The Service Employees International Union is brandishing a new weapon in its longstanding battle with nursing home operator Beverly Enterprises.
Saying that Beverly fails to meet government contracting standards for business ethics, the SEIU is demanding that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs stop doing business with the Fort Smith, Ark.-based company.
According to an SEIU press release, government contracting officers may reject bids from irresponsible contractors, including those whose labor relations policies would provoke strikes or obstruct commerce.
SEIU President Andrew L. Stern last week wrote to VA Secretary Jesse Brown that Beverly's many violations of labor law should render it unfit to receive federal VA contracts. The SEIU said Beverly does about $20 million in federal business a year.
"Time and again, Beverly has shown its contempt for workers and their rights under federal labor law-from denying maternity leave to a pregnant worker because she attended a union meeting to firing a worker because he refused to engage in illegal anti-union activity," Stern said.
Most recently the National Labor Relations Board issued a 108-page complaint against Beverly after the company replaced nearly 400 workers in Pennsylvania following a three-day strike in April.
"This company simply does not meet minimum standards of business ethics, and should be considered ineligible for federal contracts," Stern said. The SEIU laid out the case against Beverly in an eight-page letter to the VA's chief contracting officer, Judith Sterne.
In response, Beverly Senior Vice President Jim Griffith said: "Part and parcel of the union's 14-year campaign of harassment is to bring up trumped up charges of labor-law violations. They've tried to characterize Beverly as a corporate outlaw, citing violations of labor law allegedly committed as a matter of corporate policy.
"That is absolutely untrue. We were vindicated by the U.S. Court of Appeals....We expect to be vindicated each time there is a fair and impartial hearing. The problem is it takes some time for the judicial process to work."
David Snapp, an SEIU strategist, said the union has never used this approach before in the healthcare industry. "We never had a company like Beverly, either, that has such a record," Snapp said. "If the notion of business ethics includes compliance with federal employment laws, then Beverly seems to me to be the ideal test case, because Beverly has the worst record of compliance with the National Labor Relations Act of any employer."
Snapp said the notion of business ethics "is not extremely well defined" in federal contracting regulations but that "the VA has the authority to define it in this case."
The SEIU used this tactic in its Justice for Janitors campaign. It had some success focusing attention on the labor records of cleaning companies that had contracts to service federal buildings.