The National Labor Relations Board sided with a union’s request to have shift-differential pay reinstated and back pay issued after a nursing home’s new owner unilaterally ended the incentive practice in August. 

The ruling illustrates a key potential pitfall operators need to avoid amid a surge of labor activity in the US.

Care workers at Twinbrook Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center had been paid an additional $1 per hour for second-shift work and $0.50 per hour for third-shift shifts when owned by Guardian Elder Care. After taking over operations of the Erie, PA facility in April, Twinbrook OpCo continued to pay this differential rate for several months, according to the Dec. 28 NLRB ruling

In May, these rates were doubled and a further $2 per hour differential rate was added for weekend shifts. But in mid-August, Twinbrook OpCo informed employees that licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants would no longer receive the additional pay going forward. 

Twinbrook OpCo had previously negotiated a bargaining agreement with the care workers’ union. While that agreement did not specifically mention differential pay, the NLRB agreed with the union’s complaint that the unilateral pay change was not permissible.

“The Respondent gave employees every expectation that the shift differentials would continue by including the payments in each paycheck from the time it purchased the facility until negotiations concluded and the Agreement went into effect,” the ruling stated. “The Respondent violated the Act when it abruptly ended the shift differentials without affording the Union notice or an opportunity to bargain.”

The ruling orders Twinbrook to reinstate the differential rates, give back pay for time missed, and make employees whole for any additional costs they may have incurred as a result.

Twinbrook did not respond to McKnight’s request for comment Monday by publication deadline.

The NLRB ruling comes at a time of increased labor activity across the country and in the healthcare sector specifically. Only 16% of nursing homes are unionized currently, but that number is likely to increase if current labor market trends hold. 

Twinbrook had argued that ending differential pay had not violated its bargaining with the union because the differential rate was not explicitly codified in the final agreement. The NLRB’s ultimate disagreement illustrates the caution operators should use when potential cost-saving measures run the risk of drawing union complaints.