Wisconsin Senate Backs Ban on Forced Overtime for Nurses

  1. Found at Nurseweek.com

    Copyright 2002 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
    Copyright 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel...02/27/2002

    By Richard P. Jones

    MADISON, Wis.--A bill to ban mandatory overtime for nurses and other health care workers won Senate approval Tuesday, but a key Assembly leader said it was a contract issue best left to labor and management, not lawmakers.

    On a 19-14 vote, the Senate passed a bill introduced by Sen. Judy Robson (D-Beloit), a registered nurse. An identical bill, introduced by Rep. DuWayne Johnsrud (R-Eastman), was awaiting action in the finance committee.

    During Senate debate, Robson said nurses forced to work back-to-back shifts were bound to make mistakes endangering patients. But Sen. Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) said Robson's bill would exacerbate staffing problems created by a shortage of nurses and leave critical care gaps equally life-threatening.

    The bill passed Tuesday now heads to the Assembly, which will likely send the measure to the Joint Finance Committee, where its future is uncertain.

    Rep. John Gard (R-Peshtigo), co-chairman of the committee, said dealing with the state's $ 1.1 billion deficit was more important than voting on the ban on mandatory overtime.

    "I'm not enthusiastic about it," Gard said of the bill. "It seems to me that that is an issue that is appropriate for bargaining. I'm trying to deal with a $ 1 billion budget shortfall right now."

    Before the Senate vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala (D-Madison) urged a strong, bipartisan vote to give the ban momentum in the Assembly. But only one Republican, Sen. Peggy Rosenzweig of Wauwatosa, joined majority Democrats in favor.

    Robson's bill would prohibit a hospital, nursing home, clinic or other health care facility from requiring a nurse or other employee caring for patients or residents to work overtime.

    Health care employers could not force employees directly involved in the care of individuals and paid an hourly wage to work beyond their regular shift and exceed 40 hours a week.

    Health care workers could still work overtime if they wanted to, and the ban would not apply if a hospital, for example, faced an unforeseeable emergency and had no alternative.

    The bill would protect workers who refuse overtime from discharge, demotion or other actions. An employer who retaliates could be fined up to $ 1,000 for the first offense and up to $ 5,000 for a second violation in a year.

    Instead of the ban, Sen. Carol Roessler (R-Oshkosh) said lawmakers should work to improve nursing programs at state technical colleges and ease the labor shortage. But Robson said graduates were quitting nursing jobs after a year because of mandatory overtime. Besides, Robson said, nursing programs faced cuts under Gov. Scott McCallum's budget adjustment bill.

    If the ban were enacted, Ellis predicted, it would leave some nursing homes without the staff they need to operate under state and federal rules. .....

    To see more of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.jsonline.com.
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