As more and more nurses are being driven from their profession due to low wages, understaffing and overwork, a group of them filed class-action lawsuits last week against hospitals in Chicago, Memphis, San Antonio and Albany, N.Y., asserting that the hospitals had violated federal antitrust laws by conspiring to hold down the wages of registered nurses. Daniel A. Small, lead attorney for the nurses, called it “a systematic, long-standing practice to circumvent” those anti-trust laws.

The lawsuits maintain that hospitals in each city conspired to depress nurses’ wages by an unlawful exchange of information about how much they were paying their nurses. Small said hospitals had their human resource employees call other hospitals, held discussions at industry meetings, conducted written surveys and shared information documenting what they were paying their nurses. Ongoing investigations may result in additional cases being filed in other cities.

“The hospitals in [these cities] have decided to increase their profits on the backs of their nurses,” said Small. “Nurse pay should be set by the market, not by a secret agreement among hospitals,” he added. Nurse pay was suppressed by tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars in these markets, Small stated.

Kathy Singer, RN, said “more and more nurses are being driven from the bedside,” and research shows this is due to low wages. More nurses leaving the profession leaves fewer behind to take on the case load. Those left often work 16-hour shifts. This situation creates additional stress on nurses who are the front line in providing patient care, Singer continued. Five thousand trained RNs now work outside their profession, Singer stated. “We don’t have an RN shortage, we have a shortage of working nurses.”