Congressman John Rutherford (R-Fla.), a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Shulkin asking that he look into whether proper leave protocols were followed by VA employees who engaged in recent union protests outside VA, AFL-CIO Headquarters and at the U.S. Capitol. The full letter can be found here.
Upon sending the letter to Secretary Shulkin, Rutherford released the following statement:
“I recognize and support the attendees’ freedom to exercise constitutional rights to participate in these rallies and protests,” said Rutherford. “I am, however, concerned that some VA employees may have violated federal law. A recent Government Accountability Office report shows how VA is not properly accounting for how much taxpayer money is being used on employees performing union activities. This is time and funding that should be spent on patient care or other services that directly benefit veterans. I am asking Secretary Shulkin to look into this situation to see whether these employees are fully complying with VA policy and adequately serving America’s veterans.”
On February 13 and 14, 2018, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) protested staff levels at VA facilities through an event dubbed the “March on VA” outside VA’s central office and at rallies outside AFL-CIO Headquarters and the U.S. Capitol. When asked whether the VA employees who participated in these union events violated the standard for use of official time, where VA employees are permitted to work on union duties during work hours, the Department of Veterans Affairs responded that “employees may only participate in a rally or informational picketing while on leave. They cannot be in a paid duty status when they are protesting or rallying.” Rep Rutherford’s letter to Secretary Shulkin questions whether these protests meet the standard designated by federal law and whether attendees should have taken annual leave for the period in which they participated in the protests.