Ruling paves the way for 'micro-unions'

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Long-term care groups have expressed concern over a recent court ruling that could lead to the formation of “micro-unions” in nursing and assisted living facilities.

The ruling related to a situation at the 170-bed Kindred Nursing Centers East in Mobile, AL.

A union petitioned for National Labor Relations Board approval to hold a vote to see if the center's 53 certified nursing assistants favored union representation. 

Kindred opposed the move, saying that the CNAs were not an “appropriate unit” for unionization, and that any vote should include other eligible employees, such as maintenance workers.

A regional labor relations director upheld the right of the CNAs to attempt to unionize independently. The workers voted for representation. Kindred began a legal process that culminated in August, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the CNAs were an appropriate unit for unionization. The NLRB has “wide discretion” in determining what constitutes an appropriate unit, the court noted.

The Assisted Living Federation of America spoke out against the ruling, issuing a statement that “micro-unions can lead to fragmented workforces and in the case of senior living, unnecessary additional costs for residents and operators without any increase in quality care.”

The existence of several “micro-unions” within a facility could lead to operational inefficiency, as employers would have to bargain with many different constituencies, ALFA cautioned. However, operators should prepare for a surge in union organizing, the association said. 

The ruling came less than a month after Congress approved five NLRB appointees, creating a full board for the first time in 10 years. Per established guidelines, three of the appointees were White House picks, while two were put forward by Republican lawmakers.