Indian Health Service workers win $80M settlement

Three employee unions have reached an $80 million settlement in a Fair Labor Standards Act grievance filed against the Health and Human Services Department's Indian Health Service.

Three employee unions have reached an $80 million settlement in a Fair Labor Standards Act grievance filed against the Health and Human Services  Department's Indian Health Service.

The settlement in the action—which was lodged against IHS by the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the National Federation of Federal Employees and the American Federation of Government Employees—resolves claims by IHS employees for overtime compensation for work they performed in or for federally operated IHS hospitals, clinics or facilities, and for which they were not adequately paid.

The settlement covers more than 10,000 current and former employees who were erroneously designated as exempt from the FLSA, and therefore were not properly compensated from 2006 to the present. The action was filed in 2008, LIUNA said.

“This is a great victory for Indian Health Service employees," LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan in a May 27 statement. "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.”

LIUNA said the settlement requires IHS to gather and provide the union a "significant amount of data necessary to determine all those covered and certain amounts owed." The union said the data likely will be provided before the end of the year, and that a claims process will begin shortly after the union processes the data. Current and past employees will be provided with information about now to apply for a claim, LIUNA said.

"We believe that settling these claims now is right, the appropriate step, and the most fiscally responsible action," IHS said in a May 22 letter to tribal leaders. "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."

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