Bankruptcy filing is a game-changer in labor dispute

HeathBridge Management LLC has achieved in bankruptcy what it could not come close to achieving through contract negotiations.

After a recent bankruptcy filing in the state of New Jersey, HealthBridge was essentially allowed by the court to alter the contracts of striking workers at the West River Health facility in Milford, something it attempted to do once before, but which prompted the workers to head out on strike.

West River Health Care workers are back on the job, but they’re getting paid less and their benefits have been adjusted.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal has urged the National Labor Relations Board to step in and help preserve pay and benefits of unionized HealthBridge nursing home employees.

And so, the ongoing labor drama continues apace.

Acrimony and the leveling of accusations by both parties has characterized this contentious negotiation.

HealthBridge got the ball rolling during the holiday season in 2011 when it locked out its employees. Since then, it would seem, nothing has gone right for either side.

We can’t imagine two parties in a negotiation being more out of step with each other, and the courts, rather than mediate the dispute, have only added fuel to the fire.

Twice now, West River Health Care workers have been enticed back to work believing that they would be doing so under the terms of a previously negotiated contract.

Twice now, West River Health Care workers have been wrong, or is it wronged?

Last year HealthBridge ended the lockout, promising workers that their previous contracts would remain intact until negotiations produced a new contract. But after several months, the company changed its mind, and imposed a new contract.

Employees were subjected to pay cuts, pension adjustments, schedule changes — all without their approval.

So the workers went on strike, turning the tables on HealthBridge.

After more months of failed negotiations and multiple lawsuit filings, HealthBridge filed for bankruptcy and in so doing again put employees in a position where they must accept draconian cuts to wages and pensions in order to return to work.

For now, that’s where we stand. Employees are working under a compromised contract and at reduced pay.

The employees, none of whom are making a fortune caring for their elderly charges, are doing the best they can given the circumstances, and they deserve more than a little credit for not giving in to complete frustration at this point.

Both sides and the courts must come to a resolution as soon as possible, and greed should not have a place at the table.