October 21, 2022 — A series of pay increases and title restructuring for nurse positions in state agencies announced this week by Gov. Hochul and the Department of Civil Service are a step in the right direction when it comes to recruiting and retaining the talented nurses of PEF.

And it’s a long time coming.

Pay Study Cover“PEF advocated for years on behalf of pay equity and title restructuring for nurses in our union,” said President Wayne Spence. “We are pleased that Governor Hochul and the Department of Civil Service have taken steps to increase salary grades and reward these dedicated public servants. At a time when we’ve all seen the importance of public health services, New York must continue to do everything it can to attract and retain nurses.”

In response to the Pay Equity Study in New York State and Local Government, available here, the state upgraded select nursing titles, with the upgrades representing an average pay increase of 4.5 percent per title. Registered nurse titles will now be hired at the midpoint of the salary range and receive updated shift pay to include an increase of 7 percent of base pay for the evening shift (4 p.m. to 12 a.m.) and an increase of 10 percent of base pay for the night shift (12 to 8 a.m.), according to the press release from the governor’s office.

Recruitment and retention difficulties, an aging workforce, and inadequate pay have decimated nursing ranks. The average age of a nurse is 52 and in 2020 nearly 70,000 nurses retired. The unprecedented challenges of the COVID pandemic led to 5 percent of the nursing workforce stepping away from the job.

Change has been a long time coming, says Nurse Coordinator Nora Higgins, who worked more than 30 years as a registered nurse at SUNY Stony Brook before joining PEF staff.

“Since I’ve been involved as an activist with PEF, we have heard about this dream called reallocation,” she said. “Now that it’s a reality, it’s a jubilant time for our nurses to see our goals come to fruition.”

PEF first submitted reallocation requests to Civil Service from 1979 to 1982 and the union has been involved in the process every step of the way. In 2019, PEF advocated for the legislature to conduct a pay equity study. That work has now paid off. This year saw substantial geo pay raises and now the restructuring and resulting pay increases.

Nurses on the job across PEF’s ranks expressed thanks to the union for its advocacy.

New PEF member Kelly Burris, who joined state service as an RN at OPWDD’s Finger Lakes DDSO in October, has already received an $8,000 geographic pay raise and is grateful for the union’s long-time advocacy and this recent win.

“I have been a nurse for almost 40 years,” she said. “I’m very appreciative of everything that PEF has done, I’m so thankful. PEF really looks out for the nurses. I finally feel like I’m going to be paid what I deserve because I work hard every day. This is the best raise I’ve ever gotten in my years as a nurse.”

Longtime OPWDD nurse Shannon Wagner has been watching the process since the beginning.

“It’s taken over 30 years,” she said. “I didn’t expect to see it happen before I retired. It’s been a long haul and I am so grateful to PEF and President Spence for their persistence and hard work to finally get this reclassification and pay parity for New York state nurses.”

PEF’s Civil Service Enforcement and Research Department analyzed the findings of the study and concluded that it uncovered substantial evidence that certain titles are undervalued.  As a result, it seems reasonable to assume that the undervaluation has existed for several years. The department’s analysis of the report found that PEF has more than 9,000 members whose wage rate is undervalued.

The PEF Article 44 Committee took a deep dive into registered nurse salaries at state facilities and agencies situated near private facilities and found large discrepancies between the two, with some downstate nurses making 30 percent less than their counterparts at neighboring private-sector facilities. (Read the story in the June 2021 Communicator here.)

But the fight for pay equity across the state workforce is by no means over.

“These changes are a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done,” Spence said. “A win for some of us can turn into a win for many. When PEF negotiated a 2.5 times temporary overtime rate extensions for nursing titles at the SUNY hospitals, we were able to use that as a jumping off point to expand that win to hundreds of other titles across multiple agencies. We will continue to vigorously advocate for the fair pay of all our members across all agencies. All PEF members deserve to be paid fairly, treated appropriately, and protected on the job.”

If you have questions about how these changes may impact you, PEF Field Services has put together this FAQ for impacted titles. Contact your field representative for any questions not covered by the document.