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Local nurses do not want merit pay system

Candlelight vigil held during stalled negotiations

Posted: January 28, 2009 9:17 p.m.
Updated: January 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Marchers carry candles and light noisemakers with stickers.

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Local registered nurses held a candlelight vigil outside Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Wednesday as a show of solidarity on the only sticky issue of ongoing contract negotiations - performance-based pay.

Paying some nurses more than others remains the stumbling block in two-month-old talks between hospital officials and the California Nurses Association, union negotiator Karleen A. George said Wednesday before the vigil.

Hospital officials, however, contend the differential is an important way of appreciating exceptional work and a way of rewarding those who perpetuate the values of the hospital.

"We want to make sure they get rewarded for high performance," said Andie Bogdan, the hospital's director of public relations.

"The way we define high performance is through the way they demonstrate our values: integrity, trust, respect, accountability, team work, clinical competence, quality of work and compassionate care," she added.

The nurses' union sees the differential as a muzzle.

Nurses claim they would be intimidated from challenging a supervisor, if that person was the one writing up their evaluation.

"Frankly, our fight isn't about pay," George said. "Our fight is about an hourly differential based ultimately on a supervisor's evaluation."

The hospital's proposed hourly differential of either 50 cents or $1 paid to nurses who receive either an "exceeds" or "outstanding" rating on their annual performance appraisal remains a stumbling block for the union.

This differential can be lost from year-to-year, said George, and is based on a subjective appraisal that is completed by a hospital unit manager or other member of hospital management.

George calls this "subjective appraisal" a "dangerous thing" since registered nurses are required by California law to act as advocates for the patients they treat.

Since patients and nursing supervisors don't see eye to eye, on occasion, nurses are expected by law to side with patients and not their supervisors.

"When wage increases are tied to performance, the ability and/or willingness of RNs to speak out on behalf of their patients or to challenge hospital management on behalf of their patients is chilled," George said.

"The integrity of the RN is compromised. And, worst of all, patient care is compromised."

All other contract issues are resolved.

"We are so close," Bogdan said about the contract talks.

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