Los Angeles County, Nurses Agree to 9% Wage Increase, Additional Bonus for Some Nurses at King/Drew Medical Center
Los Angeles County on Thursday announced that it had reached a tentative agreement with the Service Employees International Union Local 660, which represents nurses at county hospitals, that would raise wages by about 9% and provide an additional bonus for nurses with "clear records" who are willing to work at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The new contract also includes a 14.5% wage increase for nurses who have worked in county facilities for more than 15 years. Nurses receiving this additional bonus could earn about $68,000 annually; nurses at King/Drew receiving both bonuses could earn about $74,000 annually.
The nurses, who would have received a 2.5% wage increase on Jan. 1 without the new contract, originally had sought a 23% pay raise.
The top pay scale for county nurses currently is about $59,000 annually, compared with $69,000 for nurses at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach and about $80,000 for those at UCLA Medical Center, according to the California Nurses Association. The Times reports that the pay gap between county and private facilities "has worsened an acute shortage of nurses at the county's five public hospitals."
Nurses will vote on the contract, which would conclude 14 months of negotiations, over the next few weeks. Union officials said they expect members to approve the proposal.
County hospitals have 1,200 fewer nurses than are needed, the Times reports. King/Drew, which needs 806 full-time nurses, has the largest shortage with only 513 nurses, according to John Wallace, spokesperson for the county Department of Health Services. The Times reports that King/Drew's recent history of "medical lapses" has made it difficult to recruit more full-time nurses for the hospital.
To increase staffing at King/Drew, the county has hired temporary nurses, who now account for about 40% of the nursing staff at the facility. County officials have said that the large number of contract nurses at King/Drew has slowed efforts to reform the hospital.
Under the proposed contract, King/Drew nurses who have not received complaints against them or negative job evaluations would receive a 10% bonus in addition to the broader wage increase. About 200 of the 513 full-time nurses at King/Drew would be eligible for the bonus, according to Joel Solis, a member of bargaining committee for the Local 660.
Solis said some nurses initially were upset about the additional bonus for King/Drew's staff, but they later agreed to the provision because the county volunteered the bonus without any request from the union and because King/Drew has had the most problems with recruitment.
Solis said that the bonus issue delayed negotiations for about a week because the union wanted it to apply to more nurses. "We didn't want the strings attached. We wanted (the requirement) to be that you have a competent performance evaluation," he said, adding that the union agreed when the county made the language of the requirement less stringent.
Nurses in the county need competent evaluations to receive the general 9% raise, the Times reports.
Supervisor Mike Antonovich said, "The workplace at MLK has not been a place where many nurses have wanted to go. To move forward, we need a bonus for good nurses at other hospitals to come to MLK to be part of the reform movement going on."
Antonovich and Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said they would support the contract if it appeared before the board.
"Obviously at the very top ranges, we may not be competing with some private hospitals, but we certainly are very close," Burke said.
Fred Huicochea, a registered nurse who is part of the bargaining committee, said that although the 9% wage increase "doesn't offer up front enough to attract nurses to our system," most nurses currently in the system will receive raises between 10% and 12% because of the length of their service.
Jim Adams, chief negotiator for the county, said, "It was hard. But, we ended up with an agreement we can hopefully live with and build on" (Chong, Los Angeles Times, 12/3).