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Union members warn changes to VA contract could harm patients

American Federation of Government Employees and the Department of Veterans' Affairs are set to negotiate on the first new collective bargaining agreement since 2011.

HAMPTON, Va. — Members of the American Federation of Government Employees, representing around 600 employees at the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center and more than 220,000 VA employees across the country, are worried about losing whistle-blower protections and other workplace rights.

They're warning that care for veterans at the Hampton VA and across the country could suffer.

Concerns are growing as the national union begins negotiations on May 27 with the VA on a new collective bargaining agreement, the first since 2011.

Employees worry that the well-being of the nine million veteran patients served by the VA could be harmed by, what they expect will be, a stripping of worker rights.

"That means the care could likely decrease," said AFGE Local 2328 President Sheila Elliott, a pharmacist at the Hampton VA "People may not want to come to work here. We're already having problems keeping our physicians and our nurses. We have a lot of turnover as it is. I can see where these proposals would only make matters worse."

The union said the proposals amount to an attack on the workforce that could lead to privatization and harm patient care.

"I have not seen where the Veterans' Administration, their management, has chosen to deal in good faith." said AFGE National Representative 4th District James Glenn, Sr. "They've basically said it's a take it or leave it issue. That's not negotiating."

In a statement to 13 News Now, the Hampton VA Medical Center public affairs office said: 

The Hampton VA Medical Center leadership values our labor partners and looks forward to continued communication to improve the experience of both our employees and our Veterans. We recognize that the opinions and suggestions of our employees are critical to ensuring we are equipped as a workforce to provide world-class customer service and care to our Veterans. Leadership provides a variety of opportunities for employees to provide feedback and we encourage them to continue to share thoughts and concerns with their leadership.