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Nation’s Largest RN Union Criticizes President’s Pay Freeze For Veterans Affairs Nurses

Press Release Press Release, 11/29/10

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For Immediate Release
November 29, 2010

The nation’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses today condemned the decision by President Obama mandating a two-year wage freeze for Veterans Affairs nurses along with other federal employees.
 
“Today’s action is a slap in the face of the nurses that we as a nation count on to care for those harmed in service to this country,” said Jean Ross, RN, co-president of the 160,000 member National Nurses United, which represents 7,000 VA nurses at 22 VA facilities in a dozen states.
 
“VA nurses see an escalating number of veterans traumatized by their war experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, while trying to improve patient care in the face of reduced staffing and budget cutbacks,” said Ross. “The VA nurses ability to advocate for their patients is undermined by restrictions on their workplace rights. Now, the Administration is moving to freeze nurses’ pay as the VA administration stymies their rights to speak out and address their working conditions.”
 
“In his statement today, the President said, ‘In these challenging times we want the best and brightest to join and make a difference,’” noted Irma Westmoreland, RN, Interim Chair of National Nurses United – Veterans Affairs. “Yet by freezing compensation, which for many VA nurses will create economic uncertainty that adds to growing frustration with an already unacceptable staffing crisis in many VA facilities, he is sending the exact opposite message to VA nurses to go work somewhere else,” said Westmoreland.
 
“This could devastate VA recruitment efforts,” Westmoreland warned. “Since VA locality pay laws already state that VA hospitals can not be the pay leader in any community, this will only serve to widen the pay gap between VA nurses and other nurses in those communities.”
 
Ross said the freeze “adds salt to an already festering wound of the Obama administration’s failure to support equal rights for VA nurses seeking to improve quality of care standards in VA hospitals and to enhance their standard of living.”
 
For two years in a row, administration officials have testified against proposals to extend the same collective bargaining rights over care conditions to VA nurses already held by all other VA employees except physicians and nurses.
 
NNU is promoting legislation to reverse restrictions, enacted by former President George H.W. Bush in 1991, on bargaining rights for VA nurses.  
 
S. 3486, which passed the Senate Veterans Affairs committee in August, is still awaiting action by the full Senate. It, and a companion House bill, H.R. 5543, would extend full bargaining rights on compensation to VA nurses, as other VA caregivers have.  Another bill, H.R. 949 and S. 362, would repeal all the restrictions enacted in 1991 by President Bush.
 
Ross called for President Obama to rescind the freeze, and support equality for all VA nurses in union and bargaining rights.
  
“Only a relatively small amount of savings are accrued from the wage freeze. Far more deficit reduction could be made by holding the line and not extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and by ending the costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq once and for all,” Ross said.

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