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UVM Medical Center, nurses union reach deal on pay raises

Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 12:03 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 14, 2022 at 5:29 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Nurses at the UVM Medical Center will get a 10% raise starting next pay period. The agreement comes before contract negotiations set for the coming months.

Attracting and retaining staff is a challenge for the UVM Medical Center as the pandemic rages on.

“It’s heartbreaking to see how many of my colleagues are leaving to go travel. Friends I’ve worked with for 20 years are leaving our workplace to travel,” said Deb Snell of the Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

The UVM Medical Centers says there is a 22% vacancy rate among nurses currently, significantly higher than an 8%-10% vacancy rate on an average year.

“The vacancy rate is higher than we’d like and travelers are helping us to stay well-staffed, but hopefully this will help us scale back on travelers and focus on what our nurses need,” said Peg Gagne, the chief nursing officer at the UVM Medical Center.

Roughly 300 traveling nurses help fill those staffing gaps at UVMMC, making more money on average than the 1,975 union nurses at the medical center.

In an effort to retain permanent nurses and attract more nurses, UVMMC and the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals agreed on a 10% wage increase starting this next pay period.

Nurses will also get an additional 5% increase in October 2022 and October 2023.

And all technical employees-- excluding imaging techs who have a separate agreement-- will receive a $5,000 stabilization bonus.

“I think that anything right now to help stabilize our workforce is so important,” Snell said.

Stephen Leffler, the president and COO of UVMMC, says these pay increases will cost the hospital a little over $5 million for the rest of the fiscal year, with the retention bonuses costing around $10 million over the two years.

“We can’t afford to not to do this. We need to stabilize our workforce. We need to do something now to do our very best to have the most full-time staff here and per diem staff and the least number of travelers we reasonably can,” Leffler said.

Snell says this translates to around a $3-$5 increase an hour.

Leffler adds while they are still assessing how these wages compete, he has a sense these will make them competitive in the state.

Jeff Tieman, the CEO of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, says the workforce challenges they face are significant and growing in a state that is aging and largely rural.

In a statement to WCAX News, Tieman wrote, in part: These challenges are not unique to us-- they are global. To overcome them, we need a creative and smart balance of wages, benefits, training, education and, of course, regulatory flexibility to pay for these investments.”

Snell says she will be waiting to see how effective these wage increases will be in retaining nurses.

The rest of the nurses’ contract will be negotiated in the spring but the wage aspect of negotiations is now complete.

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