Staff nurses at Howard County General Hospital voted last week by a narrow margin to accept a new four-year wage agreement giving them a 24 percent salary increase over the next 18 months.
Ratifying the contract by a vote of 94 to 81, nurses said they were disappointed that hospital administrators refused to agree to require union membership for future nursing hires.
"Economically, the proposal is quite a good one, but there's still a lot of nurses that are very disgruntled with the hospital's position and refusal to allow them union security," said Joe Kerhart, executive assistant to the president of Local 27 of the United Commercial and Food Workers, which represents almost 200 of the hospital's 326 nurses.
"The union shop was an extremely important issue, but the economics turned enough heads," Kerhart said.
The nurses' approval of their new contract comes just a week after they voted to reject a similar two-year proposal by 125 to 40, mainly because it lacked a union membership requirement.
The hospital's offer of increased night-shift differential pay and a weekend alternative work program convinced nurses to adopt the package reluctantly, Kerhart said.
The new contract calls for an immediate 8 percent, across-the-board salary increase for all nurses. In March and September of next year, salary increases of 4 percent and 8 percent will take effect. And in March of 1992 wages will increase by another 4 percent, Kerhart said.
Under the new contract, a nurse with 10 years' experience currently making $17.42 an hour ($36,192 annually) will make $18.81 ($39,104), retroactive to Sept. 30. In March 1991 the hourly pay will increase to $19.57, or $40,664 annually. By September 1991 the nurse's hourly wage will be $21.13, or $43,940 annually. And in March 1992 this nurse will earn $21.98 an hour, or $45,708 a year.
Other contract features include:
* An increase from 7 to 8 percent in the salary difference between supervisory and staff nurses.
* A distinction between evening and night differential pay. Effective immediately, extra pay for evening shifts will be $1.75 an hour and $2.25 for night shifts.
* An increase in the on-call differential pay from $3 to $5 an hour.
Nurses were dissatisfied with the hospital's refusal to limit "mandatory callback" and weekend work, Kerhart said. The hospital's mandatory callback requires some nurses to work an extra eight-hour shift each week. This affects mostly labor and delivery nurses, operating and recovery room nurses, and nurse anesthetists.
"We wanted them to limit mandatory callback and not schedule a full-time nurse for mandatory callback on days off," Kerhart said.
Howard County General Hospital president Victor Broccolino said the emergency room patient load and the large volume of births make it necessary to have a mandatory callback requirement at the hospital.
Broccolino said that budget constraints prevent hiring more nurses.
"We feel that it is critical for us to have an adequate number of nurses on call," he said.
The issue of weekend work was another point of contention in the contract negotiations.
Nurses wanted to limit the number of weekends a nurse would be required to work, based on seniority. Currently, most full-time nurses work every other weekend.
"We thought it was a very logical reward for longevity," Kerhart said.
"It would help retain nurses and attract them to the hospital."
In response, the hospital proposed a program in which nurses would receive pay for an extra shift in return for working 24 hours every weekend.
"We're very sensitive to the needs of nurses to be able to get more of this kind of time off," Broccolino said. "In spite of the fact that the contract is ratified, we will still be spending time and effort to address these other issues."
Administrators will also begin to look at non-union hospital positions to determine if salary adjustments are needed, Broccolino said.