State lax on health care labor law, Pa. audit finds

     Pennsylvania State Auditor General Eugene DePasqualehas found that staff reductions and other shortcomings at the state Department of Labor and Industry left workers in the lurch when they filed complaints about having four hours added to their shifts.(AP file photo)

    Pennsylvania State Auditor General Eugene DePasqualehas found that staff reductions and other shortcomings at the state Department of Labor and Industry left workers in the lurch when they filed complaints about having four hours added to their shifts.(AP file photo)

    A report from Pennsylvania”s top fiscal watchdog shows “dysfunctional” enforcement of a 2008 law to prevent health care workers from being required to work overtime.

    State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s report said staff reductions and other shortcomings at the state Department of Labor and Industry left workers in the lurch when they filed complaints about being surprised with another four hours added to their shift. It also shows long-overdue regulations rendered the prohibition on forced overtime toothless for years.

    Lori Schmidt is a nurse with Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, where health care workers have been engaged in bitter labor disputes with management for the past few years. After being frustrated for years about the lack of state response to complaints, she said she’s optimistic that forced overtime could be a thing of the past.

    “We need to make sure that this law is enforced, and that the facilities that it could affect — that they are held accountable,” said Schmidt.

    Labor and Industry’s acting Secretary Kathy Manderino said the agency will tap into reserve funds to hire five new staffers to help handle labor complaints.

    “It doesn’t bring us up to where our highest complement was,” said Manderino, adding that administration officials are trying to be “prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

    The audit itself lays most blame at the feet of former Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, noting that incoming officials revoked draft regulations to enforce new labor rules in 2011. But former Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration also missed an April 2010 deadline to adopt regulations. The report says new regulations were not adopted until July 2014.

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