Vermont Nurses Negotiate Better Pay

Ms. Amber Robert

Courtesy of Valley News

Courtesy of Valley News

BURLINGTON, VT — After long months of negotiations, the University of Vermont Medical Center and the UVMMC Nurse’s Union reached a tentative contract agreement on Thursday, September 20th, 2018.

Earlier this year, many of the UVMMC nurses went on a two day strike. The union wanted a 24% increase over three years, but the hospital only offered a 13% increase (according to WCAX). The medical center and the Nurse’s Union have settled on a 16% wage increase over three years.

One UVMMC ICU nurse, Rachel Robert, commented on the working conditions vs. salaries. “For over a year now we’re constantly being called in for overtime and extra hours because there aren’t enough nurses staffed for the unit. We are constantly cycling through staff, which creates safety issues for the patients. It is very sad to see nurses that have been here for 20+ years leaving because they aren’t earning enough to retire on schedule.”

The average nursing salary in Vermont is $65,000 according to the Nurse Salary Guide. This salary is frustrating when compared to surrounding states. Massachusetts’ average nursing salary is $85,000. New York is $83,000. New Hampshire is $70,000. And that’s just in the North East. States such as California have an average nursing salary of over $100,000.

Robert states, “As I am starting my family and really starting to settle into my career, I am apprehensive and sad that this is the salary that I have to work with at this hospital. I love my job and I love this hospital, but in comparison to other places in the area, my salary is the last thing keeping me here.”

CVU Economics teacher, Chris Smith says, “It’s hard to live here [in VT] because it’s so expensive. I would think most young adults would want to live in Chittenden County. You want to live in this area, not in the more rural parts of our state because there’s much more to do here. So that means that the average cost of housing is going to be $350,000. So if you’re coming in and you’re a working 27 year old, and you’re borrowing $300,000, that’s a $3,000 mortgage payment plus property taxes of $6,000-$7,000 in South Burlington.” The average cost of living within Vermont makes it very difficult for young adults to afford living here. This doesn’t leave many choices for people to live in Vermont.

Smith states, “Businesses don’t move here because it’s expensive, so if I’m going to move somewhere north and pick somewhere, I’m going to move to New Hampshire before I’m going to move to Vermont. They’re identical… New Hampshire’s tax structure is so much more advantageous if you’re looking at it from a business perspective. So we don’t get the businesses, therefore, we don’t get the ability for kids to come back here cause there aren’t tons of jobs.” In Vermont, there’s not a vast amount of jobs. Young adults who are just beginning their careers are less likely to look in Vermont for jobs because there aren’t as many neighboring states. The salary to cost of living ratio makes it very difficult to maintain a life in VT.

Robert emphasizes the importance in researching future job opportunities. “Know how your hospitals that you are applying to compare in every avenue: salary, benefits, schedule, continuing education, support staff ratios, nursing to patient ratios- ‘a day/week/month/year in the life’ of a nurse that works in each hospital that you are applying to.” This can help narrow down the workplace best fit for your life and your needs.

Smith explains that the smaller population of Vermonters does not provide an economy that supports a growing number of college graduates. “I think it affects [CVU students] because a lot of you -conclude that this is a nice place to live. And it is a nice place to live. There’s lots of really nice advantages. It’s great that I don’t have to commute for an hour everyday, driving into a big city or dealing with all the traffic. People in general, are nice. There’s all sorts of really positive things here, so if you could find a job that’s good, that’s great. But for most CVU students that have college aspirations, they want to go to a bigger, better paying job. It’s unlikely it’s here. So you’re stuck going to somewhere else. I don’t know if that’s necessarily good or bad but it’s kind of sad that you don’t have much of an option of coming back here.” As much as students may love Vermont, their careers may take them outside the state.

Vermont is a wonderland in many ways with the best ski trails, mountains, and maple treats, but young people must be able to pay their bills in order to enjoy VT to the fullest extent.