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HomeNewsLocal newsSalary Base Increases 20-30 Percent in Tentative Wage Agreement with Registered Nurses...

Salary Base Increases 20-30 Percent in Tentative Wage Agreement with Registered Nurses Leadership Union, Offering More Parity

The V.I. government has approved a tentative wage agreement with the nurses union. (Shutterstock image)

A tentative wage agreement signed with the Registered Nurses Leadership Union, Inc. (RNLU) marks a significant step toward enhancing healthcare services in the Virgin Islands and offering more parity in salaries as the demand for nurses continues, according to officials.

This agreement impacts employees hired as Assistant Head Nurses (AHN), Head Nurses (HN), Nurse Manager Administrative Care Coordinators (ACC), and Clinical Care Coordinators (CCC) at the Health Department, Schneider Regional Medical Center, and the Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center. The previous collective bargaining agreement for the RNLU had expired on Sept. 30, 2020, according to a Government House news release.

“Signing this tentative wage agreement underscores our commitment to the healthcare professionals who are the backbone of our medical institutions,” Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. stated. “By bringing salaries closer to the national average, we acknowledge the invaluable contributions of our registered nurses and take a crucial step toward addressing staffing shortages that have long burdened our healthcare system. This agreement is a testament to our dedication to improving healthcare services for all residents of the Virgin Islands.”

The negotiation process, led by Joss Springette, chief negotiator for the Office of Collective Bargaining, faced numerous challenges. In an interview with the Source this week, Springette highlighted the complexities involved, noting that the government negotiates with 15 unions and around 33 bargaining units.

“I think there were about six contracts at the time I came on board in 2019 that were in different stages and getting through those was important. And you have to first prepare with the agencies — and that involves looking at the history of negotiation, reviewing the existing contract, meeting with the agency, determining what it would cost to negotiate another contract because there are not only salaries but also other benefits in there that might need to be addressed, getting approval of a budget to negotiate with. So, when you first come in you can’t just go to the table, you have a lot of homework, a lot of analysis to do beforehand,” she said.

Then, the pandemic hit, shifting the in-person negotiations to virtual forums, which added extra time, she said. Despite these obstacles, the negotiation process for this particular agreement began in 2023. During the pandemic, the need for more nurses became evident, and the government had to contract expensive temporary staff to meet demand. Springette emphasized the financial prudence of employing permanent, full-time staff. “Contracting can be very expensive; however, if you have someone full-time on staff, that is permanent, that is less expensive,” she noted.

Achieving salary parity with national standards was a crucial goal of the negotiations. “Overall, in all the nursing contracts, we had to increase the base by at least 25-30 percent to attract and retain nurses,” Springette said. The new wage agreement reflects this effort, with significant salary increases across various positions. For example, the assistant head nurse salary at the Health Department has been raised to $86,000 and $88,000 at the hospital, with expanded starting salary ranges based on experience. In the expired contract, a head nurse position could start at $80,000 but would remain in place over the length of the contract, Springette explained.

Springette highlighted the broader impact of these salary adjustments, particularly in retaining and recruiting talent. “During the pandemic, stateside entities were offering huge signing bonuses to meet their care demands. Competitive salaries are essential for retaining and attracting more nurses, especially as the cost of living has risen significantly over the last few years,” she said.

This agreement is a significant achievement, but it is just one part of a larger effort, Springette added. Approximately 70 percent of government employees — or about 4,000 — are unionized and with 10-12 negotiations currently in different phase, the task is immense but critical, she said.

“The signing of this tentative wage agreement is not just about numbers; it’s about ensuring a stable and effective healthcare system for the Virgin Islands,” Springette said.

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