Striking workers cannot be permanently replaced; management must return to the bargaining table
By TIM ROWDEN
Ferguson, MO – As the strike by SEIU Healthcare workers at Christian Care Home in Ferguson reached its 90th day recently, a ruling by the St. Louis regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found merit to the multiple unfair labor practices charges that sparked the strike starting in early December.
The board also found merit to charges that Christian Care Home unlawfully threatened to fire employees for joining the strike and unlawfully denied strikers accrued benefits after the start of the strike.
Chris Grant, an attorney with the firm Schuchat, Cook & Werner who is representing the workers for SEIU, said striking workers cannot be fired under law, but if permanently replaced, they lose preference to return to their job over subsequently hired employees. However, if the employees are striking against unfair labor practices, as the NLRB ruling confirms, they have the right to return to work and bump anyone who replaced them.
Brenda Davis, a union steward who works as a restorative aide at the home, said workers see the ruling as a victory and an affirmation of their decision to strike.
“It was a hard decision to take this strike, and it’s been hard out here,” Davis said. “But today we can smile, we can claim victory that we were right.”
About 65 full-time and 25 part-time nursing assistants, housekeepers and dietary workers went on strike Dec. 1 after contract negotiations with the Christian Woman’s Benevolent Association, which manages the home, broke down.
The median wage for a nursing assistant at the home is $9.65 an hour and workers had been asking for modest 75-cent raise.
UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES
SEIU filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the home in December alleging numerous violations of the existing contract, including:
• Making unilateral changes to staffing, hours and scheduling without bargaining with the union.
• Canceling or not allowing employees to use their vacation time.
• Failing to answer grievances.
• Cancelling scheduled bargaining meetings, and refusing to make representatives available for bargaining.
• Failing to provide relevant information to the union in a timely manner.
• Restricting workers in the exercise of their rights.
THE PRICE PAID
Christian Care Home has paid a price for its refusal to negotiate. One of the residential units at the home had to be shut down, with the residents transferred to other homes. Another wing is partially shut down.
“It’s been really hard for the residents as it was for us. We have residents who have been here 20 years. We have workers have been here 28, 35, 39 years.
“Our residents who are able to come out, they come out, they support us. They let us know how much they miss us.”
Grant said the Labor Board will now talk to both sides about reaching a settlement, including back pay and a return of work schedules for those workers whose hours had been cut. If the management of the home refuses, he said, a complaint will be issued against the management of the home and a trial date will be set.
“The goal remains to get striking employees back to work with a new, fair contract,” Grant said.