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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

Signing Ceremony, Agreement between VA and the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE)
Washington, DC
January 19, 2012

Good morning, everyone. Let me recognize:

Bill Dougan, President of the National Federation of Federal Employees—NFFE.

VA's senior leaders in attendance: Deputy Secretary Scott Gould; Under Secretaries Randy Petzel, VHA, and Allison Hickey, VBA—representing all of our healthcare and benefits employees.

NFFE officials—Robert Redding, Patricia Lasala, Joe Simon, Rich Thomesen, and Jeff Shapiro;

VA's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Labor-Management Relations, Leslie Wiggins, and her staff;

And finally, the two key players in this process: Bill Fenaughty, NFFE's National Secretary-Treasurer and Chief Negotiator, and Douglas Katcher, VA's own Chief Negotiator.

Good morning, once again—welcome. My congratulations to the NFFE and VA negotiators—you have produced a truly forward-looking agreement. Everyone—managers, supervisors, union officials, employees—will benefit from it.

Good government is all about federal employees who come to work every day, committed to doing the right things to improve the lives of fellow citizens. My three years at VA have provided a unique opportunity to serve with, and learn from, some superb professionals—committed, compassionate, and trustworthy members of our workforce.

The agreement we're about to sign serves the interests of VA employees; codifies how VA and the NFFE will work together over the coming years; and supports productive relationships with VA's other key stakeholders, including:

  • AFGE, the American Federation of Government Employees, with whom we signed a master agreement last March;

  • National Nurses United, with whom we are currently negotiating; and,

  • The National Association of Government Employees, with whom we expect to initiate talks early next year.

President Obama charged us to build a more effective government by improving labor-management collaboration. By our signatures this morning, we will be reaffirming our trust in one another, resetting our expectations, embracing our common objectives, and building on our mutual strengths as labor and management.

Key to strong and trusting partnerships are open communications; information-sharing; consultation; negotiation; transparency; and commitment to a common good—nothing new; we just have to be better at them. Whether we're "labor" or "management," our partnership can only be measured by the positive results we, together, produce for Veterans and other beneficiaries—our mission.

VA's 316,000 employees are our most valuable resource for achieving those results. They bring VA values to life in our medical centers and benefits offices, and compassionately lay Veterans to honored rest in our cemeteries.

Attitude counts. How our employees approach their jobs, each and every day, shapes how Veterans and the American people perceive VA. So, we must invest in them by recruiting the right people, training them and growing them into strong and inspiring leaders, and ensuring that all our employees have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

So, I'm pleased to help implement this new agreement with NFFE. President Dougan, I want to assure you and your leadership that VA's managers, at all levels, will meet both the spirit and letter of these provisions.

Again, thank you all for your hard work and tireless efforts in delivering this contract. Now, let's sanction it through our signatures