UCMC drops incentive pay in new contract for nurses


Staff writer

Incentive pay, in which workers are paid wages to work additional shifts, was the last logjam in union-administration contract negotiations at the University of Chicago Medical Center. The union sought to keep the practice for new hires while the administration called it outdated but offered to keep it for existing employees.

The agreement, which averted a second nurses’ strike over Thanksgiving, does away with incentive pay, though nurses will receive pay raises of 11% to 22% over the next 4 years. Talisa Hardin, a burn unit intensive care nurse and a member of the bargaining team, said no nurses are taking a pay loss because of the elimination of incentive pay.

She said a majority of union members voted in the ratification election, with 80% to 90% voting to approve.

The National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) released details of the agreement after their members ratified it on Nov. 26. Twenty-four patient care support nurses — whose roles were key in the staffing debates that seethed through seven months of bargaining — are being retained.

Charge nurses, who oversee patient movements and nurse-to-patient scaled mixes, will not be assigned new patients in 20 hospital units. Clinical nurses will be eligible to participate in monthly professional practice committee meetings, which the union says allow nurses to report safety concerns to management.

“The incentive pay is now rolled into the base pay. It’s no longer a separate incentive that they have in the last 12 hours of the shift,” explained Hardin. “We blended it in, and it became part of the regular pay, so that it’s now no longer just paid on the last shift that you work, but it becomes part of every hour that you work.”

If nurses worked 3 12-hour shifts, then they made a different rate on the last day they worked. Now they will receive a higher, constant rate across the shifts, which the union says will retain and recruit nurses.

“It was never an extra. It was just how we were paid,” Hardin said. “When it came about, nurses were only part-time, because they had families and they stayed home. They incentivized nurses becoming full-time by offering a different rate on the last day that you worked, to incentivize you to come in that last day and be a full-time nurse. Then it became built into our pay scale.”

Speaking to reporters during the last days of contract negotiations, UCMC President Sharon O’Keefe said incentive pay originated decades ago to combat staffing shortages but said it is no longer “a market-competitive salary offering.”

After an exhausting bargaining session that saw the first nurses’ strike in UCMC history, Hardin said NNOC/NNU members “look forward to being able to function more effectively” and expressed hopes for improved relationships with the administration — especially when contract negotiations begin anew in 2022.

Hardin said the union hopes that nurses-to-patient ratios will be implemented by law in Illinois. In California, the only state with such a law, the ratio of nurses in intensive care units cannot exceed 1-to-2. In trauma care, the ratio is 1-to-1.

Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) says he will work with General Assembly colleagues to pass similar legislation when the legislature reconvenes early next year.