Indian Health Service to pay $80 million in labor union dispute

The Indian Health Service will pay the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) $80 million to settle claims it allegedly forced employers to work overtime without pay.

LIUNA filed its complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agency in 2008 on behalf of 10,000 Indian Health Service (IHS) employees at IHS hospitals, clinics or facilities.

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LIUNA claimed the IHS denied employees the right to choose overtime pay in lieu of compensatory time off, failed to properly compensate employees for travel time and failed to provide compensation for “off the clock” work, also known as suffer or permit overtime.

“This is a great victory for Indian Health Service employees,” LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan said in a news release. “It took many years of hard work for the union to recover millions of dollars and achieve a fair solution for the mostly Native American workforce who has labored long and tirelessly to provide health services to native people.” 

In a letter to tribal leaders last week, IHS Acting Director Robert G. McSwain said it is important that employees are properly compensated for the work that they have performed in delivering health services or in support of direct health care

“We believe that settling these claims now is right, the appropriate step, and the most fiscally responsible action,” the letter said. “This settlement allows us to avoid future litigation costs and the possibility of future awards totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. It will allow us to continue to focus our attentions going forward on the important task of serving Indian Country health needs.”

This story was updated at 6:18 p.m.