VA vaccine

SHOT IN THE ARM: American Federation of Government Employees members counted on the union to press a hostile Trump Administration for personal protective equipment and virus testing, as well as securing a 1-percent raise even after the now-departed President reversed course and claimed it was unaffordable, getting the issue attached to a military-spending bill that include 3-percent raises for servicemembers that was enacted over Mr. Trump's veto.  

As President Trump's tumultuous tenure came to an end, the American Federation of Government Employees, the nation's largest Federal employeees' union, celebrated a bipartisan legislative strategy that won its members a pay raise, an expansion of paid parental leave and enhanced workplace protections against discrimination and retaliation.

The gains for the AFGE's 700,000 members came under the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act which was enacted by Congress over Mr. Trump's veto, which came due to his objection that the measure did not allow lawsuits based on alleged First-Amendment violations against social-media companies—particularly ones with which he feudedand a provision which required the Pentagon to rename U.S. military bases named for Confederate generals during the Civil War.

 

Only Trump Override

The override vote—the only sustained one during the departed President's four years in office, occurred largely because of the bill's most-popular feature with both Republican and Democratic Members of Congress: a 3-percent pay raise for all members of the military.

 "This critical legislation recognizes the invaluable role that federal and D.C. government workers perform in service to the nation and includes many provisions that our union strongly supports," AFGE President Everett Kelley said in a statement.

On Jan. 1 the Senate's override vote, which followed one in the House, ensured that Federal workers would get a 1-percent raise in 2021, while locality pay remained at 2020 levels.

The $731-billion military appropriation bill, in addition to the 3-percent hike for active-duty members of the military, boosted hazard pay for service members by 10 percent, from $250 a month to $275.

Federal employees under Title 5 will now be permitted to carry an additional 25 percent of annual leave into 2021 as recognition of their service during the pandemic. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management is responsible for providing guidance on how agencies implement the law, which requires that the leftover leave be used by the end of this calendar year.

Expand Parental Leave

"Congress extended paid parental leave to approximately 100,000 federal employees outside of Title 5 who were inadvertently excluded from 2019 legislation, including workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Transportation Security Administration (non-screener workforce), Federal Aviation Administration, and D.C.'s Courts and Public Defender Service," according to an AFGE fact sheet.

Under the law, effective Oct. 1, Federal workers who were new parents are entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn or an adopted or fostered child. This tracks the same benefit the U.S. military has been eligible for since 2016 under a separate Pentagon policy.

The National Defense Act also mandates that every Federal agency create an Equal Employment Opportunity program that functions independently of the agency's existing human resources or General Cunsel offices to encourage employees who have been victims of discrimination and retaliation to come forward.

The bill blocks the Secretary of Defense from making cuts to the Pentagon's civilian workforce without a comprehensive assessment of how it would affect workload, military-force readiness, and operational effectiveness.

Outlasted Trump

The AFGE's success came despite a series of executive orders in May 2018 by Mr. Trump to dramatically reduce its presence in the workplace by targeting release time, which permits union representatives to assist their co-workers during regular business hours.

Federal agencies including the Veterans Administration, the U.S. Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, implemented the executive orders. Agencies also pre-empted the collective-bargaining process by having contract impasses declared without substantive negotiations, then imposing new agreements.

In an interview last May, Mr. Kelley said the Trump Administration's actions inadvertently helped spread the coronavirus, putting both civil servants and the public at greater risk.

"This administration had taken away the ability of management and the union to work together to resolve issues," he said. "And I believe that if that had not happened, we would not have seen the extreme spread of this infection. The agencies across the board have denied us the opportunity for management and the union to partner together as we have done in the past to resolve issues."

Federal unions, however, were unsuccessful in their efforts to get the administration to disclose the number of members sidelined or killed due to their exposure to the virus.

One Small Gauge

In November, the Washington Post did uncover preliminary data on the heavy toll the virus had taken on Federal workers, prompting members of Congress to renew their call for something like the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund for essential workers and their families.

Close to 3,500 Federal civil servants have collected on claims linked to their contracting COVID-19 while on the job, the paper reported, citing data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The program is administered under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, which has also provided survivor benefits to the families of 14 Federal employees whose deaths were linked to the virus.

The Post reported that an additional 2,600 Federal workplace claims were being reviewed, including 68 applications for the death benefit.


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