HealthBridge Management and CareOne, related companies that own and operate nursing homes in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and two other states, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the New England Health Care Employers Union, also known as Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199NE, and United Healthcare Workers East, also an affiliate of SEIU.
The lawsuit claims the unions violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act through the use of threats, sabotage, and intimidation in a “shake-down” to coerce the companies to accept union demands. The health care companies charge that SEIU’s use of the help of politicians and liberal activists to intimidate them amounted to criminal extortion.
Approximately 600 SEIU members, from six nursing homes, have been striking since July over pay, health insurance benefits, and HealthBridge contributions to their pensions. HealthBridge hired 450 replacement workers, and, in addition, some strikers returned to work. HealthBridge claims that, for 17 months, the union made “untenable demands, while refusing to engage” in negotiations.
In Connecticut, several politicians, including Gov. Dannel Malloy (D-WFP), Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman (D-WFP), and Attorney General George Jepsen (D-WFP), walked picket lines with 1199NE employees in a show of support for the strike.
In July of this year, Gov. Malloy accused HealthBridge Management of New Jersey of violating labor laws in its five branches in Connecticut.
"Let's be honest. What HealthBridge is attempting to do illegally is to break the union. That's what they want to do," Malloy said. "They want to be the new model in the state of Connecticut, and we don't want them to be."
Attorney Rosemary Alito, of the firm K & L Gates, in New Jersey, and sister of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for New Jersey. The lawsuit focuses on alleged corrupt intimidation practices of the unions and their political allies.
“This action is not about strikes, or union organizing, or collective bargaining,” claims the suit. “It is about a corporate campaign, endorsed and effectuated by Defendants and facilitated by the politicians they support, that is in its essence a shake-down by a lawless enterprise."
The plaintiffs allege that SEIU’s “baseless claims” of potential Medicare billing fraud at one of their Connecticut nursing home facilities, which is not unionized, has forced them to expend "a substantial amount of time and money in responding." In addition, they allege acts of sabotage at three of their locations in Connecticut, some of which may have threatened the lives of nursing home residents.
The companies claim that SEIU is pressuring them to increase union membership and contributions, as well as to build up underfunded pension plans.
The federal government and the National Labor Relations Board have also brought charges against HealthBridge and Care One, alleging that they are breaking labor laws on collective bargaining.