Judge orders back pay for workers at West River Health Care

U.S. District Court Judge Robert N. Chatigny today found HealthBridge Management in civil contempt of court and ordered the New Jersey-based corporation to comply with all of the terms of a prior federal injunction.

In a conference call with attorneys for the health care workers and the nursing home company this morning, the judge ordered HealthBridge to pay back wages and benefits, with interest, to approximately 600 nurses, aides and support staff at five Connecticut nursing homes, retroactive to February 1, 2013, union officials reported. Those nursing homes include West River Health Care Center in Milford.

In a previous ruling issued on December 11, 2012, granting an injunction sought by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against HealthBridge and five individual nursing homes, Judge Chatigny ordered the defendants to reinstate the previous wages, benefits and other terms of employment that had been in place under prior contracts covering more than 600 health care workers at those facilities. Nurses, aides and support staff at the facilities had participated in an unfair labor practice strike after HealthBridge and the nursing homes implemented unilateral changes, including eliminating pensions and instituting increases to the cost of health insurance, to workers' contracts in June of 2012.

The injunction issued in December of 2012 also ordered HealthBridge and the nursing homes to reinstate all of the striking workers to their former positions and schedules. After the company unsuccessfully sought a stay of that injunction, first with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and then, twice, with the U.S. Supreme Court, the company indicated it would comply with the terms of the injunction.

However, just before the caregivers were scheduled to return to work in March, the five nursing homes filed for bankruptcy in New Jersey, seeking modifications to the contract that were nearly identical to the terms that had triggered the strike. The bankruptcy ruling allowed the nursing homes to impose those modifications.

"Judge Chatigny found HealthBridge in contempt of court today, yet another legal victory for workers and a further sign that HealthBridge cannot get away with its unfair and illegal treatment of its employees," said David Pickus, president of the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU.

HealthBridge Management today issued the following statement in reaction to the decision by a U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut judge to grant the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) motion for contempt.

“Naturally, HealthBridge Management is disappointed in the judge’s decision; it will review the decision and consider its options.  HealthBridge and the five Connecticut health care centers have complied with the District Court’s injunction order by offering reinstatement to all the strikers, reinstating the strikers who accepted reinstatement, and by reinstating the terms of the expired union contracts. The centers lawfully exercised their legal rights to seek protection from the bankruptcy court in order to save their businesses from having to close, and to obtain interim relief from the bankruptcy court allowing them to modify certain contract terms that had been reinstated.”