On August 30 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued the long-awaited decision in Specialty Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, in which it announced a new standard for determining what constitutes an appropriate bargaining unit in non-acute health care facilities.

The union in Specialty Healthcare sought to represent a unit consisting only of Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) in a nursing home.  The home argued that the unit should include other non-professional employees such as cooks, dietary aides, activity assistants, the social services assistant, staffing coordinator, maintenance assistant, the medical records and data entry clerks, central supply clerk, and the receptionist.  In other words, the employer argued for the well-established facility-wide “service and maintenance unit” that has been the approved unit in nursing homes for more than 20 years.

Under the new standard articulated by the NLRB, if the union seeks a unit of employees that is “readily identifiable as a group” (e.g., a unit of a single job classification) and those employees “share a community of interest,” the NLRB will approve the unit requested by the union unless the employer can show that employees in a larger unit “share an overwhelming community of interest” with the employees in the unit requested by the union.  The NLRB, applying their new standard, found that the unit of CNAs requested by the union was an appropriate unit and rejected the home’s request to add the other non-professional employees to the unit.

The dissent of Board Member Hayes explains the NLRB’s decision and its impact in the context of the NLRB’s proposed changes to its election procedures:

First, in this case, they [the NLRB majority] define the test of an appropriate unit by looking only at whether a group of employees share a community of interest among themselves and make it virtually impossible for a party opposing this unit to prove that any excluded employees should be included. This will in most instances encourage union organizing in units as small as possible.  Next, by proposing to revise the rules governing the conduct of representation elections to expedite elections and limit evidentiary hearings and the right to Board review, the majority seeks to make it virtually impossible for an employer to oppose the organizing effort either by campaign persuasion or through Board litigation.

Non-acute healthcare providers can expect that unions will seek smaller units which likely will include units consisting of employees in a single-classification.  This will make it easier for unions to win elections, by allowing them to limit the requested unit to those employees with the strongest support for the union.  This will lead to a proliferation of bargaining units in nursing homes, senior living facilities, and other non-acute healthcare providers and, as a consequence, multiple contracts and potential job actions by multiple groups of employees.

Non-acute healthcare providers should consult with their labor counsel to discuss this decision and strategies for minimizing its potentially damaging impact on their facilities and the care they provide.

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Photo of Ana C. Shields Ana C. Shields

Ana Shields is a Principal in the Long Island, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Since joining Jackson Lewis in June 2005, she has practiced exclusively in employment law and has been involved in proceedings before federal and state courts, the American…

Ana Shields is a Principal in the Long Island, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Since joining Jackson Lewis in June 2005, she has practiced exclusively in employment law and has been involved in proceedings before federal and state courts, the American Arbitration Association and administrative agencies.

Ms. Shields has successfully prepared pleadings, motions, memoranda of law, position statements and legal opinions related to employment law issues such as employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, whistle-blowing claims and restrictive covenants. Ms. Shields has advised clients on compliance with various state and federal laws affecting the workplace, including Title VII, the Equal Pay Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act and New York State and City laws. In addition, she is a firm resource for Electronic Discovery. She has worked closely with clients through all phases of litigation including investigations, preparations for depositions, attending depositions and trials.

While attending law school, Ms. Shields was a published member of the New York International Law Review. She was the recipient of the 2003 American Bar Association/Bureau of National Affairs Award for Excellence in Labor and Employment Law. She was also awarded the CALI Award for Excellence in Employment Law, Advanced Labor Law, and Jurisprudence.

Prior to joining the firm, Ms. Shields was a commercial litigation associate at a firm in Long Island, New York.