Last week, President Obama—whose healthcare ideals had heretofore earned the loyalty of reformist RNs across the continent—disappointed many of them by proposing a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal employees, including the 16,000 physicians and medical personnel who care for our veterans.
National Nurses United co-president Jean Ross called the move, “salt to the already festering wound” of the administration’s lack of cooperation in expanding collective-bargaining rights for VA nurses. The union (comprising of 160,000 RNs, including 7,000 VA RNs), shook their heads at the pay freeze proposal and declared that “ending the costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq once and for all” was a better avenue for cutting federal expenditures than punishing the nurses that care for those who come home from the wars.
A Political Move
In announcing his proposal, President Obama said, “In these challenging times, we want the best and brightest to join and make a difference. But these are also times when all of us are called on to make some sacrifices, and I’m asking civil servants to do what they’ve always done—to play their part.” The move received nods from Republicans, who will take the House in January 2011.
American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage retorted, “A federal pay freeze saves peanuts at best and, while he may mean it as just a public relations gestures, this is no time for political scapegoating. The American people didn’t vote to stick it to a VA nursing assistant making $28,000 a year.” He added, “It’s unconscionable for him to attack the wages of federal working people while the millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street not only get their bailouts and astronomical bonuses; they also get their tax cuts.”
The peanuts being proposed to be saved amount up to $2 billion in the current fiscal year, and because the scheduled raises will not be retroactively implemented after the fiscal crisis, the pay freeze schedules to save $28 in five years and $60 through 2021.
More Harm Than Good?
Nevertheless, the Economic Policy Institute (a Washington think tank with organized labor sympathies) declared that the proposed pay freeze would not only harm morale and save “chump change,” it would also reinforce conservative myths that federal workers are overpaid. “Such a policy also ignores the fact that deficit reduction and loss of pay at a time when the unemployment remains above 9% will only weaken a too-weak economy.”
For nurses already suffering funding (or perceived funding) shortages and hardship at the workplace, this could mean little good.
Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where recently she's been researching different bsw degree programs and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.