Washington – National Nurses United (NNU) is applauding passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of a bill that would give Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) nurses and other clinicians full collective bargaining rights. The VA Employee Fairness Act (H.R. 1948), sponsored by Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, passed with bipartisan support on a vote of 219-201 on December 15.
“As a nurse who has proudly served our veterans for nearly four decades, I want to extend my deepest thanks to Chairman Takano for his tireless efforts to get the VA Employee Fairness Act through the House with bipartisan support,” said Irma Westmoreland, RN and NNU vice-president, who works in the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga. “Nurses are patient advocates, and our input and insight is critical in determining best practices for patient care. Without full collective bargaining rights, VA nurses’ ability to effectively advocate for the health and safety of our patients and ourselves is hindered.
“This bill will ensure the rights of bedside nurses in the Veterans Administration are protected and, in turn, will serve to increase the quality of patient care in VA facilities,” she continued. “We are extremely pleased that our representatives are recognizing our role in ensuring our nation’s veterans get the very best care that they so rightly deserve.”
RESTORES BARGAINING RIGHTS
H.R. 1948 will restore bargaining rights to registered nurses and other clinicians in the VA, who are currently prohibited from bargaining over issues relating to professional conduct or competence, patient care, and peer review. In restoring these rights, the bill would reduce turnover, increase staffing levels, and improve the care that veterans receive by giving VA clinicians the tools they need to speak up for patient safety and care. This bill will help both recruit and retain VA health care professionals. And it takes on an even greater importance in the wake of the recent passage of the Honoring Our PACT Act, which will bring an additional estimated 3.5 million patients into the VA, necessitating additional bedside nurses to care for the increased number of patients.
“For our country to ensure that veterans receive the highest quality treatment, we must treat VA nurses with the same level of dignity and respect as other federal healthcare workers,” said Chairman Takano. “VA nurses have dedicated their careers to serving veterans and have been instrumental in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Passing my VA Employee Fairness Act is a step toward recognizing this commitment to our veterans. Throughout the 117th Congress, this Committee prioritized providing veterans with the healthcare they earned, and we are reinforcing that by providing VA nurses, who wholeheartedly provide critical care for veterans, with the workers’ rights they deserve.”
GRATEFUL TO ADMINISTRATION
In a statement of administration policy, the White House said it supports the legislation “to expand collective bargaining opportunities” for RNs and other clinicians covered in the bill, calling attention to “dedicated VA employees working tirelessly to support our veterans’ health needs, including in combating COVID-19.”
“The Administration is committed to continuing to work with Congress to support hard-working employees,” the statement continued, “while protecting veterans’ access to the care and services that they have earned through service to the nation.
“I’m grateful the Biden Administration showed their support for the collective bargaining rights of VA nurses, and I’m encouraged the House of Representatives voted to pass this crucial piece of legislation for our nation’s heroes and the people who care for them,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of NNU.
“The ability to speak up over issues affecting patient care, peer review, and working conditions is a crucial part of clinician recruitment and retention. This legislation can empower VA nurses and clinicians to further ensure the highest quality of patient care for our nation’s veterans.”
Alongside NNU, the bill was endorsed by every union representing VA clinicians and groups including the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the Congressional Labor Caucus, the American Legion, and the Vietnam Veterans of America.
NNU represents more than 225,000 nurses across the country, including more than 12,000 nurses at 23 VA hospitals across the United States.