PROVIDENCE — The union that represents thousands of nurses employed with Rhode Island Hospital — owned by Rhode Island’s largest health care system, Lifespan Corporation — have delivered a petition to hospital executives, calling on them increase the salaries of frontline nurses.
The petition, which garnered 2,008 signatures from United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) members, points to a section of the union’s contract with Lifespan, which allows the system to increase salary scales based on market conditions.
“It is understood that employee salary levels are minimums and may be increased by the Hospital to reflect marketplace conditions after notice and upon requested discussion with the union,” reads Article 30.7 of the collective bargaining agreement.
In the petition, the union said that Lifespan has used Article 30.7 “several times over the years” to increase wages of certain job classifications when the market conditions required it. The union said in the petition that a health care worker shortage is considered a marketplace condition that requires an increase.
“All Lifespan has to do is notify and discuss with the UNAP the wage increases – and then simply make the increases,” read the petition, which was obtained by the Globe. “Needless to say, the hospital is not going to use the above quoted, already bargained over language to increase UNAP members wages despite problems in hiring and retaining workers, and despite marketplace conditions requiring an increase in wages at [Rhode Island Hospital].”
In a recent interview with the Globe, Lifespan’s president and chief executive Dr. Timothy J. Babineau, said there were “at least one thousand” job vacancies throughout the five hospitals owned by Lifespan.
According to Frank Sims, a nurse at Rhode Island Hospital and president of the hospital’s UNAP Local 5098, nurses at other Lifespan hospitals have already received wage increases.
“While the nurses at Miriam Hospital and Newport Hospital are being recognized for their front line service with appropriate compensation increases during this crisis, Lifespan has refused to do the same for Rhode Island Hospital nurses,” said Sims. “This comes at a time when nursing shortages throughout the country have left nurse-to-patient staffing ratios at dangerous levels.”
Rhode Island Hospital is the state’s only Level 1 trauma hospital, and Sims said the nurses and other health care professionals there provide a “critical component” of patient care in Rhode Island.
“Yet during this unprecedented health crisis, Lifespan seems to have forgotten about us,” said Sims.
In a statement, Lifespan spokeswoman Kathleen Hart said the system provides nurses and technical professionals with “highly competitive wage and benefits packages.”
“The hospital is committed to demonstrating the high value we place on all of our employees and recognize that these are extremely difficult times for all workers, but especially those who work in health care,” said Hart, who added that the system has developed “generous incentive plans” for nurses and other clinical support positions in the form of enhanced overtime pay and cash bonuses for working extra hours.
“We are engaged in active, ongoing discussions with our union leaders about a wage and benefit enhancement package and look forward to bringing these future negotiations to a successful conclusion,” said Hart. She said the system “remains committed” to investing in a sustainable plan over the long term that “recognizes the value” of their employees.
According to Sims, nurses’ workloads have increased during the pandemic, pushing the state’s health care system “to its very brink.” Earlier this week, the state health department issued a statement reminding Rhode Islanders to only go to a hospital emergency room if they are having a real medical emergency.
Joseph Wendelken, the health department’s spokesman, said emergency rooms are “experiencing significant crowding and prolonged waiting times” due to staffing shortages, particularly among nurses.
“This is not the time Lifespan should be prioritizing one set of nurses and health professionals over another. It is time to treat all nurses and health professionals with the dignity and respect they deserve,” said Sims.