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thedrifter
03-17-07, 10:35 AM
Camp Pendleton nurses say they get paid less than counterparts in San Diego

By: PAUL SISSON - Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON ---- Some civilian nurses who work at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton said this week they're fed up with making as much as $17,000 less than their counterparts at Naval Medical Center San Diego.

Melissa Cappuccilli, a registered nurse at the hospital for 14 years, said Friday that she has filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel alleging wage discrimination because the pay scales for civilian nurses at Camp Pendleton vary so widely compared to their counterparts in San Diego.

"If I were to go down to San Diego, I would get a $17,000 pay raise for doing the same job, and if one of them came up here, they would take a $17,000 pay cut," Cappuccilli said. "That just doesn't seem fair."

Cappuccilli pointed to separate government Web sites as proof of her claim ---- one with the government pay scale used for Camp Pendleton nurses and a second used for nurses at the naval hospital in San Diego. Both salary schedules can be found on Web sites maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Camp Pendleton has 143 military nurses and 164 civilian registered and licensed vocational nurses. By comparison, the naval hospital in San Diego has 354 military nurses and 309 registered and licensed vocational nurses. Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside has 700 registered nurses.

Depending on job experience, the Camp Pendleton scale ranges from $56,529 to $73,489 while the San Diego scale starts at $75,162 and ends at $89,256.

Douglas Allen, spokesman for the Pendleton hospital, said in an e-mail Friday afternoon that nurses were not given pay increases commensurate with those in San Diego because nurses were not leaving for other hospitals.

"We had not had a problem with retention or recruiting nurses, which is what the pay is for," Allen said.

He added that Pendleton "constantly evaluates" the pay of its civilian employees, including nurses.

"We have recently done another evaluation and local market assessment of nurses' pay, and if it is found that their pay needs to be increased to stay competitive, then (Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton) will request to our higher headquarters the approval to increase their pay," Allen said.

Cappuccilli took exception Friday with nearly everything Allen said. She said she and other civilian nurses repeatedly asked the hospital's commanding officer to apply for a nurse pay increase, but got nowhere. And she alleged that previous salary surveys performed by administrators used the Web site salary.com to determine comparable wages for nurses in San Diego County instead of using surveys conducted regularly throughout San Diego County by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Title 5 of the U.S. Code says that they have to use the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys if they are available, and the one published in 2005 showed San Diego County nurses making an average of $76,216," Cappuccilli said.

She guessed that the average salary for registered nurses at Camp Pendleton was $65,000, based on the range of salaries on the pay scale.

Felicia Beck, a lactation nurse at the hospital, said Thursday that the naval hospital in San Diego just offered her a job that would pay her much more for doing the same work.

"I don't want to go," Beck said. "I love working with Marines. I love working with military nurses. But I see more patients than any lactation nurse in San Diego, and I get paid a lot less."

Cappuccilli said she knows 20 nurses at Camp Pendleton thought seriously about quitting their jobs in December 2005, when administrators denied a request for a new pay scale that was closer to the one for nurses at the naval hospital in San Diego.

But she said that, like Beck, most nurses like working at Pendleton so much that they are willing to stay and fight for change.

"We decided we would stay and fight this," she said. "We don't want to leave our Marines, because we know they will not be able to hire more nurses to fill our spots with what they are paying."

Contact staff writer Paul Sisson at (760) 901-4087 or psisson@nctimes.com.

Ellie