Dozens of nurses who work at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton filed claims against the institution for what they’re calling “widespread violations of California labor laws.”
The claims follow a lawsuit filed last year by nine nurses with similar complaints.
Reporter Chris McGuinness is covering this issue for New Times and joined KCBX's Randol White to explain where the conflict now stands.
NOTE: This transcript is from an interview that was edited for time purposes.
Randol White: So what exactly are the claims of labor law violations that the nurses have?
Chris McGuinness: Well, there's actually a lot of different claims but a lot of them center around issues that they believe come from the understaffing of nurses at the hospital. Basically California labor law requires a specific nurse-to-patient ratio and nurses under California labor law are required to get specific breaks for meals or rest breaks during the shifts they work which are usually 12 hour shifts. And so the allegations coming out of these claims involve the nurses saying that they were either discouraged from taking these breaks or told not to report when they were taking these breaks. And on the occasions that they did take these breaks some of the nurses are saying that because of the understaffing that these nurse to patient ratios were also violated and all of this of course concern them greatly because of the implications for the patients.
White: How are the claims by these 53 nurses different from the lawsuit of about a year and a half ago.
McGuinness: They're actually not that different. These are just additional nurses coming forward. Many of their claims from what I've been told are similar they have to do with these mandatory rest breaks, the patient to staff ratios, and they also have to do with them in some cases not being paid. They get offered some kind of extra pay or premium pay when they skip some of these breaks. And according to them that pay was either withheld or they weren't being paid for them.
White: What is it that they're seeking? Do they just want the conditions to be changed or are they seeking some sort of monetary reimbursement? What is their end goal?
McGuiness: Well I think, you know, from the nurses that I talked to that were involved in this essentially their end goal is to bring these problems to light. Based on what I've seen and from the people I talked to they have been raising these concerns sense about 2010. On the other side of that they are entitled to some compensation specifically for you know any claims they make that they lost wages. In 2013, the hospital was actually find about $32,000 for one nurse who claimed that she missed out on wages she was supposed to be paid for skipping these mandatory breaks. And so she was entitled to get that money back. She said that she missed more than 441 rest breaks due to the understaffing. And so in that case the California Labor Commissioner did rule that she was entitled to that compensation.
White: Twin Cities community hospital is run by Tenant health one of the largest health companies in the country. What are they saying about these claims and the lawsuit?
McGuinness: Well, Tenet Health did not respond to my requests for a comment but the local administration over at Twin Cities did respond. And they simply said that they are going to defend the hospital against the pending action and that the staffing there is based on the patient need in accordance with state laws.
White: What is next? There is there is a hearing scheduled for the end of the month.
McGuinness: Yeah that's correct. The 2015 lawsuit is still an ongoing lawsuit and these most recent claims are basically going into a sort of closed arbitration process. And it seems like I don't know if that will end up as in public court or not.