Health Law & Business News

New York Union Alleges Human Trafficking of Filipino Nurses (1)

Oct. 16, 2019, 1:15 PMUpdated: Oct. 16, 2019, 7:53 PM

Albany Medical Center is facing allegations by the New York State Nurses Association that it violated federal human trafficking laws in its contracts with Filipino nurses.

AMC required the nurses to sign a nonnegotiable employment contract that threatens them with serious financial harm if they leave their jobs before the three-year term is up, a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York Oct. 15 said. That contract violates the forced labor provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, it said.

The contract requires the nurses, who make only about $50,000 per year, to pay up to $20,000 if they resign early, the union said. Many nurses have stayed on the job simply because they couldn’t afford to pay the fee, it said.

AMC also has threatened to report nurses who breach the contract to federal immigration authorities, the union said.

AMC’s threats made the nurses’ work at AMC involuntary and “is just the type of worker exploitation that the forced labor provisions of the TVPA are designed to prevent,” the union said.

The union represents nearly 600 Filipino nurses recruited by AMC since 2002.

“The lawsuit is a grotesque perversion of the original intent” of the TVPA, AMC’s chief executive officer designate Dennis McKenna said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law. Additionally, it is “a blatant mischaracterization” of an AMC program that has benefited hundreds of nurses, he said.

“NYSNA is filing this groundless lawsuit solely as a contract negotiation stunt and is merely using these nurses to try to gain an advantage,” McKenna said. He added that the medical center and the union have been negotiating for more than a year, and the union hasn’t made any proposals about employment contracts for nurses recruited from foreign countries, though it could have done so.

Cause of Action: Violations of the TVPA.

Relief: Declare contract’s financial penalty provision invalid and enjoin AMC from enforcing it; costs and attorneys’ fees.

Attorneys: Cohen, Weiss & Simon LLP represents the union.

The case is N.Y. State Nurses Ass’n v. Albany Med. Ctr., N.D.N.Y., No. 19-cv-1265, filed 10/15/19.

(Updated to include comment from AMC.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Anne Pazanowski in Washington at mpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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