By Martin J. Kidston
A five-year-old lawsuit alleging that Northern Montana Health Care violated the National Labor Relations Act by refusing to recognize and bargain with its employees union was reaffirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth District Court last month.
The April 7 ruling by the court reaffirms a 1997 decision supported by the National Labor Relations Board that said Licensed Practical Nurses were not considered supervisors.
The board overruled Judge Anderson by deciding that LPNs were not supervisors and should, therefore, be part of the bargaining unit, said Tom Cane, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union number eight. Thus, Northern Montana Health Care Inc. and its subsidiaries are liable for any and all losses suffered by affected employees dating back to Sept. 6, 1994.
Crane said the losses would continue to accrue until Northern Montana Health Care decided to bargain in good faith with the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
However, Butte Attorney Don Robinson, who is representing Northern Montana Health Care, said the litigation is far from over.
A number of federal circuit courts have ruled that LPNs are indeed supervisors, but unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit did not, Robinson said. We are considering filing a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on this issue. It is not a frivolous matter.
The controversy began in August, 1994, when NMHC purchased the Havre-based Lutheran Nursing Home and absorbed the 100 workers employed by the financially troubled facility.
The acquisition of the facility not only saved the nursing home for its residents, but allowed 100 persons to remain employed in the community, a press release issued by NMHC stated. NMHC rescued the Lutheran Home from closure so that Havre area residents could continue to have quality nursing care.
However, in September 1994, one month after NMHC rescued the Lutheran Nursing Home and absorbed its employees, it was alleged that the company failed to recognize and bargain with the employees union, United Food and Commercial Workers.
As a result, that same month, Judge Clifford Anderson ruled that NMHC had violated and were continuing to violate the National Labor Relations Act. Two years later in October 1997, the National Labor Relations Board reaffirmed the ruling that LPNs were not supervisors and hence, NMHC was liable for losses suffered by former former employees of the Lutheran Nursing Home.
The issue of liability is another point in which the hospital disagrees with the union.
As for the monetary liability alluded to by the union, since the wage and benefit package provided to our employees is financially better than that provided in the unions contract with the Lutheran home, we fail to see how there is any liability whatsoever, NMHC said. In any event, it is extremely regretful that the union takes such a confrontational attitude.
Robinson agrees, and said that the unions attempt to incite a confrontation is typical.
Its the usual union propaganda weve come to expect on this issue, Robinson said. In regards to their statement, its pure hogwash. NMHC bailed out the Lutheran nursing home. Their comment is purely inflammatory.
The statement Robinson and NMHC referred to was made by the United Food and Commercial Workers union in a press release dated April 29.
Employers who destroy the economic lives of its employees and endanger the economic viability of the community in which it operates, can only ignore the law for so long. Now, it is time to pay the piper, the union said.