02/15/2018

Nurses win $2.9 million in back pay for forced unpaid work

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Home care nurses at Yakima (Wash.) Regional Medical and Cardiac Center who were forced to work substantial hours off the clock have been awarded $2.9 million in back pay.

Judge Blaine Gibson ruled on Feb. 14 that Yakima Regional acted "knowingly, willfully and with the intent to deprive" the nurses of pay for their hours worked and their missed meal breaks. The court also ruled that the nurses, who are represented by the AFT-affiliated Washington State Nurses Association, should be awarded twice the amount of back pay that they were denied because Yakima Regional's state wage law violations were intentional.

Nurses celebrate the back pay victory

Nurses who work in Yakima Regional's home health and hospice programs care for patients in their homes. The home health nurses assist patients who need help to live independently, in many cases after major surgery. Hospice nurses care for patients diagnosed as terminally ill.

When a patient might be nearing the end of his or her life, or could have a setback that required additional time and attention, the nurses said it was nearly impossible to fit their work into a rigid schedule and patient-visit load. They were given no flexibility and were denied paid hours necessary to spend more time with a patient and family, even though they would never walk away from a patient in need.

Evidence revealed at trial showed that between April 21, 2012, and Aug. 31, 2017, Yakima Regional managers routinely paid nurses for eight hours of work a day, knowing that the nurses were regularly working additional hours to care for patients, complete required documentation and coordinate care with doctors and pharmacists. Nurses said they were told by management that they wouldn't be paid for additional work, like charting and coordinating care, or for care given to patients beyond their scheduled eight-hour shift. Nurses who fought to be paid for all hours worked were reprimanded.

"As nurses, we will not be deterred in giving our patients the care they need and deserve," says Dan Campeau, RN, one of the nurses involved in the lawsuit. "Employers must be held accountable, and nurses deserve to be paid for hours worked."

"This is a tremendous victory, not only for the nurses who were forced to work off the clock to give their patients the care they need, but for nurses across the state," says Julia Barcott, RN, and chair of WSNA's Cabinet on Economic and General Welfare. "It is really powerful to see what nurses standing together in unity can do for nurses and quality patient care—whether we're in the courtroom, at the bargaining table or in the Legislature."

[Washington State Nurses Association press release]