Donna Gholson was thrilled when she received an email from AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet that she finally would be paid in full with her March 11 check.
Gholson, a Wilmington resident who is a 32-year employee of St. Joe’s and works on the neuro stepdown unit at the hospital, said she was not paid for Dec. 12, when she worked 12.25 hours. Gholson said she also had her check illegally garnished Jan. 28 for the amount of $794.22.
These issues with her paycheck started after the timekeeping system used by AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center experienced a ransomware attack Dec. 11. The system from Ultimate Kronos Group that was affected was back up and running at St. Joe’s on Jan. 11.
Now, Gholson’s March 11 paycheck included the 12.25 hours from Dec. 12, but it didn’t include her shift differential, charge pay and weekend pay, she said. Gholson said St. Joe’s also garnished her check another $109.86. In addition, her paid time off accrual on her paycheck is lower than the amount in the Kronos system, she said.
“So I reached out to HR again – and most of them are very nice – and said, ‘It would be much easier if I spoke to someone from payroll,’ ” Gholson said. “The girls said to me, ‘They are not taking any calls.”
Addressing the discrepancies
Gholson said she explained her paycheck discrepancies to human resources, who suggested contacting payroll. So Gholson did so by email. She said she received an email from the payroll department with pictures attached showing Gholson was paid.
But Gholson said she also had worked another weekend in that pay period – March 5 – and that also included charge pay and 12.25 hours of pay, which she explained to payroll in an email.
“And then I got back another email that said, ‘You got paid. See your check,’ ” Gholson said.
Gholson said she called human resources a total of three times. During the final call, Gholson said she was told to have her manager rebut the amount if Gholson felt it was incorrect.
Furthermore, Gholson said St. Joe’s now owes her money from garnishing her check. Gholson said if she’d been paid on time, the discrepancies in pay between her and St. Joe’s would have balanced themselves or been “pretty close” – about $50 on either side.
But now, “it’s so confusing,” Gholson said.
“They gave me money, then they took back what they owed me, and then they gave me money back and took more and still owe me some more,” Gholson said.
Through all of it, Gholson and the other nurses continued to work, Gholson said. Gholson said she recently filed a complaint with the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office. She also filed a complaint with the Department of Labor in February.
John Fitzgerald, a staff specialist for the Illinois Nurses Association, said in a March 9 Herald-News story that Gholson’s check was garnished illegally because Gholson did not agree to the garnishing. He also said the manner in which the check was garnished was against the collective bargaining agreements with the union.
Gholson is not the only nurse affected, said Fitzgerald, who added in a text message that he can confirm “widespread illegal wage deducations.”
‘Keep an eye on your check’
Jeanine Johnson of Manteno said she has tried to help the nurses. Johnson, a staff nurse in the non-COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Joe’s, said she’s worked for the hospital for 10 years, is the staffing and acuity chair for the St. Joseph Nurses Association and is a board member with the Illinois Nurses Association.
Johnson said St. Joe’s used the last check before the attack as the basis for paying the nurses. After the attack, the nurses kept paper records until Kronos was back up, Johnson said. Most nurses who were underpaid were “caught up” on a regular paycheck. In Johnson’s case, she said she received an extra check on Jan. 21.
“Other nurses have not been so lucky,” Johnson said.
Some nurses received their overtime pay, some did not, and some were overpaid, Johnson said.
“Several co-workers were overpaid by a lot,” Johnson said. “And now the hospital, of course, is saying they want their money back. They kept our money for so long. But now they want their money.”
Johnson said some nurses still were being garnished as of the March 25 check, which is “an illegal act” because the union and St. Joe’s have not agreed on a process of repayment.
“We recognize the fact that, yes, some nurses were overpaid and they do need to give that money back,” Johnson said. “But all we ask is that the nurses who have overpayments be able to sit down with a live person if they dispute these charges so that they can go over it.”
Johnson said the union would like to see 10% of the overpayment deducted per shift. St. Joe’s wants to deduct 10% of the paycheck, Johnson said.
The union said, “Absolutely not,” Johnson said.
“Let’s face it. In these days, nurses are living paycheck to paycheck,” Johnson said. “Taking 10% of that paycheck is an enormous amount of money.”
Johnson said that the union did tell the nurses to “keep an eye on your check.” And when the overpayment was thousands of dollars, the overpayment was obvious, Johnson said.
However, when paychecks aren’t the same each week because of shift differentials, charge pay and overtime pay, and the fact St. Joe’s was estimating the correct amount from a previous check, deciphering overpayments wasn’t always easy after the attack, Johnson said.
“Everything was so messed up,” Johnson said. “And for a nurse who owes maybe $1,000, that isn’t quite as noticeable … and with the hospital not agreeing to a process to get this overpayment repaid to the hospital is just prolonging things.”
Johnson said the union has filed a grievance, which goes through several steps before it goes to arbitration, and that “can take a long time,” she said. The last step would be filing a lawsuit in court, Johnson said.
She said some nurses probably will let the underpayments go. Others are becoming more infuriated.
“So what do people do when they’re infuriated with their employer?” Johnson said. “They leave.”
AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center did not respond to messages from The Herald-News.