AISD’s Overtime Ailments

School nurses say they feel the working squeeze already

If President Barack Obama's overtime rule ever goes into effect ("Welcome to the Working Week-and-a-Half," Nov. 18), an estimated 4.2 million salaried employees who make less than $47,476 per year will either make more money or stop working overtime, assuming their bosses follow the law. You might think most workers would welcome such changes, but at least one group of local employees appears unhappy about the prospect – and the effect the potential changes have already had on work conditions.

A nurse in the Austin Independent School District who spoke to the Chronicle on the condition of anonymity said her colleagues have been distraught about plans announced by Ascension Health, the nonprofit behemoth that employs school nurses, to reclassify AISD nurses from salaried employees exempt from overtime to hourly non-exempt workers. Despite a ruling from U.S. Federal Judge Amos Mazzant putting a hold on the new rule (which appears increasingly unlikely to be implemented), Ascension is going ahead with reclassification plans. As a result, reports the nurse, her colleagues have been told that they cannot work more than 40 hours a week without prior authorization, including answering calls and work emails from home.

Ascension told the Chronicle the company is simply putting in place the same policy it's currently implementing at its hospitals. Unlike those hospitals, however, AISD schools are not staffed by more than one nurse at a time, and there may not be reinforcements available when nurses hit 40 hours in a week. One parent of a child with Type 1 diabetes told the Chronicle she harbored concerns about the prospect of a nurse not being present to administer the insulin that her child depends on because the nurse had already met her hourly quota. Tracy Spinner, assistant director of health services at AISD, said she couldn't comment on Ascension's decisions, but maintains that the nurses' schedules will remain the same and the district does not "anticipate any decline in the quality of care." A spokesman for Ascension declined to comment, saying only that with the court's injunction being temporary, "at this time we have elected to proceed with complying with the revised regulations."

This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the number of nurses being paid under the overtime threshold.

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AISD, Ascension Health, Austin ISD, Tracy Spinner

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