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UI hospital workers gain class-action status in unfair pay lawsuit
Case now could cover 8,000-plus University of Iowa Health Care workers
A federal judge has certified as class-action a lawsuit filed two years ago by a group of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics employees — including nurses and custodians — accusing their employer of, among other things, failing to pay wages and overtime on time.
U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose certified two classes in her ruling this week on the lawsuit originally filed against Iowa’s Board of Regents — which governs the University of Iowa and UIHC — in August 2019.
She previously certified a third class of employees asserting UIHC had failed to pay their overtime by their next regular payday.
This week, Rose certified class status for:
- Union members, like nurses, who have worked for UIHC since Aug. 19, 2017, and “blue collar workers,” like custodians, who’ve worked there since Oct. 7, 2017, who have not received wages until more than 12 days after the end of their pay period.
- Union and blue-collar workers who’ve worked for UIHC since Oct. 7, 2017, and have since been terminated and have not received accrued vacation pay — or up to $2,000 unused accumulated sick leave for retired employees 55 or older — by what would have been their next regular payday.
Attorneys representing current and former UIHC employees suing the board expect the approved class statuses will cover more than 8,000 workers.
Employees covered under the class definitions must opt out to be excluded from the lawsuit, and attorneys are planning to send a notice giving employees that option.
UIHC officials said they can’t comment on pending litigation, but confirmed the organization did make payroll changes in the past year.
UI Health Care transitioned staff nurse and select professional classifications to a “non-exempt” status — moving them to four-week work schedules instead of six-week work schedules, helping align their schedules and payroll dates.
UIHC also shifted to a biweekly payment period for employees eligible to receive overtime and other pay adjustments, helping to better align UIHC’s pay practices with other health care providers nationally.
In the original lawsuit, workers accuse UIHC of maintaining a policy and practice of not paying adjustments in the pay period when they’re earned or within 12 days, as required by Iowa law.
“Instead, these health care workers are routinely not paid their wage ‘adjustments' until one or two months after the period in which they were earned,” according to the lawsuit.
The August 2019 lawsuit came after The Gazette weeks earlier reported UIHC worker concerns with how they’re paid for working extra shifts.
At the time, although UIHC nurses and other providers earned a salary on a monthly basis, they operated as hourly employees capable of earning pay adjustments by working extra hours, overnight, weekends or longer shifts.
After the state stripped collective bargaining rights in 2017, unionized UIHC workers lost much of their negotiated contract and power. And the hospital changed when and how it paid employee adjustments.
The lawsuit and pay dispute came before COVID-19, which compounded UIHC’s need for overtime and staff willing to work extra shifts.
Last summer, facing dire pandemic-propelled losses, UIHC enacted administrative pay cuts and furloughs or returned vacation hours for unionized staffers.
If, however, UIHC beats its budget this fiscal year and achieves a target margin of 3 percent, each staffer will get a bonus equal to 1 percent of his or her annual base pay.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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