Daily Egyptian

Nurses at Student Health Center unionize in hopes for fair wages

By Kitt Fresa, Features Editor

Seventeen nurses at the Student Health Center are forming a union with the hopes of receiving fair wages, as some nurses believe they are the lowest paid in the state.

“It’s not ok,” said Jamie Beckman, a nurse of ten years at the Student Health Center. “We’re pretty sure we’re the lowest paid nurses in the state of Illinois. We haven’t had a raise in five years.”

Rick Lezu, a Staff Representative from the Illinois Nurses Association has been organizing unions for the last 30 years and is organizing the union for the nurses at the Student Health Center.

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“One of the issues that I found interesting from my perspective is that the maintenance crew – a guy that mows the yard – gets paid more than the nurse,” Lezu said. “If I was the administration of this university I’d be ashamed to discuss nursing pay – it’s embarrassing.”

Nurses are not recognized for their skills, such as a plumber or an electrician.

“It has to do with the gender profession,” Beckman said. “It’s sad that we have to say that.”

There are ten registered nurses and seven licensed practical nurses total in the Student Health Center, all have said they are on board with the formation of the union.

Beckman said the nurses have a skill set just like the plumbers or the electricians on campus who are paid $80,000 or more a year but nurses who have the ability to save your life get paid under $40,000 and Licensed Practical Nurses get paid under $30,000.

The average pay for a plumber at SIU is $81,818 and the current staff’s salaries range from 81,060 to $85,112, according to salary information obtained by the Daily Egyptian.

The average pay for an electrician at SIU is $78,278 and the current staff’s salaries range from $77,888 to $82,567, according to salary information obtained by the Daily Egyptian.

The average pay for nurses at the SIU Student Health Center is $37,233 and the current staff’s salaries range from $27,348 to $45,960*, according to salary information obtained by the Daily Egyptian.

There is one outlier, a Nurse II in an administrative position at the health center, who makes $61,416, according to salary information obtained by the Daily Egyptian.

Three nurses in addition to Beckman told the Daily Egyptian about their experiences working at the Student Health Center. Due to the concern of repercussions, the three nurses chose to stay anonymous.

“We have an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) that works in our building that has 30 years of nursing experience and she makes $12 an hour. There is a sign out in front of Burger King that they start hiring people at $9 an hour so think about that,” a nurse at the Student Health Center who wished to remain anonymous said. “She makes three whole dollars more than the people that take your order at Burger King, and she has 30 years of experience, and she can’t get a raise.”

The nurses at the School of Medicine start at a wage $10,000 more a year for the same job description.

Student Health Center nurses said that is because they unionized.

“That was just shocking,” Beckman said.

The contract which sets the School of Medicine’s nurses’ wages was signed by SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno, Student Health Center nurses said.

The nurses found their counterparts at the School of Medicine and their salaries start off at $10,000 more than the nurses at SIU, Beckman said.

“That was just shocking that you can work at the same university, do the same job, just because your in a different building,” she said.

The Student Health Center operates like any other doctor’s office and has an extensive array of medical treatment abilities.

Imaging, on-site labs, psychiatric services, counseling, immunizations, and sports medicine are a handful of services that the nurses said they offer.

The nurses typically work eight hours a day, five days a week and average about 500 patients each week, according to the nurses. 

“We take care of students who are very very sick, we’ve had patients that have come to school that have been diagnosed with cancer, who have chronic illnesses, diabetes,” said a nurse at the Student Health Center who wished to remain anonymous.

She said they treat basic healthcare needs like take care of colds and flus and stitching up cuts and gashes.

“We still have to have the same skill set as anyone that works in the hospital,” Beckman said. “It is world class health care.”

The School of Medicine examines people from the public but does not have as extensive a clinic as the Student Health Center.

The nurses from the Student Health Center said they could make more money at other health centers like the hospital or a care facility, but choose to stay because they love the students and their jobs.

The nurses say SIU is taking advantage of that.

“I think there’s just something about the mentality of being a nurse that you’re constantly a giver, you’re giving and giving and giving and so you almost feel guilty when you ask for something in return,” said a nurse at the Student Health Center who wished to remain anonymous.

Lezu said the administration is negotiating with the nurses but are relying on fallbacks like basing the nurses pay on enrollment and saying that future projections are not looking good.

“Go find some money, find something to keep your students healthy, give your nurses a somewhat decent living and we’ll build on that as we go,” Lezu said. “We just want the nurses to be treated with some respect – give them some money, give them some respect.”

Beckman said the nurses aren’t trying to say they understand the financial climate in the state of Illinois, but they deserve to make fair wages as professionals.

“This is us demanding a raise,” said a nurse at the Student Health Center who wished to remain anonymous. “If they can afford the chancellor, they can afford to pay the nurses.”

She said when students can’t get your medication because your insurance won’t pay for it, it’s the nurses who contact the insurance agencies. The nurses sit on the phone with your insurance to get students approved for your medication.

She said the nurses bridge the gap for new students between their now distant moms and their new grown-up lives. She said often it’s the first time students have been to the doctor without their mom or dad and they have no idea.

“We explain the way everything works and then explain their insurance to them and explain where the pharmacy is, when to call for refills, how to call for refills,” a nurse at the Student Health Center who wished to remain anonymous said. “We do more with less every day.”

The nurses said they invite students to come to the Student Health Center to stop by and say hello.

“Let us know that you support us, that would be awesome. Better yet, send an email, make a phone call –tell the chancellor that you support us,” a nurse at the Student Health Center who wished to remain anonymous said.

Features editor Kitt Fresa can be reached at [email protected] 

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “Nurses at Student Health Center unionize in hopes for fair wages”

  1. Pam jones on April 19th, 2018 5:20 pm

    My son has utilized the SIU Health Center several times. Always excellent care! A couple nurses have even spoken with me over the phone to explain something. They do a great job for SIU students!

  2. Don Cornel, parent of SIU Student - and spouse of RN on April 20th, 2018 6:16 am

    This story is spot on. Nurses are underpaid across the board. When their rate of pay is compared to other professions, taking into account their responsibilities, the shifts most have to work, and in most cases the physical demands – grossly underpaid. Good luck with the union.

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