Brius ordered to reinstate illegally fired workers with backpay

A judge has ruled that Brius Healthcare Services violated federal law when it fired pro-union caregivers at its Marin County facilities just two days before a 2015 vote to unionize.

On April 20, Judge Amita Baman Tracy ordered the Brius-operated Novato Healthcare Center to reinstate five caregivers (a Licensed Vocational Nurse and four Certified Nursing Assistants) who were illegally fired. The judge also ordered Brius to pay them tens of thousands of dollars in back salary and benefits. Four of the five caregivers were active supporters of joining the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

In her 31-page ruling, Tracy, an administrative law judge, found that two nursing home administrators did not give credible testimony about the events leading up to the firings. Tracy also found it “troubling” that the facility administrator discussed allegations against the workers with an anti-union consultant hired by Brius to defeat the unionization effort.

“This ruling is a victory for workers who put their heart and soul into caring for frail seniors even as they face cruel and retaliatory treatment by an employer that puts profit above the well-being of patients,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “It’s time for management to finally honor its employees’ hard work and dedication with a contract that provides safe staffing and a living wage.”

The ruling is the latest black eye for Brius, which has faced increased scrutiny from federal and state authorities for widespread patient care violations. In 2014, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris sought to block Brius from purchasing 19 nursing homes, calling Brius CEO Shlomo Rechnitz a “serial violator” of nursing home rules. Last year, the California Department of Public Health blocked Brius from permanently operating five additional homes, noting that the company had amassed 386 patient care violations over a three-year period.

Most of Brius’ approximately 80 nursing homes are not unionized, and Brius management made clear they didn’t want Novato’s caregivers to join NUHW, which also represents workers at a Brius facility in San Rafael, Calif.

Managers at the 181-bed Novato facility handed out anti-union fliers and forced employees into captive meetings with four anti-union consultants. In one case, a manager illegally interrogated a worker about his union leanings, the judge found.

The anti-union campaign climaxed shortly before the scheduled vote when Brius officials illegally fired five caregivers, including four who were vocal leaders of the unionization drive. After Brius fired them, NUHW filed an unfair labor practice complaint arguing that the firings were an illegal attempt to intimidate workers from voting to join the union.

In ruling for NUHW, Tracy found ample evidence that the firings were illegal and politically motivated.

In addition, Tracy found that the facility’s administrator, Darron Treude, and another manager, Teresa Gilman, did not give credible testimony. Treude “testified nervously, evasively, and provided vague and contradictory answers,” Tracy wrote. “Gilman’s testimony simply appeared implausible,” she added.

“It feels so good to know that we won, and that Brius will pay a big price for trying to ruin our careers and reputations just because we supported the union,” former Novato worker Angel Sabelino said. “I’m grateful that NUHW fought so hard for us and sent a message to Brius that they can’t get away with trying to silence their workers.”

Tracy ordered Brius to do the following:

1)    Offer employment to all five employees it wrongly terminated.

2)   Compensate them for pay and benefits they would have received had they not been fired in Oct. 2015.

3)   Remove any reference of the incident from the workers’ personnel files.

4)   Post a notice inside the Novato facility declaring that the National Labor Relations Board has found that Brius “violated federal law” and will “not interrogate you about your union sympathies” or “restrain, or coerce you in the exercise of your rights under … the National Labor Relations Act.”

Despite management’s illegal acts of intimidation, workers at the 181-bed facility voted to unionize in 2015 and are fighting to improve staffing levels and establish better pay and benefits so the facility can recruit and retain a stable, experienced workforce.

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