December 4, 2009 Volume 110 Number 23

Laurelhurst nursing home now a union shop

Laurelhurst Village nursing home in Southeast Portland — which fired a pro-union worker in April — is now a union shop.

As a condition of joining an industry partnership with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503, parent company Farmington Centers agreed in September to recognize the union if a majority of workers signed union authorization cards. Local 503 spokesperson Ed Hershey attributed the company’s decision to community pressure, and the union’s carrot-and-stick strategy with nursing homes.

SEIU’s partnership with Oregon Health Care Association, begun in 2002, commits the union to use its political clout to maintain and improve public funding, and not to publicly criticize nursing home companies. In return, companies stay neutral when employees look at joining the union, recognize the union on the basis of "card check," and bargain a contract on an expedited timetable.

On Nov. 23, by agreement with both sides, Oregon State Rep. Jules Kopel Bailey matched cards against a list provided by Laurelhurst Village, and determined that a majority of the 144 workers had signed. That brings to 26 the number of Oregon nursing homes that are unionized, for a total of over 1,100 workers. Local 503 represents certified nursing assistants, janitors, kitchen workers, and support staff at the facilities, which rely on Medicaid reimbursements to pay for the care.

Lobbying together at the Oregon Legislature, SEIU and the nursing home industry association have been able to win funding improvements, and an almost 40 percent improvement in staff-to-patient ratios.

Hershey said the union expects to begin bargaining a contract for Laurelhurst Village workers in January. Thus far, union wages and benefits are only marginally above the nursing home industry average, but unionizing brings workers workplace rights like a grievance process, seniority rights, and just cause discipline.

In July, Laurelhurst Village paid back wages plus an undisclosed amount to settle an unfair labor practice charge over the firing of pro-union worker Elizabeth Lehr, in return for her agreeing to waive her right to reinstatement. She continued to volunteer in support of the union campaign.

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