Are Unions the Big Problem at VA?

Jeffrey David Cox, Sr., the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, speaks to union members at an event in 2012.

Bizuayehu Tesfaye/AP Images for American Federation of Government Employees

AA Font size + Print

Jeffrey David Cox, Sr., the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, speaks to union members at an event in 2012.

Two-thirds of the VA workforce is unionized and critics say too many of them spend their time on union organizing. By Charles S. Clark

Of all possible causes of the Veterans Affairs Department’s front-page woes — corrupt managers, funding shortfalls, an exploding population of veterans, a poor communications culture — there is one that has drawn perhaps the least attention.

Too many highly paid VA employees spend their time on union organizing, some say. On May 29, Kimberley Strassel devoted her regular column in The Wall Street Journal to an essay titled “Big Labor’s VA Choke Hold: How Democrats put their union allies before the well-being of veterans.”

Stating that two-thirds of the VA workforce is unionized, she said, “That’s a whopping 200,000 union members, represented by the likes of the American Federation of Government Employees and the Service Employees International Union. And this is government-run health care — something unions know a lot about from organizing health workers in the private sector.”

After jabbing the Obama administration for currying favor with unions, Strassel quotes Manhattan Institute scholar Diana Furchtgott-Roth’s reading of numbers acquired under the Freedom of Information Act from the Office of Personnel Management. The department, the scholar determined, in 2012 paid 258 employees “to be 100 percent ‘full-time,’ receiving full pay and benefits to doonly union work. Seventeen had six-figure salaries, up to $132,000.” OPM, her summary said, calculated that VA paid for 988,000 hours of “official” time in fiscal 2011, a 23 percent increase increase from 2010.

Asked for a response, J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in an email,Federal unions are not the reason why the Department of Veterans Affairs is facing a crisis over providing healthcare to our nation’s war heroes.”

“In fact, we wouldn’t even know these problems existed if it wasn’t for frontline employees and their union representatives stepping forward to blow the whistle — and facing serious intimidation and retaliation as a result,” he wrote.

What Strassel and other critics of labor unions fail to realize, or refuse to acknowledge, he continued, “is that we fight not just for our employees but for the wellbeing of the men and women they serve. AFGE unionized employees have been speaking out for years about the management and performance failings that have only now entered the public’s consciousness.”

Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, told Government Executive he has a hard time believing the amount of union official time at VA is significant. 

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.