Sunnyview workers claim unfair labor practices
By Bill Vidonic
Published: Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
An unfair labor practice complaint filed by Sunnyview workers who claim Butler County officials ignored pleas to negotiate concessions could have significant consequences if the county sells its nursing home, one labor attorney said.
“If they go ahead with the sale and the county loses, they could look at paying all those displaced employees for lost wages,” said Joshua Bloom, a Pittsburgh labor attorney not connected with the case. “It could have very serious consequences for either party.”
On Thursday, commissioners voted to seek bids from interested buyers and hired Pittsburgh law firm Clark Hill Thorp Reed to handle the sale.
A hearing date for the union's complaint has not been set, said Claudia Davidson, an attorney representing the union.
Members of SEIU Healthcare, which represents about 200 workers at the nursing and rehabilitation center, said in the Nov. 1 complaint that they are willing to go back to the bargaining table.
“Never in my career have I been in a negotiation where someone said, ‘This is what we're talking, accept it or we're going to sell the place,'” union spokesman and Sunnyview maintenance worker Terry Penrod said.
Commission Chairman Bill McCarrier, a Republican from Butler Township, said the county didn't see any point in continuing negotiations.
“We've been negotiating since April,” McCarrier said.
“We just weren't able to come to terms that we felt were acceptable. What's the point of going back (to negotiations)?”
The nursing home is expected to lose more than $1 million this year and another $800,000 in 2014. County officials say those losses are driving the decision to sell.
The sale is “absolutely not” being done in retaliation for the union rejecting a contract offer in October, McCarrier said.
“It sure seems that way,” Penrod countered. “They haven't gotten back to us. We countered with a contract that will put them in the financial position they wanted to be in.”
The current contract expires in 2014. The county commissioners asked the union this year to open negotiations.
According to the complaint, the county's first offer would have increased what workers pay for health insurance to 40 percent of premiums and eliminated insurance for workers whose spouses had coverage.
It called for outsourcing housekeeping and dietary departments, eliminating overtime pay for working more than eight hours a day, reducing sick and vacation days, a wage freeze for 2014 and a 1 percent wage increase in 2015.
The union countered in July with a package that included retirement incentives to lower overall wages and benefits and extended the contract through 2017.
Each side offered variations to its original proposal, according to the complaint. The union's chief negotiator, Tamara Lefcowitz, said in an Oct. 10 email to commissioners that union members viewed the county's proposals as “insulting and counterproductive,” but said the two sides “are not far apart” and asked to continue negotiations.
County Solicitor Mike English said last week that he could not comment on pending litigation.
On Oct. 15, the union voted to reject the county's proposal in a 134-5 vote.
The union offered another concession package on Oct. 23 that included a 15 percent insurance premium contribution in 2014 that would increase to 20 percent in 2015.
The county has not responded, according to the complaint.
“You don't see the big cases at the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board that often,” Bloom said.
“This could have a huge impact on the county.”
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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