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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dana-Farber nurses easily approve new, generous contract

By Scott Allen, Globe Staff

Nurses at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute yesterday approved a contract that will make them the highest paid nurses in New England, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association, with senior nurses making more than $140,000 a year by 2009.

The three-year contract, settled after only five bargaining sessions, will give the cancer center's 225 nurses cumulative pay increases of from 9 to 23 percent, depending on their specialty and experience, the union said. A fulltime registered nurse with 15 years experience would make $67.78 an hour, which translates to $141,000 annually.

Nurses at most other teaching hospitals in Boston make at least several dollars an hour less, according to the nurses association.

"The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is an awesome place to work and they really value their nurses," said Kathleen McDermott, the Dana-Farber nurse who chaired the bargaining committee for the nurses' association. "They have a lot of very experienced nurses and they ... want to keep us."

Officials at Dana-Farber also praised the new contract. "We value our nurses, their skill and the high quality of care they provide our patients and their families," said Patricia Reid Ponte, senior vice president for patient care services and chief of nursing at the hospital.

The harmony at Dana-Farber is a striking contrast to last fall's negotiations at neighboring Brigham and Women's Hospital. At the Brigham, nurses threatened a strike last November and narrowly averted a work stoppage after a 14-hour bargaining session produced a contract that will give senior top scale nurses more than $126,000 a year.

But reaching a labor agreement may be easier at Dana-Farber which has only 225 nurses compared to 2,700 at the Brigham and all of them practice cancer medicine, giving the Dana-Farber nurses both a narrower focus and a closer relationship with hospital management. In the past, McDermott said contracts have been wrapped up in as few as three bargaining sessions.

In addition, Dana-Farber officials have particular reason to keep labor peace this year after announcing an ambitious $1 billion fundraising program to pay for expansion, research and improved cancer care. As nursing association spokesman David Schildmeier said, "The last thing they would need is .. nurses who are out there on the street talking about their dissatisfaction," he said.

There is no central ranking of hospital nurse salaries -- and who is on top often depends on which Boston hospital negotiated the most recent contract -- but Schildmeier said there is little doubt that the Dana-Farber nurses are the top paid in the region and among the best paid in the United States.

He said nurses at the Brigham and Boston Medical Center -- all of them working under contracts signed in the past year -- are probably ranked second and third in the region with top pay scales just above $60 per hour.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 03:11 PM
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