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Nurses Weigh In on the 40-Hour Workweek Debate

At issue is legislation passed earlier in January by the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow employers to cut workers’ hours to just below 40 per week to avoid providing them with health insurance. AFT early on engaged members in reaching out to their Congressional representatives to oppose the proposed change because of the disruption it would create for working families across the country. 
Click here for a letter AFT circulated to the House of Representatives.
Prior to last week’s hearing, Jagde and Stauffer, who both work in the intensive care unit at Danbury Hospital, had a chance to meet with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the committee (all three are pictured above). They shared their concern about losing healthcare benefits should the 40-hour bill pass in the Senate.
A change to a 40-hour workweek would be a hardship on both nurses, who now work 12-hour shifts three days a week for a total of 36 hours and are considered full-time employees. Under their current contract, they are entitled to full-time benefits because they are scheduled for more than 32 hours per week. If the industry standard were to shift to 40 hours, their employer, the Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN), could reallocate staffing hours and possibly not offer benefits to employees who have traditionally been considered full-time.
Both women say their families depend on their employer-provided medical plan for care. If the measure passes and the nurses decide not to pick up a shift to cover the hours, they would see their healthcare costs more than double. 
“I pay $5,000 to cover my family of four, said Jagde. “I would have to pay $10,000 or more if I am not considered full time.”
And the nurses say it’s not as simple as picking up another shift, as one Republican member of the HELP Committee suggested during the hearing. 
“What about our families?” Jagde asked. “I can’t work overtime at my own hospital, so it would mean more time away from home to travel to another hospital.”
Jagde and Stauffer wouldn’t be the only ones affected. Nearly 80 percent of the nurses and health professionals at Danbury Hospital work 12-hour shifts, as is the case with many others nationwide. 
“You would have to restructure the whole healthcare industry if this takes place,” said Stauffer.
During the hearing, Sen. Murphy noted that “the bill actually creates the problem it pretends to solve. If passed into law, this plan would make it harder for workers to gain health coverage through their jobs, increase the deficit by $50 billion and cause half-a-million Americans to go uninsured.” 
Murphy also took a moment to acknowledge our members’ advocacy, saying that “if this bill passed, more than a million Americans with demanding schedules like Janice and Irene would be in jeopardy of losing access to the healthcare they count on and have earned.”
Click here for press coverage of the House vote on the 40-hour bill with Sen. Murphy’s comments.
“Being able to come to Washington and meet with our senator and be at the hearing was an adrenaline rush,” said Stauffer. “I feel like we really can make a difference.”

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