John O’Connor

When I began covering this field nearly three decades ago, administrators were more afraid of employee unionization than just about anything else. But times have changed.

With each passing year, a declining number of workers are opting to join or remain in unions. I probably don’t need to explain why that is good news for facility operators. Or why it might be a less-than-optimal development for those on the front lines.

Part of the downturn reflects a decades-long erosion in union membership overall. With each passing year, fewer and fewer workers are opting to put their faith in collective bargaining. That’s not to say unionization battles in this field are over. They continue, but on a much smaller scale.

Another key reason: President Trump.

One of the more notable things Trump did here was revamp the National Labor Relations Board. For the unfamiliar, the NLRB is a sort of a referee that handles labor-union disputes. By sort of, I mean the board decides which side’s arguments carry the day. But the board is anything but neutral. It has five members, so each party fights like a wounded honey badger to get at least three politically-aligned members on the board.

The latest changing of the proverbial guard came in September 2017. That’s when the Senate confirmed business lawyer William Emanuel to fill an open board seat, and thereby give the GOP a majority for the first time since a Bush was in the White House.

The rebalanced NLRB wasted little time reversing workplace changes brought on by the Obama administration. From overtime expansion to redefining the joint employer doctrine and more, the Obama White House hardly established itself as an ally to business owners and operators. And the undoing continues. Most recently, the NLRB’s changed the definition of independent contractor to make it more business friendly.

But for real proof of Trump’s impact, look no further than a Bloomberg Law story that found a double-digit decline in union filings of unfair labor practices since Trump took office.

Why the downturn? Well, because unions can add. And when a board is made up of more enemies than friends, guess who gets the benefit of any doubts?

It’s hard to quantify what this has meant to skilled care operators. But it’s probably safe to say that there have certainly been indirect benefits, and quite possibly direct benefits as well.

As for how long it will be before the pendulum swings back the other way, who knows? So here’s my advice to anyone running a long-term care business: Enjoy this while it lasts.

John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.