Nurses won't see pay cuts

NEW BEDFORD — Nurses at the VA-run health care center on Elm Street won't see a pay cut. A dispute between the Veterans Administration and the nurses — some would have seen salaries cut by as much as 18 percent — has been resolved, Rep. William Keating said Thursday night.

"That is too drastic a cut when you have budgeted your income to pay mortgages, tuitions and bills," said Keating, D-Mass., in a news release.

"To cut their salaries now — when some are close to retirement — would be unacceptable and a truly sad commentary on how we treat our workers who are doing so much to care for our veterans," he said.

The dispute arose because the nurses' wages had been calculated for nearly two decades under the Boston VA pay scale. The Department of Veterans Affairs Central Office determined they would be calculated under the Providence VA pay scale in the future, according to Keating.

The Providence VA pay scale is lower than the Boston VA pay scale, he said.

The 12 nurses at the New Bedford VA clinic were then notified their salaries would be cut anywhere from 13 percent to 18 percent, he said.

After numerous discussions, Keating said the VA Central Office and the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center agreed not to cut the salaries of any of the nurses.

The proposed pay cut also had the potential to impact the care veterans at the local clinic receive as many nurses said they might have to leave the VA or seeks transfers to Boston or Brockton, according to John Oliveira, whose wife Amy is one of the nurses.

"I think it's good because my wife won't receive a freeze or pay cut," said Oliveira, who is a 100 percent disabled Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran. "We certainly thank Keating's office for that."

He added he feels it was "unfair" of the VA to put families through this uncertainty and turmoil.

Amy Oliveira, who lives in New Bedford, said she would have suffered a 15 percent pay cut, which represents about $10,000 of her annual salary, if the change had gone through.

"It just came out of the blue," she said of the VA Central Office's decision.

Now, though, she is "cautiously optimistic" that their salaries will not be cut.

The VA's Central Office in Washington, D.C., has only given a "verbal O.K." to the agreement and has not signed on it as yet, she said.

This article originally appeared in the New Bedford Standard Times.