Spectrum, Nursing Home Workers Take Battle To Judge
At Hearing, NLRB Accuses Company Of Union-Busting
February 03, 2011
The federal agency that protects the right to unionize argued in a hearing Thursday that Spectrum Healthcare fired and suspended workers as part of a campaign of intimidation against the union that represents more than 300 striking workers at four Connecticut nursing homes.
A lawyer for Spectrum said that's not true, and said that the Service Employees International Union members went on strike over raises and holidays, not because they believed the bosses were union-busting. He told the judge presiding at the National Labor Relations Board hearing that the union's complaint that the firings were retaliatory had no merit.
"That was nothing more than a smokescreen for what was clearly going to be an economic strike," said Charles P. Roberts III. He said the aides who were fired either ignored patient requests to be turned or have a diaper changed, or yelled and cursed at patients or didn't report patient falls.
The distinction between a strike solely for economic reasons and a strike that began at least partly because of unfair labor practices is crucial. If the judge agrees with the NLRB, then Spectrum will be forced to rehire strikers, and give them back wages and pension contributions from Aug. 31, when they offered to return to work, even without a new contract.
It is legal to lock out workers if the strike — at nursing homes in Hartford, Ansonia, Winsted and Derby — was over money.
This local, New England Health Care Workers, District 1199 of SEIU, won a similar case at Avery Heights in 2009 — but it took 10 years.
There are still about 225 workers who have not been recalled since they asked to come back five months ago. David Pickus, secretary-treasurer of the union local, testified that many of the 96 people who have been called back are working part time, or by the day with no set schedule, when they used to work full time. So not only do they have less income, but they're not getting benefits, either.
The hearing was at the Hartford office of the NLRB, which is prosecuting the case.
"This is a case about power, or more specifically, the abuse of power," NLRB lawyer Rick Concepcion said in his opening statement.
Concepcion drew an analogy between the SEIU nursing aides and cooks and the Egyptian protesters, saying that when power is used to intimidate, frustration can boil over: "In Egypt, it's a revolution; here it's a strike."
The hearing will continue Friday, take a week's break, and then continue for a week or more.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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