A local nurse staffing agency settled disputes over wages with more than 100 nurses.
Employees of Mandan-based Dakota Travel Nurse have started receiving their cash payments after settling a federal lawsuit against the company, which court documents say staffs registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, certified medical assistants and nurse aides at 90 health care facilities in North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota.
The employees alleged that they did not receive proper overtime compensation under state law and were overcharged for company-supplied lodging.
“As a local company, I think there needs to be exposure of (Dakota Travel Nurse’s) unfair business practices,” said Boe Kuch, of Mandan, who worked for owner Jamie Fleck as a registered nurse for a year and a half.
Fleck referred the Tribune to her lawyer for a statement, but none was provided. The details of the settlement were sealed, so information on the exact number of plaintiffs and how much they received in compensation is not publicly available.
Kuch said he joined the lawsuit about a year ago after receiving a letter from the law firm filing the suit on behalf of former employees, Jamie Diaz and others.
Diaz, a resident of Ohio, told the court she was offered work as a CNA for $20 per hour and only $25 per hour for overtime. After traveling to North Dakota, Diaz then found out she would be receiving less because Dakota Travel Nurse would deduct $77 per day for mandatory lodging. Even when she moved out of the provided housing, she was still charged.
Employed by Dakota Travel Nurse, Diaz told the court she only received just above minimum wage for the first 40 hours she worked weekly and often worked up to 80 hours per week during her employment from October 2014 through July 2015 without receiving the full time and a half payment required under state law.
In his experience, Kuch said he received about $12 per hour as a registered nurse. He was paid for that time up to 40 hours. After that, he said he received a set number of dollars rather than an hourly wage for the overtime he worked on a weekly basis.
“It's definitely not a fair way of compensating employees for working extra hours," he said. "You don't just put a fixed dollar amount on overtime pay."
Meanwhile, the nursing home facilities and critical access hospitals using Dakota Travel Nurse were paying a set amount for its services based on the time that the nurses were putting in. Those charges for the extra hours were not being passed on to the nurses, Kuch said.
Kuch said he often questioned his direct supervisor on the practice.
"The answers were always very, very, very vague," he said.
Kuch said the flexibility a staffing agency provides is why he joined. He said the unfair wage practices are a large part of why he left the company for another Minnesota-based firm. He said he has worked as a registered nurse, both for staffing agencies and directly for health care facilities for about a decade.
Dakota Travel Nurse changed its overtime practices in April, prior to the settlement, according to Kuch, who said the company recruited a large portion of its workforce from out of state but he believes there are also a fair number of nurses, like himself, locally who were affected.