Nurse union asks district attorney to prosecute Providence for wage theft

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Oregon Nurses Association members say Providence Medical Group has been incorrectly paying them – and they want justice.

By COLIN STAUB

Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) is calling on Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt to criminally prosecute Providence Medical Group for wage theft. Schmidt earlier this year announced his office will criminally prosecute cases of wage theft, but only if the state’s labor bureau presents sufficient evidence.

Mike Schmidt, Multnomah County District Attorney

ONA wrote to Schmidt Nov. 28 reminding him of the agreement his office signed in March with the Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI) to enhance enforcement of egregious wage theft involving theft of more than $10,000. BOLI hasn’t yet referred any cases to Schmidt’s office under this agreement, so his office has yet to prosecute any wage theft cases. But ONA thinks Providence would be a good candidate for the first case.

“We are writing … to request that your office investigate and act upon what we believe is pervasive wage theft perpetrated by Providence against ONA-represented registered nurses and thousands of additional Providence workers in Multnomah County,” wrote ONA General Counsel Thomas Doyle.

Providence nurses began noticing paycheck errors in early July, shortly after Providence switched to a new payroll software program. The errors—which spurred a class action lawsuit against Providence in August—include mistakes in workers’ pay rate, their hours worked, deductions/withholdings, overtime, premium pay, paid time off accrual and bonuses earned. In some cases, paychecks have been late or missing altogether, according to the lawsuit.

Providence management has acknowledged the errors and said they would be fixed. But Doyle told Schmidt that Providence refuses to return to the previous payroll system, which didn’t have the same errors, and also refuses to take remedial steps like performing a third-party audit to identify and fix all improper paycheck reductions. ONA says the employer has yet to fix some of the paycheck errors. Doyle said workers are being shorted more than $10,000 a month, and thus Providence could potentially face a Class B felony.

But the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office says it can’t get involved unless BOLI collects and presents evidence of wage theft. District attorneys don’t investigate cases; they prosecute based on evidence brought by investigators, typically police officers. For criminal prosecution of wage theft, BOLI investigators serve that police officer role. So far, BOLI hasn’t brought evidence of Providence wage theft to Schmidt’s office, according to Multnomah County District Attorney spokeswoman Elisabeth Shepard.

“We look forward to reviewing any investigative materials which are referred to us by BOLI in this matter,” Shepard told the Labor Press.

BOLI’s interim wage and hour administrator, Laura van Enckevort, confirmed the agency has received wage claims and complaints against Providence related to the new payroll system.

“As we are currently investigating these cases, we have not reached a determination on the appropriate enforcement action,” van Enckevort said in a written statement. “However, referral of the investigation to Multnomah County DA’s office is one of many enforcement tools we would consider.”

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