The Oregon Nurses Association is calling on the prosecutor in Oregon’s largest county to investigate whether Providence Health & Services committed criminal wage theft by intentionally shortchanging nurses and other health care workers through a faulty payroll system.
Thomas Doyle, the union’s general counsel, made the request on November 28 in a letter to Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt. The letter alleges that since July Providence workers have filed tens of thousands of requests with Oregon’s largest health care provider to correct short or inaccurate paychecks.
Providence responded with a statement saying that the nurses association was overstating the problem and it was working diligently to pay workers owed money.
The prosecutor’s office rarely conducts its own investigations, instead relying on other agencies — such as the state Bureau of Labor and Industries — to conduct investigations before referring them for possible charges. A spokesperson for Schmidt told The Lund Report, “We look forward to reviewing any investigative materials which are referred to us by BOLI in this matter.”
The union said in a statement that workers have been “systematically and repeatedly shortchanged” since the health care provider adopted the Genesis payroll system over the summer. Doyle wrote in his letter that Providence may have intentionally shortchanged workers by more than $10,000 a month, putting the provider above the threshold for a Class B felony violation of the state’s wage theft law.
The nurses association also said that the amount of owed wages and penalties is unknown but could be in the millions. Doyle wrote in his letter to Schmidt that Providence has rebuffed the union’s proposed solutions to problems with Genesis. Those include operating the old payroll platform alongside Genesis to spot errors and conducting a third-party audit.
“As a result, we have no choice but to believe that rather than being mere negligence, Providence’s business practice and income is predicated on obtaining the service of nurses and other staff knowing that those staff will not be paid the agreed-on wages for those services,” Doyle wrote.
Providence said in the statement that it adopted Genesis to replace outdated payroll technology and that less than 2% of Providence caregivers in Oregon are experiencing incorrect pay. It also called the union’s suggestions that it intentionally underpaid workers “completely and utterly false.”
The union, which represents more than 4,000 frontline nurses working in 10 Providence hospitals and facilities in Oregon, said in its statement that the faulty payroll system resulted in workers taking on debt, having their bank accounts overdrawn or being unable to keep up with monthly expenses.
“It’s hard to not be negative about this,” Joel Fogarty, a critical care nurse at Providence Portland Medical Center who has worked at the provider for 11 years, told The Lund Report. “If they can’t figure out how to just pay me, why would I stay?”
Immediately after the rollout of the payroll system, Fogarty said his paychecks had “glaring errors” and didn’t include money for differentials, additional pay nurses receive for having advanced training or taking on additional work responsibilities. He said he was out $2,000 and it took roughly two months for Providence to fix the problem.
While he said that Providence has corrected his short paychecks, Fogarty said he had to take on credit card debt to cover expenses for his household which includes three children. Fogarty said his wife stays home to help care for their special needs child and he is his family’s only income earner.
“Providence apologizes to its caregivers and their families who have been affected by recent paycheck issues,” management of the health system said in a statement. “We take these issues incredibly seriously and we are working daily to identify and resolve reported issues. To ensure our caregivers are kept whole during this unfortunate disruption, we are running off-cycle paycheck batches daily as needed, with the correct retroactive pay.”
In August, Jamie Aguilar, a home health and hospice nurse, filed a class-action lawsuit against Providence in August alleging that the provider should have better tested the new payroll system before implementing it.
In a statement, Elisabeth Shepard, spokeswoman for Schmidt, did not address the specific allegation. But she told The Lund Report the office has partnered with the state Bureau of Labor Industries to address wage theft in the past.
“The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office reviews investigations referred to our office by other agencies and files charges where a crime has occurred,” she said.