Federal court backs NLRB: CareOne illegally pressured union vote

A U.S. District Court has agreed with the National Labor Relations Board, ruling that a CareOne skilled nursing facility unlawfully influenced employees before a unionization vote. The organizing effort failed by one vote at CareOne at Madison Avenue in Morristown, NJ, four years ago.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied CareOne's petition for review of an NLRB determination of unfair labor practices. The 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East unit sided with the NLRB in its ruling. The fate of an ordered second election was hinging on the outcome of the legal proceedings.

Three weeks before the unionization vote, CareOne announced it would restore some employee benefits, but only for individuals not eligible to vote.

Among CareOne's other missteps, according to the justices, was a mandatory employee meeting for union-eligible employees, during which the Sister Sledge song and theme “We Are Family” were prominently featured two days before the election. Photos of happy employees taken at a holiday celebration were used in a slideshow that implied the employees were supporting anti-unionization efforts when in fact the photos were used without the subjects' consent.

A call seeking comment from CareOne was not returned Monday. The court handed down its ruling Friday.

CareOne asserted in filings that it had acted in good faith. Further, it said that if it had included union-eligible voters in the restoral of benefits, the move could have been construed as trying to buy votes.

"When workers begin to organize, their employer may take many steps to convince them not to form a union. But no employer has completely free rein," the appeals court countered.

Among other improper acts cited by the justices was CareOne's distribution of a leaflet that “failed to accurately characterize the implications of a strike for employees' jobs.” The leaflet read, in part, “Do you want to give outsiders the power to jeopardize your job by putting you on strike?”

The justices also cited a post-election memo that reiterated the company's workplace violence policy, which the NLRB “concluded could reasonably be read in context to threaten reprisal for protected union activity.”