Nurse Says She Is Stuck between California Labor Law and Her Union

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Rockland, CA Jeanine, a registered nurse and a member of the California Nurses Association, says her employer has violated the California labor law and her union isn’t backing her up. Instead, she took her issue to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office. Next up, a labor law attorney and possible California labor lawsuit against her union…

“Part of my contract with the Nurses Association is to pay me $75 per month for continuing a critical care certification,” Jeanine explains. She has been certified as a critical care nurse for 30 years and prior to becoming unionized, the hospital where she works paid this fee. Now, however, that $75 per month is part of her union contract, and therein lays the problem…

It recently came to Jeanine’s attention that she hadn’t been paid this extra $75 per month for at least the past 18 months, so she complained to her immediate supervisor. Keeping in mind this is not a violation on bonuses, but part of her union contract, Jeanine believed her employer was contractually obligated by law and not paying her would be a violation of the California employee labor law.

Jeanine isn’t alone with this issue - several other nurses haven’t been paid their $75 per month either. Her supervisor told the nurses to give him a copy of their certificates and he would submit them to HR, but Jeanine gave it to her supervisor’s secretary.

“HR said they never got the documentation,” says Jeanine. “Their interpretation of the contract was that they were morally obligated but not contractually obligated by law because our contract states that the certificate needs to be submitted to HR. However, they acknowledged that I had given it to my boss’s secretary. Of course nobody remembers.”

She brought up this issue with her union, to no avail. “The union met and decided they were not going to take this to arbitration. I don’t know why our union isn’t on our side. Furthermore, I asked to be a part of the arbitration selection process because the mediator - who works as the hospital administrator-- was obviously biased. He more or less blamed this issue on me and said that I should be looking at every paycheck.”

Like so many employees these days, Jeanine gets her pay stub electronically - she has to look online for details. And it gets automatically deposited. Sometimes her paycheck varies, depending upon nurses overtime, so it is easy to see how she could overlook a shortage of $75 per month for the past 18 months.

Because the Nurses Union wouldn’t help, Jeanine went to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office. She is familiar with the California labor employment law, having practiced law for six years (she became an attorney in 2001) before going back to nursing - her passion.

“I met with the hospital’s attorney and the labor relations representative - the Labor Commissioner set this up for me after I requested a hearing,” says Jeanine. “At the hearing they said that unfortunately, they would not take my case because it was a matter of interpreting a labor relations contract and that would make it a federal issue. So my only option would be to get an attorney and go to federal court. The amount of money in question is only $2,300 so that won’t happen.

"National Labor Relations is federal law and when that gets breached, you don’t have normal recourse within your state - it becomes a federal issue. You can’t even take it to small claims court so you are totally dependent on your union to represent you in these matters. And I don’t have an attorney that will take my case for a few thousand dollars, unless there are other nurses in my position that want to come forward.

"So I am stuck because my union won’t do anything for me and this has become a federal issue. ‘You are a victim of all the procedures,’ the Commissioner told me; she didn’t give me a lot of hope. The California Labor Commissioner isn’t hopeful that they can do anything if an issue is in any way federal.

"Bottom line, I think our union should be held accountable - they are obligated to represent their members. But the contract says they may consider arbitration - may’ is just another weasel word to get out of arbitrating on behalf of its members.

"The Labor Commissioner said I would be wise to change the contract but it is just another path of frustration for me. I like nursing and taking care of my patients so I don’t want to spend time and money fighting my union. Lesson to be learned: I think people should be very careful when they bring in a union and they should make sure that the union is representing them. We have a runaway union that has their own agenda.

"Now I think that I have a good faith case against my union, especially since I have been a critical care member for over 30 years. I thought about all the union dues I have paid all these years, but perhaps I just have to let this one go.

"And another lesson to be learned: read your contract in detail and check your pay stubs.”

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