VA stops downgrading its low-wage health care support staff

Wednesday - 7/4/2012, 5:45pm EDT

By Keith BieryGolick
Special to Federal News Radio

The Department of Veterans Affairs decided to halt downgrades of low-wage positions within the agency, according to the employee union representing the affected workers.

The decision came after protesters marched from the steps of the VA building to Lafayette Square in front of the White House June 13, calling for a moratorium on the downgrades.

"We've been fighting these downgrades for several years and we are finally starting to see results," said the American Federation of Government Employees' National VA Council president Alma Lee. "Management gave no thought to the impact these downgrades would have on veterans' access to care or [VA] Secretary [Eric] Shinseki's own pledge to bring more veterans into the VA workforce. Moving forward, we must ensure all stakeholders are at the table so that position reclassifications are carried out fairly, equitably and with the utmost respect to our dedicated veterans' health care staff and the veterans they serve."

VA's Human Resources Management Office issued a letter calling for a "temporary stand down on changes to lower grade actions" and established a Classification Oversight Working Group to develop better options for balancing position reclassifications.

VA did not immediately return a request for comment on their decision to stop downgrading workers.

AFGE claims VA has subjected low-wage employees within the VA health care system, such as patient support assistants, medical record clerks and transportation assistants, to classification reviews that can lead to downgrades.

The union also argues VA has failed to produce any evidence that downgrading support personnel will improve how the agency works. The majority of the public servants in these positions are veterans, women and minorities, AFGE said.

"We've known from the very beginning that these downgrades are a complete disservice to our public servants and our nation's veterans," said AFGE national president John Gage. "The bullying of the lowest wage earners under the pretense of saving a few dollars must end. It has severely harmed the agency's morale and impeded patient care."

AFGE requested three of their representatives be included in the oversight group and pledged to continue advocating on behalf of employees adversely affected by these downgrades.

Keith BieryGolick is an intern at Federal News Radio

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Tags: Pay Unions VA Low-wage workers AFGE Oversight John Gage Keith BieryGolick