Union files grievance with VA over new smoking ban

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 21, 2019

WASHINGTON — A union representing Department of Veterans Affairs employees filed a grievance over the agency’s recent decision to include workers in a smoking ban that will soon go into effect at VA facilities nationwide.

The VA announced Wednesday that its new smoke-free policy would apply to employees, as well as patients, visitors, contractors and vendors. Previously, the agency determined employees would be exempt from the ban.

The change came after the VA collaborated with “key stakeholders,” according to a statement from the department.

However, the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents hundreds of thousands of VA workers, remains firmly against the policy.

The union sent an official grievance Friday to Tracy Schulberg, acting executive director of labor-management relations at the VA. It cites a memorandum of understanding originating in 2008 that requires employees to be provided with “reasonably accessible designated smoking areas.”

As part of the VA’s new smoke-free policy, the agency plans to dismantle all designated smoking areas in a phased-out process. At the latest count, there were nearly 1,000 outdoor smoking areas at VA hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, as well as 15 outdoor smoking areas.

“The right of AFGE bargaining-unit employees to smoke on VA property, as well as the responsibilities of the agency to provide designated smoking areas, are subjects explicitly covered by an existing agreement,” the grievance states. It was signed by Thomas Dargon Jr., staff counsel for the National VA Council of AFGE.

The union asked that the VA rescind the policy.

The VA announced the smoke-free policy earlier in the summer, citing “growing evidence” that smoking, as well as secondhand and thirdhand smoke, is a medical and safety risk. The policy prohibits cigarettes, cigars, pipes, vape pens and e-cigarettes.

Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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