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The AFGE National Veterans Affairs Council has a lot to celebrate at its 20th triennial convention, going on through Friday at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown Los Angeles.

An array of items were on sale at the National VA Council convention.

The National VA Council is the largest bargaining unit within AFGE and has experienced a 40 percent increase in membership since the last convention three years ago. There are now nearly 85,000 dues-paying members, and the council represents about 200,000 employees throughout the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The council’s legislative efforts also have resulted in significant wins for VA employees: better pay for licensed practical nurses, overtime protections for nurses, equal employment rights for registered nurses and bargaining rights for medical professionals.

On the bargaining front, union leaders and VA managers have completed work on a new master collective bargaining agreement that council leaders say is the best union contract in the federal government. The agreement should be finalized by February, following a period of review and ratification by council members and approval by the VA.

Folks from AFGE's Political Action Committee were on hand to accept contributions that will be used to help fight anti-labor legislative proposals and support pro-labor candidates and causes.

With all of the successes, it’s perhaps little surprise that all of the current National VA Council officers were re-elected to their positions during elections on Tuesday.

More than 600 members and activists gathered in Los Angeles for this year’s convention. The convention began Monday morning with a rousing opening ceremony that was attended by AFGE’s top three leaders: National President John Gage, National Secretary/Treasurer J. David Cox and National Vice President for Women’s and Fair Practices Augusta Thomas. 

A highlight of the opening ceremony was a keynote address by Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, who praised those in attendance for standing up for veterans and their families.

Our vets are the real patriots of our nation, not the Rush Limbaughs of the world.

Other AFGE leaders from the field also are participating in the week’s activities, including national vice presidents Keith Hill (District 3), Eugene Hudson Jr. (District 12), Jane Nygaard (District 8), Arnold Scott (District 6) and Gerald Swanke (District 11).

Delegates are taking advantage of a series of training sessions that focus on such areas as collaborative labor-management relations, the Title 38 pay and personnel system and leadership training. Council President Alma Lee encouraged delegates to go back to their locals and apply the skills they learn during the training.

On Thursday, members plan to gather for a special celebration in honor of Veterans Day.

AFGE National President John Gage, left, discusses a range of topics with Jason Fornicola, producer of AFGE's Inside Government radio show, during an interview recorded Nov. 10 at the National VA Council triennial convention in Los Angeles.

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