LAWRENCE — The 498 full- and part-time nurses at Lawrence General Hospital would receive raises totaling 4 percent over three years, a $10 night shift differential, increased pension contributions and increased staffing in the Emergency Department and on inpatient floors under a tentative contract they reached with the hospital.
The raises would come on top of the 3.5 percent automatic salary increases all nurses receive on the anniversary of their hires. Nurses now collect the increases through their 20th year; the new contract would provide them through their 21st year.
Newly hired nurses will earn $32.30 an hour under the new contract, while nurses with 20 or more years of experience earn $63.98 an hour.
The contract will be submitted to the membership by May 15, said David Schildmeier, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents LGH nurses.
The contract would be retroactive to Oct. 2, 2018, when the last contract ran out. It would expire Oct. 2, 2021.
The contract would cost the hospital $8.4 million over its three-year term, said Jill McDonald, a spokeswoman for the hospital. She said the hospital requested no concessions from the union in exchange for the pay hikes and other improvements the union sought, which also include an agreement by the hospital to remove the $3,000 cap on its annual contribution to nurses’ retirement accounts and to give nurses added flexibility to schedule their hours.
“Our top priority is to do the right thing to retain and support the professional growth of our talented employees in all the health care professions that support patient care,” Karen Moore, the hospital’s senior vice president of operations and chief nurse, said in a statement emailed by an aide. “These are responsible investments in our commitment to high quality local care for the residents of the Merrimack Valley.”
The new contract is the sixth the Massachusetts Nurses Association has negotiated since November, when voters handily defeated a referendum that would have limited the number of patients each nurse could be assigned.
The new contract with LGH does not include the across-the-board increases in staffing that the referendum would have imposed, but it requires the hospital to add staffing in several key areas. Among them, the hospital will add a nurse to the Emergency Department during its busiest hours, a “rapid response nurse” on inpatient floors during all shifts to help handle crises such as patient heart attacks, and adds a charge nurse to the night shift to provide better supervision of the newer nurses who tend to work the shift.
“The staffing improvements achieved in this contract are important and beneficial, but still fall short of what would be required had Question 1 passed,” Schildmeier said, referring to last year’s referendum. “But given the defeat of Question 1, the nurses were committed to achieving through collective bargaining these much-needed enhancements to ensure safer patient care.”
Schildmeier said the contract will help reduce staffing shortages that sometimes required nurses to rotate between day and night shifts, which he said left them exhausted.
“They need to recruit staff,” he said. “We’re hoping with these new numbers and salary levels, they’ll be able to recruit the staff and be the excellent hospital they can be.”
Negotiators for the union and the hospital reached the tentative settlement at 1 a.m. Friday, after a 13-hour bargaining session.It came without any job action by the nurses over the seven months they worked without one, although they picketed on April 10.