Court: SNF won't have to bargain after threat-filled union election

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A skilled nursing facility won the right to refuse bargaining with its union after a court ruled employees made credible threats of violence during the 2013 union election.

An election to form a union was held at ManorCare of Kingston in Kingston, PA, in September 2013. Facility officials contested the election's results, claiming that several employees threatened to physically harm other employees and their property if the union didn't win.

Among the threats made by the facility's nursing staff were promises from two employees to “start punching people in the face,” and slash their tires if they voted against the union. One employee allegedly told other nurses that “if somebody voted no, and they were upset because we were [understaffed], then she was going to go after that person, and beat them up and then go after their cars,” according to court documents.

ManorCare said those threats disturbed the “laboratory conditions” required for a fair union election, and took their objections to a hearing by the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB hearing officer concurred with ManorCare's objections, but the hearing's findings were rejected upon an appeal from the union. The NLRB ruled that the threats were “made in a casual or even light-hearted manner” and never rose to become “objectionable third-party threats.”

In its opinion on Friday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the NLRB was wrong in passing off the employees' comments as jokes, since it was “widely known” that one of the nurses who made the threats “had been in violent altercations in the past, and in fact, at the time, she had a hand injury from a knife fight.”

“That employees experienced real fear is only confirmed by the fact that ManorCare hired parking lot security for three days following the election based on [the employee's] threats to employees' cars,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote in the opinion. “Here, the threats crossed the line from bluster and playful profanity to intimidation.”

The court granted ManorCare's petition to not bargain with the union, citing “electoral misconduct” on behalf of the employees.