Med Center staff adjust to changes in pay

by Kelly Wittman

Ruth Bettendorf was a certified surgical technician for University Hospital up until a month ago. Although she kept her title in the change-over to the new Fairview-University Medical Center, she lost between $3,000 and $4,000 a year.
Kristen Taddei was a pharmacy student who worked for the University’s pharmacy. She is now 50 cents richer per hour but still sees problems with the new way wages are being determined at the hospital.
The new health care center is just starting to feel growing pains. Nevertheless, the hospital, a month into a transition process that could take up to 18 months, is already caught up in the many changes of the health care industry, said Fairview spokesperson Jean Tracy.
However, some of the changes Fairview has already made have caused uneasiness among former University employees.
“This has not been fun for employees,” said Bettendorf, a former activist for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
When University employees moved to Fairview after the University finalized the merger, their pay became dependent on a market-rate wage. A market-rate wage is one comparable to what other hospitals are paying employees for a similar position.
Employees of the former University Hospital whose wages were over 115 percent of market rate, had their base pay reduced, said Jeanette Louden, human resources project leader for the Fairview-University merger. About 10 percent of employees received pay cuts.
Bettendorf said her wages were not cut as much as others. She said she has talked with employees who are experiencing a pay cut of as much as three dollars per hour and are worrying that they will be unable to keep up with their bills.
But there is also good news, Louden said. Employees that had wages lower than 80 percent of market rate got a raise. However, only about 4 percent of employees — many who are University students — received a raise.
Even though she was one of the lucky few whose pay changed in her favor, Taddei said she thought Fairview should have taken seniority into account when doling out raises. She said students who worked in the pharmacy received a raise to a flat rate of nine dollars regardless of what they were paid before. Taddei said she felt this was wrong because someone who is hired tomorrow will be making the same as her, and she has worked for the University pharmacy for three years.
Employees whose pay was decreased are eligible for a lump sum payment from a transition fund allocated by the state Legislature and the University. The funds are scheduled to be dispersed next Wednesday. Louden said over 2,300 employees have taken advantage of the transition funds, and she expects that number to increase significantly.
Bettendorf said that because the transition money is a one-time payment, it will not assuage the long-term effects of the pay cuts and benefit decreases.
Before the merger took effect, many employees were concerned about layoffs. Louden said the hospital has laid off very few employees, and Tracy said she thinks the number of layoffs won’t be much more than 10. However, with about 450 positions open, Louden and Tracy said their big concern is understaffing.
“Both the U Hospital and Riverside have been very conservative with their hiring practices previous to the merger, allowing natural attrition to shrink the staff,” Tracy said. “We’ve now found we’re understaffed. We didn’t know how patient flow would go.”
The frustration caused by pay cuts and understaffing has caused an increased interest in AFSCME, Bettendorf said. The union did not transfer over to Fairview because Fairview refused to recognize it, but employees are showing an increased interest in unionization and might even call for a collective bargaining election.