The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a petition Friday in federal court to temporarily halt HealthBridge’s implementation of new contracts at five nursing homes, including the West River Health Care Center in Milford.
Striking certified nursing assistants (CNAs), aides, kitchen employees and others have been on strike for more than two months in opposition to new contracts that have them contributing to health care costs and other changes they say are unfair.
There have been numerous charges of wrongdoing from both sides during the strike and an earlier lockout of employees by the company owner. In this latest filing, the union argues that “injunctive relief” is necessary to protect HealthBridge employees from illegal behavior by the company until a decision is reached in the case.
The NLRB will make its case before a federal court judge, and union workers hope the judge will issue an injunction to reverse HealthBridge’s implementation of a new contract they say “destroyed workers’ ability to support their families and provide quality care to residents.”
If granted, striking HealthBridge employees will be able to return to work under the original contract, a union spokesman said in a prepared press release.
“We know that HealthBridge will attempt to draw this process out for as long as possible,” said David Pickus, president of the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU. “We think a judge will recognize just how brazen HealthBridge has been in its disregard for the law, and ultimately grant an injunction to protect workers while they wait for justice.”
If the judge decides to grant an injunction against the company, the decision is subject to appeal in a U.S. Court of Appeals. However, HealthBridge will be required to implement the judge’s decision while the appeals process is ongoing.
Responding to notification that the NLRB has filed for injunctive relief, HealthBridge spokesman Lisa Crutchfield said the filing is without merit.
“The NLRB’s decision to seek injunctive relief and its contention that the April 24, 2012 ‘last, best and final’ offers by the centers constituted an unfair labor action is unwarranted and without merit,” Crutchfield said. “Those offers were made after 15 months of negotiations repeatedly stalled by the union and included improved comprehensive contract offers that boost wage increases while reducing some of the concessions previously requested.”
Crutchfield also said striking workers should not be reinstated because it puts patients at risk. HealthBridge has charged that some workers in other facilities they own, not the Milford center, switched patient name tags and the like before they went out on strike.
“When the union walked out July 3 in a strike action, in three of the five affected Connecticut HealthBridge Management Health Care Centers union members committed multiple illegal and dangerous acts against center residents,” Crutchfield said. “Residents’ wristbands were removed and discarded. Names on patient doors and wheelchairs were changed. Stickers indicating how residents could safely be fed were removed. The names of residents in memory care units were switched.”
The company filed a formal complaint regarding those alleged actions with the chief state’s attorney on July 19.
This week marks the opening of the National Labor Relations Board trial on various allegations about the company’s 17 months of contract negotiations with the union.
Both sides have said they look forward to the process and expect to win their arguments.