[JURIST] A group of nurses filed four class-action lawsuits [press release; case materials] around the country Tuesday against multiple hospitals [summary, PDF], alleging the hospitals violated antitrust laws by conspiring to keep wages low for nurses despite a national shortage of nurses. The four lawsuits - filed in Chicago, Illinois [PDF complaint; Chicago Tribune report]; Memphis, Tennessee [PDF complaint; Tennessean report]; San Antonio, Texas [PDF complaint; Express-News report]; and Albany, New York [PDF complaint; Times Union report] - seek back compensation and legal costs of "hundreds of millions" of dollars, charging that various hospital systems discussed nurses' wages regularly in an effort to systematically depress wages. The Service Employee International Union [union website] worked with the plaintiffs in investigating the alleged conspiracy and Daniel Small, the Washington, DC, area lawyer that filed all four lawsuits in federal courts Tuesday, said that dozens of former and current hospital employees provided information for the lawsuits against 20 different hospital systems throughout the four cities.
Though a spokesman for the Nashville-based HCA [corporate website], the largest hospital chain in the country, said the lawsuits are frivolous, nurses' wages defied long standing market theories by stagnating in 2003 and falling in 2004 in the midst of a nationwide nurse shortage, according to a report [PDF text] from the Institute for Women's Policy Research [advocacy website]. Experts disagree on a resolution for the nursing shortage, saying that low wages deter people from entering the field, while others believe the heavy workload mixed with lack of respect for the profession deter people from entering. Reuters has more.