Balto. County nurses to protest over pay

Fedration calls raise of 2 percent too small

May 10, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Angered by what they see as a paltry 2 percent raise, Baltimore County's public health nurses plan to picket the courthouse in Towson this week.

Nancy DiPaola, president of the Baltimore County Federation of Public Health Nurses, said the group's 64 members deserve raises closer to those given to other county employees, such as school nurses who received 6 percent increases this year and police officers who won 9 percent.

"People say police put their lives on the line. Well, we put our lives on the line as well," she said, adding that nurses go into the roughest neighborhoods to provide health care to the county's neediest residents.

DiPaola said members will march with signs from noon to 1: 30 p.m. Wednesday at the plaza between the Old Courthouse and the Baltimore County Courts Building. The nurses have been meeting with County Council members, writing to County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and wearing buttons that say, "We Care, We Count."

Ruppersberger's budget calls for police officers to receive a $30,156 starting salary while the starting salary for the county nurses will be $30,051, according to DiPaola.

DiPaola said such pay scales are unfair because nurses, unlike police officers, must complete four years of training and pass a state test for a nurse's license.

She said Ruppersberger's proposed $1.7 billion budget includes an $82 million surplus.

"They can afford to pay the police. They can afford to pay the firemen. We're not that many people, and we're not going to break the bank," she said.

The contract the county has negotiated with the nurses would raise the pay for a nurse with 10 years experience from $38,990 to $39,770 after July 1, she said.

Margaret Ferguson, county labor commissioner, said nurses' wages are comparable to those paid in other jurisdictions. The nurses are not paid the same as police officers or school nurses because their jobs are different, she said.

"They have a different salary structure, different work schedules, different retirement and compensation package," Ferguson said.

School nurses negotiate their pay with the county Board of Education, not her office, and police officers were given generous raises because their pay was lower than in other jurisdictions, Ferguson said.

"We focused primarily on situations where our wages were out of line with wages in comparable jurisdictions," she said.

Ferguson said that the nurses' protests, after Ruppersberger presented his budget to the County Council last month, are too late.

If nurses were dissatisfied during this year's contract talks, they should have requested a federal mediator, as firefighters and blue-collar workers unions did in their negotiations, Ferguson said.

The budget is being reviewed by the County Council, which has the final say on spending. The county charter specifies that the council can only cut from the budget, and cannot increase any salaries.

The nurses, like all public employees, are prohibited by state law from striking.

DiPaola said she realizes that union efforts are too late to affect salaries next year. But she said the protest is aimed at raising awareness about their pay for the future.

"We're just trying to let people know we're here and let them know what it is we do," she said.

Pub Date: 5/10/99

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