The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday it will no longer allow on-staff medical professionals to engage in taxpayer-funded union activities while at work.
The VA’s policy change prevents more than 100,000 VA employees from taking official time. Of that group, about 430 are doing some work during working hours on union activities, including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, and optometrists.
The policy change, which takes effect Nov. 15, is a repudiation of Obama-era collective bargaining agreements that the VA reached with its workers. The department is currently in negotiations to change these agreements so that they are “reasonable, necessary and in the public interest.”
In fiscal year 2016, taxpayers spent over $ 49 million in VA salaries to employees for working more than a million hours doing union work instead of their healthcare job. Conservatives have argued for years that this so-called official time needs to be cutback or ended completely to help save taxpayer money.
The VA said it changed its policy to “improve VA’s ability to deliver healthcare to veteran patients.”
The department cited the case of a VA registered nurse who receives 100 percent taxpayer-funded union time. Even though she does not work as a nurse on a daily basis, she still receives a salary of $ 90,000 per year.
The VA said it is legal to ban these employees from doing union work on the job.
“Per federal law, title 38 employees may not utilize official time when it negatively impacts patient care,” Curt Cashour, VA Spokesman told the Washington Examiner.
“It’s common sense,” said VA Acting Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration Jacquelyn Hayes-Byrd. “Allowing health care workers to do taxpayer-funded union work instead of serving Veterans impacts patient care negatively.”
“President Trump has made it clear — VA employees should always put Veterans first. And when we hire medical professionals to take care of Veterans, that’s what they should do at all times,” she added. “No excuses, no exceptions.”