ALBANY — A nurses’ union accused Albany Medical Center of effectively forcing Filipino nurses to continue working there under the threat of severe financial penalties and deportation in a federal lawsuit Tuesday.
The New York State Nurses Association claims nurses recruited from the Philippines must sign contracts with a provision forcing them to pay the hospital up to $20,000 if they resign within their first three years of employment.
The lawsuit claims the fees are disproportionate to the costs of bringing the nurses over and that the provision is “designed to coerce these recently-arrived immigrant nurses into continuing employment with AMC.”
The contract claims failure to pay “may constitute fraud” and lead to the hospital calling immigration officials, according to the lawsuit, which alleges violations of forced labor provisions in federal human trafficking law.
Albany Med has brought more than 580 nurses from the Philippines since 2002.
The federal complaint cites unidentified nurses unable to take higher paying jobs in other U.S. cities because they could not afford penalties ranging from $10,000 to $20,000.
“We think this is outrageous,” said union lawyer Steven Toff.
Dr. Dennis McKenna, the hospital’s CEO designee, called the lawsuit “a blatant mischaracterization of an excellent program” that was being used to try to influence negotiations for a nurses’ contract.
“Albany Med invests significantly to bring nurses here, nurses who come here legally, who want opportunities to grow professionally inside our world class organization,” McKenna said in a prepared statement. “We train them and support them. In return, they provide us bedside care for a set number of years, just like many other programs that help people grow professionally.”
Toff said he did not know how common the penalty provision was among other health care institutions. But he noted that a federal judge in downstate New York this month ruled against a nursing home company with a similar provision in its contracts with Filipino nurses.