Court: Nursing home infringed on union rights by taking down signs

A federal court this week upheld a decision by the National Labor Relations Board that found a nursing home company interfered with its workers' rights when it removed flyers and banned stickers displaying union messages.

Workers at six Connecticut nursing homes operated by HealthBridge Management began distributing flyers and wearing buttons that said HealthBridge had been “busted” following a NLRB complaint that the company unfairly terminated housekeeping employees, according to the United States Court of Appeals ruling. HealthBridge allegedly took the flyers down, and ordered the workers not to wear the buttons in patient care areas. The NLRB found the company's actions violated the National Labor Relations Act.

HealthBridge officials asserted they took the flyers down and banned the stickers “out ofconcern for residents, who might think HealthBridge had committed a crime that could impact resident care,” the court ruling reads.

“My concern was that if a resident was being cared for by somebody wearing this sticker it may cause confusion,” Lisa Crutchfield, HealthBridge's senior vice president of labor relations, said in a hearing quoted in the ruling. “The sticker itself says busted with a judge's gavel. It suggests some kind of crime.”

The court ruled that the NLRB was “within reason” to conclude the union's stickers and flyers were considered protected union communications. The only exceptions to the union protections are cases in which the boards where flyers are posted become a “battleground” for competing groups, or if the speech includes “deliberate or reckless untruth,” according to the ruling.”