The Oregon Nurses Association, the state’s largest and most influential nursing association and labor union, has asked the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office to launch an independent investigation of Providence Health & Services for what it calls “ongoing wage theft” against nurses and other health care workers.
The union claims that, since July 2022, Providence systematically underpaid thousands of health care workers by using a faulty payroll system that it says resulted in unpaid hours, unpaid overtime, and other lost hours and benefits.
In some cases, nurses and health care workers did not receive a paycheck at all despite working 40-plus hour weeks, according to union officials. In other cases, the union claims Providence is failing to pay workers money owed to them for taking on advanced training and responsibilities at work.
“It feels like we don’t matter. No one at Providence is accountable,” said ONA member Danica Trujillo, a registered nurse at Providence Portland Medical Center. “I’ve spent hours auditing my time cards. On my days off, I’m on the phone with Providence’s [Human Resources].
“I feel like I can’t afford to spend any money because I don’t know if I’ll receive the money I’ve earned next week or not. I’m working a job but I’m not getting paid for it. I don’t know what my future holds.”
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office recently partnered with the statewide Bureau of Labor & Industries to investigate criminal charges for corporations who repeatedly or intentionally commit wage theft.
This summer, Providence switched to a new Genesis payroll system that, the union claims, “systematically underpays nurses and other frontline health care workers in Multnomah County and throughout the Providence system.”
ONA represents more than 4,000 frontline nurses working in 10 Providence Health System hospitals and facilities across the state, including Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center in Oregon City, Canby’s nearest hospital.
More than 200 ONA members across the state filed a class action lawsuit against Providence in August to recover lost wages and damages owed to all workers at Providence including nurses, allied health workers, technicians, housekeepers, food services staff, doctors and other workers.
While the exact amount of theft is too large to determine without a comprehensive audit, lost wages and penalties could be in the millions, according to union officials. Workers do not have to be named in the lawsuit to benefit from a settlement.
The ONA says that, since July, frontline workers throughout the Providence system have filed tens of thousands of HR payroll tickets about lost and inaccurate pay.
“What’s frustrating to me is that they don’t seem to care. It shouldn’t take three months to get a payroll screw-up fixed,” said ONA member Michelle McSherry, a veteran nurse who has worked at Providence Portland Medical Center for nearly 30 years. “I have never seen such disregard for staff as what is happening now.
“Not just with Genesis, but in many matters like staffing shortages. Wage theft is just an ongoing issue we seem to get to deal with. It certainly makes me want to look elsewhere for employment.”
ONA nurses at all 10 Providence bargaining units have also filed workplace grievances against Providence. In response to the allegations, Providence released a statement defending its actions as well as the new payroll system.
“Ensuring timely accurate pay is one of Providence’s most important responsibilities as an employer, and we are deeply sorry to those affected by recent paycheck discrepancies,” the statement read in part.
“While the vast majority of issues have been resolved and retroactive pay has been provided, Providence ministries recognize that some errors are continuing to occur, and remain acutely aware of the hardship this creates for caregivers and their families.”
Providence said that its Oregon hospitals are currently reviewing the concerns raised in the letter from the ONA to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.
“We can say this is categorically not ‘theft’ or intentional ‘systematic underpayment’ of caregivers, as ONA alleges,” the health care system said. “Rather, it is a case of complex pay structures across the Providence family of organizations, as well as the growing pains of implementing a new technology platform to support administrative functions and services.”
Ultimately, Providence says, Genesis will “make it easier for caregivers to get information and manage changes from any device at any time.”
“Until then, we remain absolutely committed to addressing issues to ensure caregivers receive correct and timely pay,” Providence said. “We remain deeply grateful to all our caregivers for all they do on behalf of our communities and the patients we serve.”
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