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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

National Nurses United (NNU) Signing Ceremony
Washington, DC
February 21, 2013

Jim, many thanks for that kind introduction and for officiating so many of our most important ceremonies. Good afternoon, everyone. Let me recognize:

  • Jean Ross, National President, National Nurses United;

  • VA's senior leadership in attendance, including John Gingrich, Chief of Staff, and Under Secretary Steve Muro, NCA;

  • Deputy Assistant Secretary for Labor-Management Relations, Leslie Wiggins and her staff;

  • And finally, the two key players in this process: Irma Westmoreland, Chair of NNU-VA and NNU's chief negotiator, and Mark Frassinelli, VA's chief negotiator:

As we say in Hawai'i, E como mai—Welcome. Congratulations to Irma and Mark and their negotiating teams. You have set a high bar in master agreements, and in record time. VA's last two national union contracts took seven years to negotiate; this one took just one. And we—managers, supervisors, union officials, VA nurses, and Veterans—will all benefit from it.

I think many, if not most, in this room have heard me speak about what nurses have meant in my life, so I won't repeat the entire story today. Let me just say that, in 1970, an incredible nurse—the head trauma nurse in the amputee ward of the 95th Medevac Hospital in Vietnam changed my life. She told me about medical decisions awaiting me, when I returned stateside, and gave me options for how I might live my life. I wouldn't be here today if she had not taken the time to educate me about what it would take.

Generations of severely-injured and seriously-ill Veterans spend long days, weeks, and months in our hospitals. For some, anxiety about the unknowns alone is overwhelming. Others bear combat's scars. The baggage of war remains a long and heavy burden.

Now, these are the days when our nurses are at their very best, delivering their special brand of care for the one percent of Americans who today put their lives on the line for America.

The agreement we're about to sign serves the interests of both Veterans and VA nurses. It codifies how VA and NNU will work together in the coming years, also setting both tone and template for future negotiations with other unions.

President Obama charged us to build a more effective government by improving labor-management collaboration. By our signatures this morning, we reaffirm our trust in one another, embrace our common objectives, and build on our mutual strengths as labor and management. Veterans need both of us, and deserve our willing collaboration.

As VA's frontline caregivers, registered nurses are critical to delivering safe, high-quality patient care. This contract between VA and NNU supports a quality working environment for recruiting and retaining registered nurses, for promoting patient safety, and for enhancing cooperation between labor and management.

So, I'm very pleased to help implement this new agreement with NNU. Irma, I want to assure you and Jean, and the rest of the NNU leadership, that VA's managers, at all levels, will meet both the spirit and letter of these provisions.

Again, thank you all for your hard work and tireless efforts in delivering this contract. Now, let's sanction it through our signatures.

Thank you.