Nurses accuse Ascension of wage theft

Nurses at Ascension Saint Joseph-Joliet (Ill.), who are members of the Illinois Nurses Association, have filed a lawsuit on behalf of themselves and more than 90 of their co-workers who they say were not paid wages they earned for the extra shifts worked by them during the last two-week pay period of November 2023, according to court documents shared with Becker's.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 20 in the Circuit Court of Will County, alleges that the hospital's parent organization, St. Louis-based Ascension, agreed to pay nurses Kaitlynd French, Beth Corsetti and more than 90 of their co-workers for extra shifts and then refused to pay them the incentive pay at the rate promised to them in writing.

Union members went on strike Nov. 21 and Nov. 22, marking the second of three strikes that have occurred at the Joliet facility over the last year. The nurses were temporarily replaced starting the first day of the strike and returned to work after the hospital's four-day commitment for the replacement workers ended. 

During the pay period that included these four days, nurses were encouraged to work incentive shifts and were informed when they returned to work the following week that they would not be paid at the rate they had been promised, the union contends.

The nurses' lawsuit claims that Ascension violated the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act  and seeks to recover unpaid wages and penalties from their employer.

"The employer agreed, both as a matter of standing policy and individually with each nurse for each shift, to pay incentive pay for shifts that nurses worked above and beyond their normal schedule," Will Bloom, an attorney representing the nurses, said in a news release shared with Becker's. "Only after the nurses had worked the agreed shifts did the employer announce that they would not pay them as agreed. That's textbook wage theft."

According to the court documents, Ascension claims it doesn't need to honor the incentive pay rate because the nurses did not work their full regular schedule due to the strike. 

Ascension shared the following statement with Becker's: "Illinois Nurses Association continues to attempt to move the focus away from the work Ascension Saint Joseph-Joliet has done to implement our last, best and final offer, pay our nurses a competitive wage, hire more nurses to support our care teams and recognize our nurses for the quality care they provide our patients. 

"INA represented nurses were paid pursuant to the terms of the union's negotiated collective bargaining agreement. This lawsuit has no merit, and we will be seeking its dismissal. 

"We continue to work through issues with INA at the bargaining table. We are ready to move forward together to provide the Joliet community with the quality healthcare they deserve. We hope INA will get serious about working toward a resolution."

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