BONHAM, TX-Local Veterans Affairs workers join thousands of others nationwide, protesting pay cuts for themselves and hundreds of their colleagues.
About 40 Bonham VA employees picketed in front of the Sam Rayburn Memorial Veterans Center all day Wednesday on behalf of 200 employees--including 30 of their own--whose paychecks have been downgraded. Those affected tell us if they don't stand up to the cuts now, it will not only hurt them, it will hurt the quality of service at VA hospitals.
Rafael Jubera had been working at the Bonham VA for 15 years. He said his paycheck has dropped by 20 percent.
"Shocked. I can maybe see one grade down but lowering to two grades is ridiculous. Cost of living is going up, not going down and gas is going up, but they're taking our pay," he said.
Another employee, Dale Joy, said the cuts could threaten the care they provide.
"We do what we're supposed to do. We do it well, we serve the veterans here,we keep them happy.That's what we're here to do, make them happy. But when you're not happy, it's hard to keep other people happy," he said.
American Federation of Government Employees president and VA employee, Roger Hooper, said the cuts could lead to some tough choices for staff members.
"People in the lower echelons of the pay, GS-8 and under, are having their pay reduced, their grade reduced. Sevens to fives and it can be 15 to 20 percent of your salary," he said.
Hooper said 200 VA employees in Texas have been downgraded and fears it won't end there.
"They're doing our VISN this way, 200 people in this VISN has been downgraded, 30 here. After they finish with this VISN, they're gonna take this model to other VISNs in the country and do the same thing," he said.
Jubera said morale is definitely taking a hit.
"It just demotivates me, I'm retired. I was thinking of extending myself for another 2-3 years, but with this grade going down, I'm retiring," he said.
Employees hope their protest will help get their voices heard.
"Let's hope to bring to light what's going on here and that maybe the government can figure out that they're stepping on some wrong toes here and go a different route," said Joy.
"You want to take money, take it out something else," said Jubera.
"We need people to know that we need their help because the veterans come here everyday, we're gonna take good care of them in Bonham because that's what we do...but we're worried about future hires and future care," said Hooper.
The Department of Veterans Affairs released a statement saying "the VA will continue to provide grade and pay retention to any impacted employees, so they can maintain their current salaries."