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Bill to Restore Rights for Veterans Affairs RNs Advances

Press Release Press Release, 8/5/10

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For Immediate Release
August 5, 2010

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today approved legislation that would restore some essential rights for registered nurses who work at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. The committee passed the bill on a 10-6 vote.

S 3486, introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown on behalf of the 155,000-member National Nurses United, would expand collective bargaining rights for VA nurses on compensation issues, as other VA clinicians and nurses who work for other federal agencies including the Defense Department, have now.

National Nurses United (NNU), the nation’s largest union and professional association of RNs, represents 7,000 VA nurses at 22 VA facilities in a dozen states.

NNU leaders welcomed committee passage of the bill. “This is a key first step to securing equality under the law with other nurses and other healthcare workers,” said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN.

“This is about the basic fundamentals of pay fairness,” said Sen. Brown.  “Empowering employees to fight for what is rightfully theirs makes for a better VA and that in the end better serves our veterans.”

"Having the right to grieve when a nurse is not paid correctly is the first step of equality for staff nurse rights in the VA,” said Irma Westmoreland, RN, acting president of the National VA Council, NNU. “I cannot wait to see the day when full bargaining rights will be restored for VA nurses."

In a letter to committee members before the vote, Ross, and NNU Co-presidents Karen Higgins, RN and Deborah Burger, RN, wrote that “denying the most basic protections to one nurse is an injustice to all nurses.”

The current restrictions, they said, are harmful for nurses and patients alike. “The collective bargaining process is key to providing healthcare that is centered on the patient. Nurses as frontline workers in the healthcare system have a right and a duty to be patient advocates. As such, they are quite motivated and well qualified to advocate for the highest quality care available for the heroic men and women who have laid their lives and health on the line in defense of our nation.”

For the VA facilities, Ross adds, “fair pay is a key to strong recruitment and retention” to enable the VA to better attract new nurses and be able to compete with private-sector facilities. The VA has lost many new hires, she notes, “due to unfair working conditions, including broken commitments about pay made during recruitment.”

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