Workers gather outside Hampton VA, joining nationwide COVID-19, racial justice protests


HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Local union members of the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center held a socially distanced protest Thursday afternoon addressing grievances including a lack of protective equipment and ending systemic racism.

“I’ve got staff telling me they’ve got no purple tops to sanitize in between patients. I’ve got nurses telling me they’re being asked to wear a paper surgical mask, for a week.” AFGE Local 2328 Vice President Stacy Shorter told 10 On Your Side.

Union members have been taking to the streets for months protesting the VA’s decision to eliminate hazard pay, shortages of protective equipment, calling for the passage of the HEROES Act, and ending systemic racism at the VA.

“If the VA can’t take care of its employees, how are they going to be taking care of the veterans?” asked AFGE Local 2328 President Dr. Sheila Edwards.

Shorter said they’ve had a good and fair contract since 2011 but, “For whatever reason, the VA chose this past year to try to open that contract up and basically put it through the shredder.”

10 On Your Side reached out to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Press Secretary, Christina Noel responded.

“AFGE’s comments lack credibility considering that during the pandemic, Hampton VA Medical Center employees have provided life-saving care to more than 245 COVID patients while adhering to safety practices that have limited its current COVID employee infection rate to 0.8 percent.  The pandemic tested America’s health care infrastructure like few events have in anyone’s living memory, and the Hampton VAMC passed that test because it worked together as a team. Union bosses should be praising this teamwork rather than trying to sow division.”

Regarding contract negotiations, Noel told, “Whether through its condemnation of the MISSION Act or its efforts to repeal the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, AFGE has consistently fought for the status quo and opposed attempts to make VA work better for Veterans and their families. It’s no surprise that AFGE has taken the same approach with its refusal to accept commonsense improvements to its collective bargaining agreement.”

“VA’s collective bargaining proposals, which have been negotiated for several months per AFGE-approved ground rules, are designed to ensure Veterans come first in all that we do, and we look forward to working with AFGE to achieve that goal, ” Noel said.

The union says hundreds of members from the American Federation of Government Employees’ National VA Council (AFGE NVAC) will hold protests across the country over the course of Labor Day weekend.

The states participating include Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Nevada, Florida, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Kansas, Philadelphia, Minnesota, and possibly others.

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