Wednesday, March 18, 2015

SEIU Brings $15.00/hour Wage Fight to Home Care Agencies; Rumored Plans Multi-City Walkout in March

March 2015
By: James B. Sherman, Esq.

Over the past year, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has made headlines for its attempts at organizing fast food workers.  The union’s rallying cry has been to advocate for a $15.00 per hour wage rate.  A typical tactic used by the SEIU and other unions, most notably in the retail, services and fast food industries, is to stage walkouts where employees leave their posts and assemble outside of the employer’s business to protest wages and other terms of their employment. Recently, however, the SEIU has turned its attention to the home healthcare industry.  Rumors of a planned walkout event in the coming weeks in a number of cities around the country, including Chicago and Milwaukee, could have serious consequences for the clients who depend on home health agencies for their care.

Employers who may be impacted by these tactics are well advised to have a plan in place before being hit by a walkout or picketing, etc.  However, these situations are governed by complex labor laws that must be taken into account.  For example, where employees protest together, “in concert,” their activities may be protected by the National Labor Relations Act.  This protection is not dependent on union involvement, so even non-unionized employees may be protected from being discharged or disciplined for walking out on their jobs or going “on strike.”  At the same time employees engaging in these sorts of activities may go beyond the protections of the law, for example by engaging in acts of violence or in some rare cases that arguably may be applicable to the home healthcare industry, endangering clients by walking off the job.  While in most instances employers may not discharge or terminate striking union or non-union employees, employers do retain the right to stay open for business, hiring temporary replacement workers or even in some cases, “permanent replacements,” but the striking workers retain the right to come back to work if and when any appropriate jobs become available.  Because the options available to employers are varied and highly regulated by federal law, it is highly recommended that employers consult with experienced labor lawyers for advice on best practices in these scenarios.