Mandatory Overtime Legislation Gaining Momentum

Staffing, overtime, and greater participation in patient care decision-making are among the most common themes in strikes, union contract negotiations and organizing efforts for acute care and long term care nursing staff. The State of Maine recently enacted the nation's first law limiting the amount of mandatory overtime that nurses may be required to work. Under the new law, nurses who refuse to work more than 12 consecutive hours may not be disciplined. The only exception is if there are "unforeseen emergency circumstances when overtime is required as a last resort to ensure patient safety." In such emergency situations, however, nurses who work in excess of 12 consecutive hours must receive at least 10 hours off before resuming work. According to the Maine State Nurses Association, the union that pushed for the law's passage, this law will prevent hospitals from using overtime in lieu of increased staffing.

While Maine is the first to enact such a law, several other states are considering similar legislation. In Pennsylvania, a bill drafted by the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association was introduced in the State Senate to prohibit mandatory overtime practices. The overtime and staffing issues have drawn national attention and were the focus of a national lobbying effort in conjunction with the second annual meeting of delegates of the United Nurses Association, the union arm of the American Nurses Association, which has recently voted to affiliate with the AFL-CIO.