Unions Get New Tool As NLRB Changes Bargaing Units Certification Rules For Non-Acute Health Care Facilities

Non-acute health care facility employers take note.  The National Labor Relations Board has changed its approach for deciding what makes up an appropriate bargaining unit in nursing homes and other health care facilities which are not acute care hospitals. In addition, the Board clarified the criteria used in cases where a party argues that a proposed bargaining unit is inappropriate because it excludes certain employees for health care employees in these facilities.  The newly announced position comes as unions feeling empowered by the union support of the Obama Administration increasingly are stepping up their organizing, bargaining, regulatory and other muscles against health industry and other employers.  Non-acute health care facility and other health industry employers should take steps to manage these rising exposures.

Announcing the policy shift in its 3-to-1 decision in Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, the Board ruled that Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) at a nursing home may form an appropriate unit without including all other nonprofessional employees. The finding overrules the Board’s 1991 decision in Park Manor, which had adopted a special test for bargaining unit determinations in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and other non-acute health care facilities.

Under the new criteria for deciding when healthcare workers in facilities other than acute care hospitals constitute an appropriate bargaining unit, employees at such facilities will now be subject to the same “community-of-interest” standard that the Board has traditionally applied at other workplaces. The Board majority found that the 53 CNAs who sought an election in Specialty Healthcare constituted an appropriate unit, and remanded the case to the region to schedule an election.

In explaining its position change, the majority – Chairman Wilma B. Liebman and Members Craig Becker and Mark Gaston Pearce – wrote “We have concluded that the Park Manor approach to determining if a proposed bargaining unit in a nursing home is an appropriate unit has become obsolete, is not consistent with our statutory charge, and has not provided clear guidance to interested parties or the Board,”.

The decision also clarified that where an employer argues that a proposed unit inappropriately excludes certain employees, the employer will be required to prove that the excluded employees share “an overwhelming community of interest” with employees in the proposed unit.  The Board majority write that test is drawn from Board precedent endorsed by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the decision noted.

Not all of the members of the Board agree with the new position.  In dissent, Member Brian Hayes stated that he would adhere to Park Manor. “which established a balanced legal standard maintained in non-acute care health care unit cases without controversy for 20 years (and without any objection from the party seeking review in this case).” 

He also disagreed that the majority’s statement of the community of interest test was consistent with precedent.  In his view, “the majority accepts as the definitive standard for unit determinations in all industries an ‘overwhelming community of interest’ test that will make the relationship between petitioned-for unit employees and excluded co-workers irrelevant in all but the most exceptional circumstances. The wording of the test may be different, but in practical effect this is the standard espoused by the dissent and rejected by a Board majority in Wheeling Island Gaming, Inc. [355 NLRB No. 127 (2010)].”

Encouraged by the strong union support of the Obama Administration, unions increasingly are testing health industry and other employers.  The Obama Administration has made pro-union legislation and regulation a priority.   While health care and budget concerns thus far have slowed efforts by the Administration and Democratic Party supporters in Congress to adopt many legislative proposals intended to strengthen union power, the Administration is using its appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and regulatory and enforcement powers to support unions in other ways.  This Administration support coupled with a series of recent National Labor Relations Board and court decisions extending protections both to union workers and those employees engaged in traditional organizing activities, as well as to unorganized workers in the context of certain disciplinary or other common workplace contexts are creating new responsibilities and challenges for employers in recognizing and managing liabilities arising under the National Labor Relations Act and other federal labor laws.  Health industry and other employers should familiarize themselves with these changing standards and update their policies, practices and management training to promote their labor-management goals and avoid unintentionally triggering liability by violating these evolving standards.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need help monitoring these or other labor-management relations, or other human resources, health care or related concerns developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 23 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health industry clients and other businesses with labor-management, human resources, medical staff and peer review and other workforce matters, as well as a broad range of other health industry risk management and compliance concern as well as helping health industry claims with investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others including highly popular programs on “Sex Drugs & Rock ‘N Role: Managing Personal Misconduct in Health Care,” “Managing Physician Performance” and others..   Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

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©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

 

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