By Jim Schroeder
In order to deal with a national nursing shortage, the Montana Nurses Association wants to raise pay for nurses at Northern Montana Hospital to make it competitive with other hospitals in Montana.
"We want to attract people to Havre and keep them here after they start," MNA labor relations specialist Raymond Berg said this week.
The MNA represents registered nurses at Northern Montana Hospital and 12 other nonprofit hospitals in Montana. Entry-level nurses at the Havre hospital earn $12.81 an hour. The average hourly wage for entry-level nurses at the 13 nonprofit hospitals is $16.88 an hour or 31.7 percent more than the beginning rate in Havre, Berg said.
He added that Northern Montana Hospital has the lowest beginning nurse's pay of the 13 nonprofit hospitals and nine state and county medical facilities where the MNA represents registered nurses.
Berg met with the negotiating team for Local Unit 12 in Havre on Tuesday to discuss plans for the upcoming contract talks. Negotiations will begin soon, he said.
Seven of the 13 nonprofit hospitals are currently in contract negotiations with nurses, Berg added.
"Where Havre's at for the Montana Nurses Association, we need to raise wages and benefits that will recruit and retain nurses in Havre," Berg said. "But it depends on the financial condition of the hospital."
Berg said he isn't sure about the exact dollar amount that he will be bargaining for, but it will be comparative to other hospitals where MNA represents the nurses.
"But if the hospital doesn't have enough money, you can't change all that," Berg said.
Kathie Newell, public information officer for Northern Montana Hospital said the hospital is preparing to negotiate the nursing contracts.
"We have their proposals and they have ours," Newell said. "We expect an amicable process."
Dave Henry, chief executive officer of Northern Montana Hospital and Northern Montana Medical Group, said he is saving his comments about the nursing contract for the upcoming bargaining sessions.
"We save our negotiations for the table. We don't do it through a newspaper," Henry said Thursday.
He added, "The hospital budgeted an increase for all employees, annually."
Berg said entry-level nurses at Northern Rockies Medical Center in Cut Bank are earning $15.95 an hour the first year and $16.80 an hour the second year of a two-year contract. The medical center has a smaller nursing staff than Northern Montana Hospital.
Northern Montana Hospital has a six-month probationary period for entry- level nurses and pays $13.09 an hour after the probationary period, Berg said.
A registered nurse with five years of credited experience at Northern Rockies Medical Center earns $16.62 an hour and beginning May 1, a registered nurse will earn $17.47 under a two-year contract. A registered nurse with 10 years of experience at the center earns $17.49 an hour and as of May 1 will earn $18.34, Berg said.
At Northern Montana Hospital, a registered nurse with five years of experience earns $14.21 an hour, Berg said. A nurse with 10 years of experience earns $15.59 and a nurse with 15 years earns $16.15. Nurses with 20 years of experience earn $16.71 an hour, Berg added.
Entry-level nurses at the Glendive Medical Center earn $16.02 an hour, and a registered nurse with five years of experience earns $18.92 an hour, Berg said. A registered nurse with 20 years of experience earns $22.22 an hour.
"With a nursing shortage, why would someone go to a hospital and make $12.95 an hour when they could go to a hospital that pays $17 an hour?" Berg said.
"In a nursing shortage, you have to compete with the current market wages," he added.
Northern Montana Hospital covers less of the nurses' health insurance premiums than the other nonprofit hospitals, Berg said. The other hospitals cover 80 percent; Northern Montana covers 70 percent, he said.
The current two-year nursing contract at Northern Montana Hospital will end Nov. 30.