President Obama portrays himself as a president who stands up for the most vulnerable in our society. Nursing home patients and their families in Connecticut got a look behind the rhetoric last week.
In the name of standing up for workers' rights, Obama's National Labor Relations Board -- the one staffed by people he installed through controversial "recess appointments" when the Senate was in session -- sued to have a nursing home reinstate employees who went on strike.
The Service Employees International Union members who worked at HealthBridge nursing homes went on strike after rejecting the company's final offer in contract negotiations. HealthBridge cut benefits, terminated the pension plan and raised wages by 2.2 percent.
As they left the facility, some of the union members sabotaged Alzheimer's wards in two nursing homes. One of the nursing home directors told police that "the name tags on the patients' doors for the Alzheimer's ward were mixed up. The photos attached to the medical records for these patients were removed, further complicating, but not making impossible, the identification of the patients. Also, dietary blue stickers affixed to the door name tags were removed."
See, it's funny, because the Alzheimer's patients can't remember their names, so they can't tell the replacement workers who they are and what care they need. Except that's not funny at all. It's malicious and potentially life-threatening.
The sabotage has prompted a criminal investigation, but it's difficult to identify the perpetrators because of regulations on security cameras at these facilities.
Apprised of the situation, the National Labor Relations Board sprung into action. Last week, the NLRB filed a petition in federal court arguing that HealthBridge must fire its replacement workers and reinstate the workers on strike -- all of them, including the impossible-to-identify saboteurs who thought so little of putting their patients' health at risk.
The NLRB decided to argue that the contract changes were illegal. The board believes that the sabotage poses no impediment to the workers' return.
"[To postpone the reinstatement] until we sort out who the evildoers are is unfair," NLRB lawyer Thomas Quigley said in the Hartford Courant. "It's collective punishment at its worst."
Neither the NLRB nor the SEIU are working very hard to get rid of the bad apples. "Both the Board and Union oppose providing Respondents with any type of discovery that would help [the nursing home] identify the participants in the sabotage and the extent to which Union officers and other members may have encouraged it or were otherwise complicit in it," HealthBridge told the judge in a response to the NLRB.
If Obama and the NLRB really wanted to use government to defend the vulnerable, they would use their influence to pressure the union to hand over the criminals. Instead, the NLRB is willing to expose all of those patients to the saboteurs in order to defend the president's union allies. Collective punishment at its worst, indeed.