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Veterans Crisis Line Badge

Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

American Federation of Government Employees Contract Signing Ceremony
Washington, DC
March 28, 2011

Good afternoon, and thanks to all of you for attending this milestone event. Though they have already been introduced, let me offer special acknowledgements to: John Gage, National President of the American Federation of Government Employees [AFGE]; Alma Lee, President of the National Veterans Affairs Council of the AFGE; and, Leslie Wiggins, Deputy Assistant Secretary for VA's Office of Labor Management. Leslie and her staff put this ceremony together, and we all appreciate their exceptional efforts; senior leaders of both VA and AFGE, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Today's ceremony is important; it is an event that has not taken place in the past 14 years. The last signing of a master collective bargaining agreement between VA and AFGE occurred in 1997, four years before the attacks of 11 September, 2001, and the following near-decade of force deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. The needs of our Veterans have changed significantly over those years, and so have the needs of our employees who serve them. This agreement codifies how the department and AFGE will work together to meet the needs of both.

The successful closure of these negotiations is the result:

  • Of a re-emphasis on our mutual interest to transform VA for our Veterans;
  • Of trust in building and maintaining a productive relationships with our key stakeholders;
  • Of VA's proactive role in supporting the President's efforts to build more productive labor management partnerships, making government more efficient and effective;

And finally, of VA's willingness to invest in our employees.

I would like to thank Alma Lee and Leslie Wiggins, as well as their respective teams, from AFGE, the Office of General Counsel, and VA's Health, Benefits, and Cemeteries Administrations for the hard work and commitment I have witnessed and supported over the last 18 months. I would also like to thank the many others who, over 14 years, served in a variety of roles that allowed us to have this ceremony today. I look forward to the same level of dedication and effort as we work together to successfully implement the provisions of this new agreement—always keeping the needs of the Veterans we serve foremost among our priorities. My promise to you is that VA managers will be both trained and expected to meet both the spirit and intent of this agreement.

Thank you.