Darryll Bell, President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 31, joined America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss how federal government employees are faring under the Biden Administration, particularly when it comes to labor negotiations.
Bell also discussed the long hiring process at Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals and why more workers are needed to ensure high quality care for veterans.
Negotiations for federal workers move forward
Under President Biden, there is no longer an overt attack on the rights of federal workers as there was under the Trump administration, Bell said. The pressure to remove collective bargaining rights has subsided. Nevertheless, the AFGE cannot afford to fall asleep at the wheel, Bell stated. It must focus on increasing and solidifying collective bargaining rights.
Contract negotiations are moving forward at a much faster pace. In fact, this has been the most productive period for collective bargaining Bell has seen. Positive outcomes are being reached, unlike the outright failure to bargain as had been the case under the previous administration, he said.
The AFGE has been pushing for a 3 percent pay increase, but is currently settling for 2.7 percent. This is much needed as there were no increases for several years, despite families facing a higher cost of living.
HEROES Act needed to benefit frontline workers
The House passed the HEROES Act last year, but then Senate Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring the bill to a vote in the Senate.
Though these workers have been declared essential, there was considerable pushback from America’s leaders when it came time to compensate those individuals facing harsh and dangerous work environments as they struggled to protect Americans during the pandemic. These workers face excessive risk every day and deserve to be compensated for their efforts, Bell said.
The new Congress needs to re-introduce the bill and send it to the president’s desk. That has yet to happen, but Bell is optimistic.
Understaffing continues to plague VA hospitals
Bell said that VA hospitals are currently understaffed, which can affect the quality of care veterans receive.
There are currently about 50,000 open staffing positions at VA hospitals across the country. The problem is the hiring process takes time, Bell said. It is currently an online application process, where applicants must confirm they possess certain skills and meet certain criteria. Then candidates are selected and scheduled for interviews.
Hiring has accelerated during the Biden administration, Bell said. Last year during the pandemic, an orientation may have accommodated 10 to 15 new hires. This year, it is easily 35 to 40, Bell indicated.