Travel nurses are suing staffing agencies for cutting their premium pay—by half, in some cases—following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nurses who relocated for temporary assignments to cities with a high cost of living are finding it difficult to make ends meet with the pay cuts, Austin Moore, an attorney representing nurses in a class action lawsuit, told NBC News on December 28.
“To go take a travel assignment is a really big deal, and to get there to have the rug pulled out from under you, for someone to collapse your pay, I just think it’s unconscionable,” said Moore. “They’re on the hook for a lease, and they’re scrambling trying to find another job, and it’s a really terrible set of circumstances.”
Bait and Switch?
Four travel nurse agencies are facing lawsuits over the lower salaries, according to the NBC report.
Travel nurses were in high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, as recently as January 2022, with some earning as much as $5,000 a week in addition to monthly living stipends. By spring 2022, when the companies renewed the assignments, pay dropped to initial rates of about $44 an hour.
Some nurses claim their pay was cut shortly after they accepted assignments and signed “at-will” employment contracts at higher rates. But travel nurse company Aya Healthcare told NBC News allegations by nurses of “bait and switch” tactics “are demonstrably false.”
Supply and Demand
Staffing hospitals with temporary workers is a reality in the current market, health economist Devon Herrick wrote in the Goodman Institute Health Blog, on December 28.
“Hospitals are loath to raise nurses’ pay and often would rather hire temporary nursing staffing at much high rates than raise the standard pay to retain nurses already on staff,” wrote Herrick. “Hospitals’ unwillingness to compensate nurses for the heightened risk (of treating infected COVID-19 patients) caused many nurses to jump ship and join traveling nurse agencies.”
Nurses now complaining the staffing companies lured them into relocating with deceptively higher pay are mistaken, wrote Herrick, who has worked in hospital accounting departments.
“No people, it’s called supply and demand,” wrote Herrick. “In retrospect, many of the nurses made the decision to relocate their families assuming the gravy train would never end.”
Aya Healthcare says travel nursing is a “lifestyle choice,” one generally not compatible with workers who want to plant roots in one location. The company says travel nurses represent 2.34 percent of the total employment market of 3,047,540 registered nurses.