The National Labor Regulations Board (NLRB)’s announcement of a settlement against a Connecticut nursing home operator this week in conjunction with a series of other enforcement actions highlight the need for businesses to tighten defenses and exercise other caution to minimize their organization’s exposure to potential NLRB charges or investigation.
As reflected by many of these enforcement actions, the exposures arise both from active efforts by businesses to suppress union organizing or contracting activities, as well as the failure to identify and manage hidden labor law exposures in the design and administration of more ordinary human resources, compliance, business operations and other policies and practices.
Recent Actions Highlight Risks
On May 17, 2011, the NLRB announced here that Connecticut nursing home operator Spectrum Healthcare has agreed to settle a NLRB case involving multiple allegations of unlawful suspensions, discharges and unilateral changes in violation of the National Labor Relations Act and other federal labor laws by offering reinstatement and back pay to all discharged and striking workers and signing a new three-year collective bargaining agreement with its employees’ union, New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, SEIU.
Along with the contract and reinstatement of all employees, the company agreed to pay $545,000 in back pay and pension benefits to employees who were harmed by the unfair labor practices, and to expunge any disciplinary records related to the case. As a result, all NLRB charges against the company have been withdrawn. Spectrum admits to no wrongdoing in the settlement.
The settlement, reached midway through a hearing before an NLRB administrative law judge in Connecticut and approved by the judge yesterday, ends a long-running dispute which grew into a strike by almost 400 employees at four nursing homes in Connecticut operated by Spectrum Healthcare, LLC. Complaints issued by the NLRB Regional Office in Hartford alleged that, beginning in the fall of 2009, several months after the prior collective bargaining agreement expired, Spectrum discharged seven employees and suspended three others to retaliate against their union activities and to discourage other employees from supporting the union. In addition, one employee was discharged and seven others were suspended after the employer unilaterally changed its tardiness discipline policy without first bargaining with the union.
The complaints further alleged that in April 2010, employees at the four nursing homes — in Derby, Ansonia, Winsted, and Hartford — went on strike to protest the unfair labor practices. When the strikers offered unconditionally to return to work in late August, the employer refused to take them back. Under federal labor law, if a strike is called because of an unfair labor practice, employees are entitled to reinstatement after an unconditional offer to return to work.
The reinstated employees are due to return to the facilities this week.
The Spectrum Healthcare settlement is reflective of the growing number of NLRB enforcement orders against employers generally and health care providers specifically under the Obama Administration. The Obama Administration has close ties and has expressed its strong and open support for union and union organizing activities. The adoption of a series of union friendly labor law reforms was one of the key campaign promises of President Obama during his election campaign. While other legislative priorities and the change in the leadership of the House of Representatives appears to have slowed efforts to push through this agenda, it has not slowed the Administration’s efforts to support unions with strong enforcement activities. Empowered by a difficult economic and job situation and an awareness of the Obama Administration’s strong support for union organizing and other activities, unions are stepping up organizing efforts and more aggressively challenging employers actions.
Over the past few months, public awareness of the Obama Administration’s aggressive enforcement agenda on behalf of unions has drawn new attention as a result of the widespread media coverage of NLRB actions challenging Boeings planned relocation of certain manufacturing jobs intervention in a planned relocation of certain manufacturing operations. See, e.g., Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon releases statement on Boeing complaint; National Labor Relations Board issues complaint against Boeing Company for unlawfully transferring work to a non-union facility. However, the Boeing and Spectrum Healthcare actions represent only the tip of the iceberg of the rising number of NLRB enforcement activities, most of which take place with little media or public attention.
Along side the Spectrum Healthcare and Boeing actions, in recent weeks, the NLRB also has been busy with several other enforcement activities. For instance:
- On May 9 2011, the NLRB issued a complaint against Hispanics United of Buffalo (HUB), a nonprofit that provides social services to low-income clients, that alleges that HUB unlawfully discharged five employees after they took to Facebook to criticize working conditions, including work load and staffing issues. The case involves an employee who, in advance of a meeting with management about working conditions, posted to her Facebook ; and
- On May 17, the NLRB secured a temporary injunction from a U.S. District Court in San Jose California against San Jose area waste hauling company OS Transport LLC, charged with engaging in unfair labor practices including the termination of a lead organizer and another Union supporter, retaliation against Union efforts in the form of unfavorable assignments, threats to Union supporters, and promises of improved treatment of employees who disavow the Union for the alleged purpose of defeating a union. o offer reinstatement to two drivers and restore full assignments to other drivers who had expressed support for a union during an organizing campaign. More Details here.,
In addition, in recent weeks, the NLRB also has:
- Sued the state of Arizona on amendment limiting method for choosing union representation on May 5, 2011;
- Secured an order requiring a Milwaukee job training center to pay back pay and reinstate workers fired for complaining about bounced paychecks on May 3, 2011;
- Ordered a concrete supplier to rehire employees in Indianapolis on May 2, 2011;
- Found a New York egg processing plant of unlawful interference and ordered a third election ohm April 27, 2011; and
- Secured a settlement from Build.com of unlawful dischrage charges for firing employee based on Facebook comments on April 20
Amid this difficult enforcement environment, business leaders should exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against both potential organizing efforts, to understand the types of actions and activities that may help fuel charges, and take steps to manage these and other union organization and other labor risks.
For Help With Labor & Employment, Employee Benefits Or Other Risk Management and Defense
If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your labor and employment, employee benefits, compliance, risk manage or other internal controls practices or actions, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.
Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping employers and other management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit, labor-management relations and other management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend labor-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.
The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, reengineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters. She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters.
Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For more information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.
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