SALEM, Va. (WFXR) — The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a union representing more than 300,000 Veterans Affairs employees, signed a new collective bargaining agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It’s the largest union contract in the government.

National president of the AFGE, Dr. Everett Kelley, says coming to the new agreement was challenging.

“When union and management work together we can accomplish much,” said Dr. Kelley.

The AFGE says this contract prioritizes both employees and veterans. The new agreement addresses concerns with hiring and promotions within the agency.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Denis McDonough, says studies show that VA care provides equal or better care for veterans than the private sector.

“A big benefit of this contract is going to be easing the process in which we fill vacancies, one, and two I think overtime VA has demonstrated with the largest unionized workforce in the federal government, that when we have well-functioning partnership between labor and management, we have better outcomes for veterans,” said McDonough.

Veterans Affairs Chief Negotiator, Kurt Martin, adds that this is only made possible if VA workers are being prioritized as well.

“By fostering a positive and productive work environment we aim to better retain employees, and to attract new talent to join our ranks,” said Martin.

However, for the more than 300,000 workers AFGE represents, the hope is that this new contract will address staffing shortages that the VA has dealt with for years. This can lead to less burnout and higher retention of employees.

“It was give and take, but it’s going to be better for the employees, it’s going to be better for the agencies, it’s going to be better for the communities. and that’s what union management partnering is all about,” said Dr. Kelley.

This new agreement was dedicated to Dr. Alma Lee, Chief negotiator for the AFGE and president of the national VA Council. After over 30 years in leadership, she stands that they will do whatever they can to support veterans and VA employees.