March 01, 2022

Winning back $148,000 in unpaid wages

In February 2021, AFSCME Local 1216 members at Loretto Hospital in Chicago reached a contract settlement that dramatically restructures the way the hospital works, winning wage increases and creating a 20-step salary progression to reward longevity.

At a meeting two months after the ratification, the local was educating members about how to successfully enforce the gains made in the new contract. An emergency room nurse shared her frustration about consistently finding that her paychecks did not correctly represent the overtime she worked. Whenever she pointed out an error, Human Resources would eventually pay her what she was shorted, but then it would happen all over again.

Then local president Dee Sutton began hearing from other nurses that their paychecks weren’t right, either.

“So many people were coming with the same complaints: their checks were short on overtime pay or short on differential pay,” Sutton said. “We knew it couldn’t be a coincidence and that we needed to look into this further.”

Sutton and AFSCME Council 31 Staff Representative Rick Surber requested a labor-management meeting where they proposed that the hospital audit the pay of all current and former employees for the past three years to see if there was a structural problem in the pay system.

The audit was concluded in October. The results were dramatic: More than 100 nurses had been underpaid to the tune of $148,000. Back pay returned to individual employees ranged from a few dollars to more than $10,000.

“That’s a lot of money to keep from hard-working people,” Sutton said. “They should have rectified it sooner. This is why being union is important. If we didn’t have a union, I don’t know if we would have discovered the extent of the problem or gotten that money back.”

Sutton, along with her fellow union officers Vice President Mafa Jean Louis and Secretary-Treasurer Sandra Weeks and bargaining team members worked together to make sure everyone got what was owed to them.

“We’re always trying to get equality and fairness for our members,” Sutton said. “That’s the point of the union. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in only yourself. But in a union you’re not alone in your fight; we’re fighting together. United we stand, and united we succeed.”  

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