POLITICS: PennAve

Two members of Congress subpoenaed in nursing homes' fight with SEIU

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Congress,Labor unions,Labor,Health Care,PennAve,Tim Mak,SEIU,Law,Richard Blumenthal

Two senior lawmakers from Connecticut have been subpoenaed in a civil racketeering case involving nursing homes and the SEIU, the Washington Examiner has learned.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., have been pulled into a lawsuit between two local chapters of the Service Employees International Union, which represent health care workers, and nursing homes. At issue is whether a campaign to pressure the management of the nursing homes during labor disputes crossed the line into extortion.

There is no allegation that DeLauro or Blumenthal have done anything criminal, and the most recent complaint by the nursing home companies, filed in December, doesn’t suggest that either politician has done anything wrong.

But both lawmakers are now in the uncomfortable situation of being deposed by lawyers representing the nursing homes and are forced to provide a wide array of documents relating to their interactions with the SEIU.

The subpoenas, obtained by the Washington Examiner, require them to be deposed at a Washington law firm, Blumenthal on March 11 and DeLauro on March 13. Both will be required to bring with them a broad range of documents, including any in their possession related to the SEIU.

DeLauro and Blumenthal have been publicly supportive of unionized health care workers in their state, and their visits to the picket line for striking nursing home employees presented the hook to connect them to the case, as the plaintiffs hope to examine the way the SEIU pursued its campaign behind the scenes.

Other Connecticut politicians also have been told to appear for oral depositions, including Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, state Attorney General George Jepson, and two members of the Connecticut Senate, Sen. John Fonfara and Sen. Russ Morin.

DeLauro and Blumenthal’s offices confirmed the receipt of the subpoenas but declined to comment further, citing the ongoing case.

The civil case was filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, originally passed in 1970 to prosecute the mafia. Notably, civil cases employing RICO typically are dismissed or settled before subpoenas are handed out.

At the heart of the subpoena and coming depositions is how the two lawmakers interacted with the SEIU, and the kind of language employed by the labor union as it sought to ramp up pressure during labor disputes with nursing homes run by Care One Management and Health Bridge Management, among others.

Care One, which manages nursing home facilities in New Jersey, and HealthBridge, which manages facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, are accusing SEIU local unions of “extortion and other criminal and fraudulent tactics” in their labor disputes.

For example, in their complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the plaintiffs say that union members were responsible for acting “to harm ... elderly and frail patients” by tampering with medication records, hiding medical equipment and removing dietary stickers indicating patient dietary needs in the lead-up to a 2012 strike in Connecticut.

The SEIU views the case and the subpoenas as an effort to make union support burdensome.

"This is just another expansion of [the nursing home companies’] ridiculous, ludicrous misuse of the RICO statute for the sole purpose of discouraging anyone from taking any action that they see as not in their interest,” said Deborah Chernoff, a spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1199, a defendant in the suit. “This is a company with a strong ideological and financial opposition to unions that decided it didn't want to play by the rules, and that it was going to exercise its financial and litigious clout to ... make sure that employees do not get to exercise their rights under labor law."

The scheduled depositions of DeLauro and Blumenthal, as well as the other Connecticut politicians subpoenaed in the case, still may be avoided.

On Friday, attorneys for the defendants filed a letter to the court objecting to the timing of the depositions, asking for them to be delayed and calling them “an abusive and unnecessary diversion of the parties’ and the judicial system’s resources.”

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