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Ventura County

Group of County Nurses Demands Bonus

Labor: Those who work in acute care already get the pay differential. Others call for equity.


Most of the 300 nurses who work for Ventura County government receive a bonus that boosts their pay by $1.88 an hour. Now, the remaining nurses want it, too.

Appearing before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the nurses said that if the pay differential is good enough for some, it is good enough for all.

"This bonus was given to the other nurses several years ago, yet not to us," said Tim Yett, who works at an outpatient mental health clinic. "We are in the largest nursing shortage in history, and you do not want to drive more nurses away."

A pay differential is just one of several contentious issues that have arisen as nurses bargain for a new county contract, said Norrita May, a spokeswoman for the California Nurses Assn. The union represents 300 nurses in the county's hospital, public health facilities and outpatient clinics.

May said the nurses will return to the board's hearing room next week to make their case for higher pay. On average, the county's mental health nurses are paid 17% less than nurses in surrounding counties, May said.

"We've been at the table since April and we have a ways to go," she said.

In 1998, the county began offering a "special assignment" bonus to nurses who work at Ventura County Medical Center, its public hospital. Higher pay was the only way to fill vacant slots, said Barbara Journet, human resources director.

"We were having a major nursing shortage and that was a way to get nurses to come into the hospital," Journet said.

Nurses in the psychiatric ward and at public health and ambulatory care clinics got the extra pay later, she said. However, the county does not want to extend the bonus to nurses in outpatient mental health clinics because those jobs are easier to fill, Journet said.

If pay were equal, hospital nurses would likely ask to be transferred out because acute care is exhausting, she said, adding that about a dozen nurses are seeking the differential.

County government's pay currently ranges from $56,700 a year for an experienced registered nurse to $61,600 a year for those who work in surgical units.

Nationally, the average salary of a registered nurse in 2000 was $46,400, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In California, the average was $56,140.

Shortages of skilled nurses have peaked and ebbed over the years. Right now, the supply is at a historic low, Journet said.

County negotiators will keep that in mind as they bargain with the union, she said. But they must also take into account the county's generally bleak financial outlook.

Supervisors earlier this year approved $17 million in cuts to programs and jobs, mainly from vacant positions.

More cuts may be coming as officials tally how much the county has lost as a result of reduced funding in the state's recently passed $99-billion fiscal plan.

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