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Roughly 650 staffers at the Hampton VA Medical Center are among the 250,000 unionized employees taking on the Department of Veteran Affairs in contract talks, according to the Daily Press.

Members of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2328 have twice gathered outside the Hampton VA campus as they hope to raise awareness of the issues they’re fighting for. Among those issues are the possible loss of whistleblower protections, and reductions to the time they can devote to union matters while on the job.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said that the agency’s new proposal represents “a reset in VA’s approach to labor-management relations,” and added that much of the current contract favors unions over veterans.

This has angered union members, as has the VA’s launch of the MISSION Act, which seeks to further divert health care for veterans to a private doctor instead of a VA hospital.

Sheila Elliott, Local 2328 president, told the Daily Press that the act and the VA’s contract proposal are setting the agency up for failure. “Privatization is the not-so-hidden agenda,” she said. “The clear goal is to have mass resignations to justify privatization.”

Instead of spending money to divert veterans to private care, Elliott wants the VA to fill vacant positions at the Hampton VA, where there are 434 open positions.

The VA denied to the Daily Press that it wants to privatize medical care and said whistleblower protections are “well-defined in federal laws,” and says reducing employee hours spent on union matters will save the VA $48 million each year.

Elliott said this reduction would hurt workers seeking help and remove protections for mistreated workers.

There is no deadline for signing a new contract, and with the two sides far apart, it may be many months before an agreement is reached.

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