Question: Hi, I am currently a first time traveling nurse. I am at a hospital where there are a few ex traveling nurses and a few current traveling nurses. Both of these groups say that I am being walked all over with my wages. Is it true that traveling nurses should be able to negotiate wages with their recruiter? I am told by other nurses that I am being “hosed,” is this true?
Answer: Well, at least the first part of this question is easy to answer. Can you negotiate with your travel company? Yes, certainly. Most travelers do this all the time. When looking for a new assignment, many travelers contact several companies and tell them they are looking. When one company offers them $25/hr for a certain location, they get on the phone and call another company with this info and that company will often match the offer or offer more. However, before you do this, you first need to understand how the game is played. You need to understand allocation.
When a travel company agrees to work with a certain facility, they often sign what is known as a blanket contract. This means that no matter what travel company approaches that hospital, they will receive the same deal that any other travel company would. What differs from company to company is how that contract money is allocated to their travelers.
There have been assignments where I have earned a few dollars less an hour than other travelers. However, when I asked where they were housed, it was in a location that was not as nice. Maybe I make more an hour than another traveler, but his company has better health benefits. So you can see, it is not simply who makes more per hour that determines whether or not you are being “hosed”.
Another thing you must consider is how well your company treats you as an employee. It’s like car insurance. Sure, you can find a policy for hundreds of dollars less, but when you are in an accident, will that company stand behind you or drop you at the first sign of trouble. I worked for a travel company that seemed to be typically lower than others as far as hourly rate. However, my housing always seemed to be nicer than the other travelers and during a few assignments when I needed my company to step up, they did.
So, you can always ask for more money, but there is the possibility that your company has allocated funds elsewhere and might not have much of a margin to work with in regard to hourly wages. For example, if your travel company carries a healthcare policy on its travelers that costs 1.2 million a year, they might need to take more from your allocated money than say a company that pays $750,000 a year for their traveler’s healthcare benefits.
Of course, you may never see the benefit of the 1.2 million policy if you seldom require healthcare. That is why many companies now days offer a sort of a la carte menu as far as what benefits you receive. If you have your own health insurance, or don’t need company housing, you can decline these things for a higher hourly rate. When any company quotes you an hourly rate, be sure to ask what is included in that rate. You might see a company that offers to pay you $8000 a month. However, if you have to provide your own insurance, housing, malpractice insurance, and state licensure, then is it really worth it?
Now I will say that there are a few companies out there that typically try to skim a little off the top. Arizona used to pay a $3000 bonus that was standard for most 13-week contracts during the winter (the busiest time of the year). I know that one traveler was pretty upset to learn that her $2500 bonus meant that her company was pocketing $500 of money that she should have received.
When you are on assignment, ask around if you like. After an assignment or two you should have a feel for whether or not your company is staying competitive with their wages. If not, then it’s time to find a new company. But, please don’t fall into the trap of always making sure you are the highest paid traveler on the floor. Sure traveler Nancy might make $2 more an hour than you, but when she has to go to the ER for eating bad take-out one night, she might be paying a huge ER bill whereas your travel company takes care of it with a $50 co-pay because your travel company allocated more of your earnings to top notch healthcare coverage.
Remember to compare apples to apples when deciding on a travel company and if you think the pastures might be greener elsewhere, don’t be afraid to try another company about which you have heard good things.