Montana hospital accused of underpaying nurses

Union leaders are seeking to remedy what they describe as a wage crisis for nurses at Community Medical Center in Missoula, Mont.

In a letter sent Jan. 4 to hospital CEO Bob Gomes, which was shared with Becker's, the Montana Nurses Association alleges that CMC has not paid its 257 nurses accurately during the last three pay periods.

Citing a survey of its members, the union estimates that some nurses have been undercompensated by as much as $3,000 to $4,500 during the holidays, with an average underpayment of about $1,000 per nurse, and growing. 

"The last time CMC properly paid nurses for wages earned was Dec. 3, 2021," the union's letter states. "Apparently, the failure to provide accurate payment to nurses began when CMC's timekeeping software vendor was hacked in a ransomware attack. Though CMC cannot access that electronic data, it has required all nurses to keep track of their time manually using paper time cards. The nurses have done so diligently, but CMC still has not made payroll correctly."

Montana Nurses Association CEO Vicky Byrd, MSN, RN, told the Missoulian that hourly employees are the workers affected by the situation, and CMC has been paying those workers the same amount they received Dec. 3, without accounting for overtime, holiday, differential or hazard pay accrued.

The union's letter contends that this is "not only a breach of employees' trust, [but it] is also illegal," and calls on the hospital to "begin to address this situation as the crisis it is."

In a statement shared with Becker's, the hospital attributes the issue to a ransomware issue on its cloud-based timekeeping platform, Kronos Enterprise System. 

Megan Condra, a spokesperson for CMC, said the hospital learned that the platform went down nationwide because of a ransomware issue on the national Kronos system and has been in constant communication with the Kronos team "to better understand the situation and when the program may be restored."

Meanwhile, "we're working as diligently as possible to address the challenges we're experiencing because of this situation," Ms. Condra said. This includes implementing manual data entry to ensure all workers are paid for their regular hours worked. 

"It is important to know that every employee is being paid every pay cycle as we work through this situation. In some instances, employees are being overpaid and in other instances they're being underpaid — largely resulting from delayed pay premiums and differentials," Ms. Condra said. "Additionally, we know some employees have worked additional hours beyond their regular schedule, and we're working with employees individually to manually address all these issues as quickly as possible. Ensuring our employees are paid accurately and timely remains our top priority."

In the interim, she said CMC has dedicated additional resources to address the situation.

"Our team is working around the clock to do everything we can to address these unfortunate challenges beyond our control, and we're committed to continuing our manual data entry and adjustment process until this Kronos ransomware issue has successfully been resolved," Ms. Condra said.

According to the union's letter, the ransomware issue may not be resolved until Jan. 28.

The Montana Nurses Association alleges that CMC is not doing enough to expedite the process and gave the hospital until Jan. 7 to provide a concrete plan for remedying the payroll issues or it may pursue legal action. 

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