Hundreds of protestors packed Lafayette Square on Wednesday for AFGE’s rally against the discriminatory downgrade of VA employees. In an event that took activists from the steps of the Department of Veterans Affairs building to the shadow of the White House, protestors from more than 20 states marched and called for a moratorium on the arbitrary position downgrades, as well as the resignation of John Sepulveda, the assistant secretary for Human Resources and Administration for the Department of Veterans Affairs and head of labor-management relations. AFGE National President John Gage spoke about his dealings with the agency and trying to make his grievances known. He talked about how he was continually met with broken promises and outright “lies” from Sepulveda, resulting in the large crowd erupting in chants demanding Sepulveda to resign from his position.
“VA employees take care of the troops coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and from other parts of the world where they are deployed, and they do a tremendous job supporting them,” said Dwight Bowman, AFGE’s District 14 National Vice President. “But in order for them to be able to do the job, they have to have decent pay just like everybody else because they have families to support. They are just an integral part of everything that goes on.”
The downgrades are targeting the lowest pay grade levels within the agency, but the agency has failed to prove that they will improve the functionality or finances of the VA. Activists argued that these potential cuts could mean the difference between workers being above or below the poverty line.
“We want to make the community aware, make the country aware, and certainly get the attention of the Veterans Administration in that we’re not going to stand by and let them cut the bottom of the pay scale,” said Colleen Stewart, a VA nurse from Salisbury, N.C.