SNF will not have to bargain with union found 'disruptive'

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The nurses’ threats “crossed the line” from jokes, the judge ruled.
The nurses’ threats “crossed the line” from jokes, the judge ruled.

A skilled nursing facility can refuse bargaining with its union after employees made credible threats of violence during the 2013 union election, a court ruled in May.

An election to form a union was held at ManorCare of Kingston in Kingston, PA, in September 2013. Facility officials contested the election's results, claiming several employees made threats that tainted the outcome. 

Among the threats allegedly made by the facility's nursing staff were promises from two employees to “start punching people in the face,” and to slash their tires if they voted against the union, court documents read. One employee allegedly told other nurses that “if somebody voted no, and they were upset because we were [understaffed],” then she would “go after that person, and beat them up and then go after their cars.”

Those threats upset the “laboratory conditions” needed for a fair union election, ManorCare argued. Those objections were brought to a hearing by the National Labor Relations Board, which ultimately ruled that the threats were “casual or even light-hearted” and never rose to become “objectionable third-party threats.”

In its opinion, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the NLRB erred in passing off the comments as jokes since it was “widely known” that one of the threatening nurses “had been in violent altercations in the past,” and that at the time the threats were made, the nurse “had a hand injury from a knife fight.”

“That employees experienced real fear is only confirmed by the fact that ManorCare hired parking lot security for three days following the election based on [the employee's] threats to employees' cars,” wrote Judge Janice Rogers Brown. “Here, the threats crossed the line from bluster and playful profanity to intimidation.”

The court granted ManorCare's petition not to bargain with the union, citing “electoral misconduct” from employees.