In April, the Hawaii State Nurses (HGEA Unit 9) rejected a Governor Neil Abercrombie proposed continuation of a 5 percent pay cut on 2009 wages for the next 2 years. Arbitration begins on Sept. 30.

HGEA is the largest labor union in the state with more than 42,000 total members. Unit 9 is made up of 1,561 Nurses, who work at State-run facilities that provide acute medical care, psychiatric care, and rural health care services throughout Hawaii.

Since the ”No” vote, Nurses have reached out to the State to determine their willingness to address issues facing nurses. Issues included pay inequity, recruitment, and working condition caused by short staffing. The State has not been responsive.


HGEA’s executive director, Randy Perreira, said their wages are not competitive and are “woefully behind the private sector.”

State Nurses are paid 30-37 percent less in wage and benefits than private nurses in the State. 

The starting salary for an HGEA Nurse is $57,828.

Sutter Health nonprofit in northern California, communications director Karen Garner told Medscape Medical News: 
”We’re committed to offering our nurses competitive wages and benefits,” she said, adding that the average full-time Sutter nurse under a CNA contract earns $136,000 a year.

In 2009, Step Movements, “pay for experience” was eliminated. “Pay for experience” helps to retain and recruit experienced Nurses by compensation for special skills and experience; which are desperately needed. The State of Hawaii is suffering from a shortage of experienced Nurses due to the above conditions and the Governor’s advisory board, The Hawai’i State Center for Nursing, projects progressively larger shortages in the future.

Benefits or Deficits

Hospital Administration and politicians often publically complain that State Nurses’ salaries are less because the benefits are much greater than the private sector Nurses; 55 -65 days off per year is grossly False.

Twenty-one days are sick leave. Unless you have a catastrophic illness you do not use them; in fact, if you try to use those days you will be put on “Sick Leave Abuse” and reprimanded. Every time you are sick you are then required to visit the Emergency Room, at State expense, no matter what the time of day. This is done to discourage the use of sick days which are given as a benefit ? What is true is that many Nurses work when ill because of staffing shortages.

Thirteen days are holidays; hospitals are a 24/7 operation and Nurses have to work holidays; Nurses work Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc. their compensation of OT does not compensate for time away from their families and in fact contributes to “Stress” and “Burn Out”.

That leaves 21 days vacation; again this depends on staffing levels and what the hospital can allow due to shortages. Nurses use days off whenever staffing requirements are met and this is often dictated by the State, not the often slanderous misinformation of 55-65 days given to the press. So, the State tells you when and how long you can take a vacation; but, no matter, because you cannot afford a vacation anyway.

And what about the wages ? If you work 15 days you will be paid regular wages 20 days later; any over time will be paid 40 days later. The State withholds your regular pay for 20 days and any overtime pay for 40 days. That’s only if they don’t lose the paper work and make you resubmit it again; then you are waiting for another pay cycle.

Is this the Worker’s Paradise of State employment? Ask any Hawaii Nurse how they feel when elected officials on the TV news, radio, or newspaper slander them and their dedication to public service describing them as “self serving” and “not doing their share to help”.

Working conditions

The exodus of new Nurses together with increasing workloads, and 60 hour work weeks are causing critically high stressful working conditions.

The Hawaii State Center for Nursing has produced the following studies:

  • Number & frequency of patient falls with resulting injuries due to short staffing, increased patient care requirements disproportionate to the number of nurses.
  • Frequency of mandatory overtime, or frequency of voluntary overtime.
  • Number and frequency of musculoskeletal injuries incurred by nurses, taking them out of the workforce.
  • The exodus of nurses leaving the profession due to working conditions.

Nurse “Burn out”, and “Patient Safety”. This places the patients, the Nurses, and the State hospital at risk for life threatening medical errors. Inadequate and poorly monitored nurse staffing practices jeopardizes quality healthcare services, resulting in dangerous and costly medical errors, sub‐optimal patient outcomes, and higher rates of nursing staff turnover. The State hospital is a 24/7 operation with many Nurses working 12 hour shifts, sometimes 4 in a row.

Nurses are 10 times more likely to be injured on the job than police or firemen. They care for the sick, injured, dying, mentally ill, substance abusers and their families 24/7. Some Hawaii State Nurses and their families are eligible for public assistance; school food programs, health care coverage, etc. They have moved back in with their parents and cannot afford to help their own children with school due to their own school loans for Nursing.

The Hawaii State Nurse, which is highly trained, dedicated, and educated, is forced to find a second or third job just to pay their monthly bills.

Disappearing money

The State is currently spending three times more money on salaries for mainland companies to employ “Travel Nurses” rather than on fair wages for local Nurses. The State also spends your money to educate and train Nurses in Hawaii State colleges and hospitals, only to have them move out of State or take jobs at private facilities for better pay.

The State is spending millions of dollars on vacant buildings, renovations, and equipment despite the human cost.

What the politicians are saying

“There is already a significant wage disparity between nurses at public and private facilities.” —Jonathan Elkin, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Mazie K. Hirono

“Ensuring that our State’s nurses, in the public sector, are appropriately compensated for their skill and dedication.” —Sen. Daniel Inouye

“Nurses perform the majority of our health-care services. I think we are certainly going to have a severe nursing shortage in Hawaii.” —Barbara Mathews, executive director of the Hawaii State Center for Nursing. 

“Take it or leave it.” “First, we are strengthening our economy and creating good jobs for people so they can do more than just make ends meet.” “Attack our problems instead of attacking each other.” “Their (Nurses) view was the other workers really weren’t as good as they were.” 
”Maybe that’s why they didn’t go down to the Legislature and work for you (Nurses), because maybe the conedroppers and the clerks and so on thought that that’s what you think of them. And so they didn’t show up for you.”
 —Gov. Neil Abercrombie

About the author: Ken Moskow is a former U.S. Airman and currently works at Maui Memorial Medical Center as a psychiatric/behavioral nurse with the adult and adolescent unit.

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