Nursing union election tabled

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The complaints allege that management has been threatening employees, discriminating against employees who favor the union, unfairly coercing employees, and spreading fear through unfounded allegations.

Dianne M. Cutillo, a spokeswoman for Northern Berkshire Healthcare, which is Sweet Brook's parent company, said the company is "just going to wait to see what the NLRB rules on the unfair labor practices and what the next step is, and we'll follow what the NLRB asks us to do."

Central to the workers' complaints is an internal March 3 e-mail that allegedly signaled management's plan to continue its strategy despite possible violations of labor law.

The e-mail was written by Arthur Scott, Northern Berkshire Healthcare's vice president of human resources, to the executive team. Scott explained that the NLRB takes a long time to react to complaints. Because the "potential penalties (are) so minor, I think we should continue with our current practice," he wrote.

Mike Fadel, executive vice president of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, said the memo was enough to give NLRB officials insight into the intentions of Northern Berkshire Healthcare's leadership.

"It certainly gave the (NLRB) board the indication that the employer was not respecting the law. There was an attitude that whether or not they were breaking the law, they would continue with their actions because they had no fear of the legal penalties," he said.

NLRB officials notified the Northern Berkshires of the election's cancellation on Monday. Employees were notified Wednesday.

During an interview Tuesday regarding allegations made by workers at Sweet Brook, Cutillo did not disclose the cancellation of the election by the NLRB.

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"We learned on Monday morning that SEIU requested that the NLRB block the election and on Monday afternoon the NLRB informed us they had agreed," Cutillo said.

SEIU officials said that in all unfair labor practice complaints filed with the NLRB, part of the process is to request action on the complaint. What that action might be is up to the NLRB. The NLRB chose to block the election.

Among the allegations laid out in the complaints, management is described as having made note of which employees were wearing pro-union stickers, confiscating pro-union literature, keeping track of which employees are likely to vote in favor of the union, alleging that union organizers had been engaging in intimidation tactics at one woman's home, interrogating employees regarding union representatives' activities, and distributing anti-union leaflets where pro-union leaflets had been prohibited.

According to information listed on the NLRB Web site, "The National Labor Relations Act forbids employers from interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of rights relating to organizing, forming, joining or assisting a labor organization for collective-bargaining purposes, or engaging in protected concerted activities, or refraining from any such activity."

Fadel said it is "quite rare" for the NLRB to block such an election.

"This level of (management) interference in my experience is basically unprecedented," he said. After investigating the complaints, Fadel said, if the NLRB finds sufficient evidence to put the prospect of a fair election in doubt, it has the power to allow the workers to join the union without an election.

"The board of Northern Berkshire Healthcare has to look at this and take some responsibility," Fadel said. "Here is a management team that has put out publicly that they are going to operate without regard to fundamental rights and labor law. They hold final accountability, liability and responsibility for the actions of their management team and the serious question for them is whether they're going to tolerate these sorts of reckless actions."

The NLRB in Boston had already ruled against management at NBH who contended during a seven-day hearing in January that 35 nurses and nursing assistants are supervisors and therefore unable to vote on a measure to unionize service employees at the Sweet Brook nursing home. The eligible employee voting pool is estimated to be about 180 people.


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