fiscal Year 2022, including raising wages for nearly 10,000 VA nurses and reducing burnout.