Nursing homes and unions: ready for another ugly round?

James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor
James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor

Unions in nursing homes may be headed for a new level of negative exposure given the latest flare-up in the eternal battle that has waged in Connecticut. It has already brought partisan criticism to the highest level: the White House.

In a nutshell, union workers at HealthBridge nursing homes went on strike after rejecting hard-to-swallow contract terms that included lower benefits, the extermination of their pension plan and a 2.2% wage hike. Before leaving, members of the Service Employees International Union are alleged to have sabotaged two Alzheimer's wards. Resident name tags and photos were removed and dietary stickers altered, making life infinitely more complicated for caregivers who remained. The perpetrators, whoever they are, have not been identified with any certainty during a criminal investigation.

In the meantime, the National Labor Relations Board filed motion in court to have HealthBridge fire its replacement workers and return striking employees to their former posts. Even if the perpetrators of the alleged sabotage might be among the reinstated workers.

Otherwise, the risk would be “collective punishment” at its worst, the NLRB claims.

And who appoints the members of the Democrat-controlled NLRB? The president, of course. That's why the right-leaning Washington Examiner newspaper was scathing in calling for a different kind of justice this week. Assailing what it termed a partisan move by a partisan NLRB panel, the Examiner called on President Obama to abandon his “union allies” and protect “the vulnerable” (residents) against mean-spirited sabotage.

It's a spotlight that might not burn bright for long. But then again, there have been lesser populist causes that have caught the public's eye.

With a little extra wind from a persistent fan, it could create a fire that could singe all around it indiscriminately. We haven't heard the end of this Connecticut flare-up, or ugly union showdowns in nursing facilities generally. Stay tuned.

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