It’s about respect and the willingness on the hospital administration’s part to provide their frontline staff with a good healthy working environment. We often work 12+ hours on a shift with a late lunch and rest breaks are few and frankly hard to come by. But rest and breaks are critical for us to be able to be at our best for our patients. This Supreme Court decision is a very important win as it gives us the opportunity to stand together for our rights.
— Kathleen Christianson, RN BS
Overtired. Overworked. And no time to take a rest during a long shift. Sound familiar? There ought to be a law against making people work without a break. In fact, there is. The problem is that employers who violate the law think they can just get away with it. The consequence - our patients get lower quality care, we get more and more tired and stressed, and our employers put more and more money into their pocket because we are working for free. Does that sound fair to you? Here’s a quick story about what Nurses at one hospital in Washington State are doing to stand up and say no more….
A few years back, a witness testified during a case that the local Tri-Cities, WA Hospital (called Lourdes) did not track or record missed breaks. The Union conducted an investigation and concluded that the Hospital was in violation of laws that require meals and breaks as well as record keeping. At the time, many nurses reported to the Union that they were required to stay at the hospital oftentimes watching monitors while on lunch or break. Further, when nurses were left on assignment without the ability to get away from duties to eat or relax, there was no system to report the missed break period. The nurses filed an individual and class action lawsuit claiming they regularly missed breaks without compensation due to Lourdes failure to ensure they could take breaks and record them.
The trial court ruled against the nurses, but the nurse didn’t give up. With further assistance by their union UFCW 21 and Washington Employment Lawyers Association the nurses renewed the effort for a class action case and called on the Washington Supreme Court to review the case. In April of 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court heard the case on whether nurses could file a class action lawsuit against Lourdes Medical Center and overturned the decision of the lower court and unanimously ruled in the favor of the Nurses to allow the nurses to pursue a class-action case in a Franklin County Court. It ruled that the trial court had “abused its discretion” by finding that individual issues outweighed the collective issue of missed breaks and meal periods.
This will now allow for the nurses to go forward with the strongest case possible, as a class action, instead of being forced as each individual to sue.
Excerpts from Opinion:
Chavez v. Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, No. 94592-6
“We find that the individual issues in this case do not override the central, predominant issue of whether Lourdes failed to ensure its nurses could take breaks and record missed breaks.”
“Concentrating these claims into one forum and certifying this class is likely the only way that the nurses’ rights will be vindicated because individual nurses may be reluctant to sue their employers.”
“Individual nurses likely do not have the bargaining power to achieve systemic victories—but here, merely filing this class action appears to have caused Lourdes to uniformly change its break tracking procedures and implement a new accounting system.”
“Each of the CR 23(b)(3) factors weighs in favor of finding that a class action is superior to alternative methods of adjudication such as joinder or small claims court. We remand to the trial court with instructions to certify the class.”
There will now be a period where nurses receive notice of the class, followed by an additional discovery period, and then a trial in Superior Court in Pasco.
Knowing Our Rights
It’s important that we know our rights. Our UFCW 21 union contract allows us to have a half hour unpaid meal break and two 15 minute paid breaks during an 8 hour shift. Nurses required to remain on shift during their meal period, shall be compensated at the appropriate rate of pay. Under the Washington State Law, we are entitled to an additional 10 minute break during a 12 hour shift. Read our contract online @ www.ufcw21.org.
To find out how to get more involved in building our Union at Lourdes, contact Union Representative Carol Cropper at 509-340-7372.