When hundreds of Connecticut nursing-home workers went on strike this summer, some committed “alarming, malicious events of apparent sabotage . . . that placed the health of many residents in immediate danger,” according to legal testimony to the United States District Court of Connecticut.
Some of the workers even endangered the lives of elderly patients, but now, their union allies are fighting to get them their old jobs back. This case is no exception: In both the private and the public sector, unions protect the jobs of all their members, even those who have done something wrong, inappropriate, dangerous, or criminal.
The trouble in Connecticut began last year, when Healthbridge Management tried to negotiate a new contract with employees at five of their nursing homes, where all workers are members of the Service Employees International Union. These workers wanted the company to contribute more toward their pensions, and they also demanded free health care for their entire families. Those demands were “pretty significant,” and if Healthbridge had given the union workers everything they wanted, it might have been forced to go out of business, said Zach Janowski, an investigative reporter for the Connecticut-based Yankee Institute who has been following the story closely.
After months of negotiations, Healthbridge gave its best, last, and final offer, but the union decided to go on strike regardless on July 3, 2012. What happened next was appalling. Janowski summarized the attitude of the union members: “We want something from this company, and these elderly people are less important than the things we want. Therefore, we’re going to put people in danger for the sake of trying to get more money and benefits.”
Union members wreaked havoc as they left. Some reportedly scrambled or removed the identification of elderly residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s, even though patients could have died from receiving the wrong drugs, food, or medical procedures. Reports to the Connecticut Department of Health indicate that someone had tampered with mechanical lifts by dismantling and hiding a critical structural component. Elderly patients could easily have fallen off the lifts to their death.
The initial police report on the sabotage at Healthbridge stated that “there are no suspects [but] the persons involved are presumed to be employees who are part of a protest.” No one has been caught or punished yet. Meanwhile, the striking SEIU members have reportedly continued to make trouble. One man whose wife lives in the home talked to National Review Online, but he refused to give his name because union members have threatened his wife.
“They said, ‘If you care about the well-being of your wife . . . ’” he recounts. “You can read into that as you want to. I read into that a threat. I don’t want to get involved. My wife is helpless.” He adds: “Some of the people who work there just weren’t the kind of people that I’d want to be associated with, period. There were some good ones, but a lot of bad ones.”
Despite union members’ reprehensible behavior, the SEIU went to bat for its workers. The union took the case to the National Labor Relations Board, which then sought to force Healthbridge to rehire all 600 striking SEIU members regardless of their behavior.
Lorraine H. Mulligan, a veteran nurse hired by Healthbridge to investigate the situation, told the court that rehiring workers would put the elderly residents in danger, according to the Washington Free Beacon. Regardless, on December 11, Judge Robert Chatigny ruled in favor of the unions, ignoring the plight of the defenseless elderly and the new hires. Healthbridge is appealing the decision and was granted a temporary stay on December 17, but if it loses, it will have to fire all 600 replacement workers to make room for the SEIU walk-outs. Meanwhile, many residents and their families say the new workers are far superior to the old, unionized ones.
The Healthbridge case is only one instance where unions have fought to help miscreant members.
Last week, Chrysler was forced to reinstate workers who were caught on video by Fox News drinking and possibly smoking marijuana on their lunch break, despite having to operate machinery while on the job.
And the Boston Herald found last year that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was forced to rehire union workers, often with back pay, after a union arbitrator ruled in their favor. One of these union workers was caught dozing off behind the control panel of a trolley and tested positive for cocaine use. Another had assaulted one of her colleagues.
And then there’s Jacobie Williams, an MBTA motorman who was fired after he pled guilty to beating his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach with a chain. The MBTA noted that Williams had already received five other disciplinary warnings, and that he failed to report the assault-and-battery conviction, despite his employer’s policy. The transportation authority argued this was sufficient grounds for termination, given that it “needs to know when its employees commit violent crimes because it has to be in a position to make an informed decision as to whether that employee can function safely on the job or if he or she poses a threat to the riding public.”