NUHW wins legal case against California’s largest nursing home operator

NewsApril 26, 2017

California’s largest nursing home operator must rehire and provide tens of thousands of dollars in back pay to five employees it illegally fired from its Novato, Calif. facility just two days before a 2015 vote to unionize.

Judge Amita Baman Tracy ruled Friday that Novato Healthcare Center violated federal labor law when it “discriminatorily suspended and discharged” the five workers, four of whom were active supporters of joining the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

In her 31-page ruling, Tracy, an administrative law judge, found that two nursing home administrators did not give credible testimony about the events that led to the firings. Tracy also found it “troubling” that the facility’s administrator discussed the allegations with a specialized anti-union consultant hired by Brius to defeat workers’ unionization effort.

“This ruling is a victory for workers who put their heart and soul into caring for frail seniors even as they face cruel and retaliatory treatment by an employer that puts profit above the well-being of patients,” said NUHW President Sal Rosselli. “It’s time for management to finally honor its employees’ hard work and dedication with a contract that provides safe staffing and a living wage.”

By unionizing, caregivers seek to improve the quality of care for residents as well as caregivers’ pay and benefits.

The Novato facility is run by Brius Healthcare Services, whose CEO Shlomo Rechnitz was labeled “a serial violator” of nursing home rules in 2014 by then-state Attorney General Kamala Harris. Citing Brius’ poor patient-care track record, Harris to filed a motion to block the company from taking control of 19 additional nursing homes. Last year, the California Department of Public Health blocked Brius from permanently operating six additional homes, noting that it had amassed 386 patient care violations over a three-year period.

Most of Brius’ approximately 80 nursing homes are not unionized, and Brius management made clear they didn’t want Novato workers joining NUHW, which also represents caregivers at a Brius facility in San Rafael.

In the run-up to the union election at Novato Healthcare Center, managers handed out anti-union fliers and forced workers into captive meetings with paid anti-union consultants. In one case, a manager illegally interrogated a worker about his union leanings, the judge found.

The anti-union campaign climaxed shortly before the scheduled vote when management illegally fired five workers, including four who were vocal leaders in the unionization drive. After management fired them, NUHW filed a formal complaint with the NLRB arguing that the firings were an illegal attempt to intimidate workers from voting to join the union.

In her ruling, Tracy found ample evidence that the firings were illegal and politically motivated.

In addition, Tracy found that neither the facility’s administrator, Darron Treude, nor Teresa Gilman, a manager, gave credible testimony during a ___-day trial. Treude “testified nervously, evasively, and provided vague and contradictory answers,” Tracy wrote. “Gilman’s testimony simply appeared implausible,” the judge added.

“It feels so good to know that we won, and that Brius will pay a big price for trying to ruin our careers and reputations just because we supported the union,” Sebelino said. “I’m grateful that NUHW fought so hard for us and sent a message to Brius that they can’t get away with trying to silence their workers.”

Tracy ordered Brius to do the following:

1)    Offer employment to all five employees it wrongly terminated.

2)   Compensate them for lost pay and benefits.

3)   Remove any reference of the incident from the workers’ personnel files.

4)   Post a notice inside the Novato facility declaring that the National Labor Relations Board has found that Brius “violated federal law” and will “not interrogate you about your union sympathies” or “restrain, or coerce you in the exercise of your rights under … the National Labor Relations Act.”

Despite management’s illegal acts of intimidation, workers at the nursing voted to unionize in 2015, and are fighting to win their first contract.