Beverly Allowed to Continue Defamation Suit Against Union

The Nat’l Labor Relations Bd. ruled Aug. 8 that Beverly Health & Rehabilitation Servs., Inc., may proceed with a state court defamation suit against the Service Employees Int’l Union for statements made in handbills and a paid radio broadcast during a 1996 labor dispute in Pennsylvania. NLRB members Wilma B. Liebman, Peter J. Hurtgen and J. Robert Brame upheld administrative law judge’s recommendation that SEIU’s complaint alleging that Beverly’s suit is itself an unfair labor practice be put on hold until the defamation suit is resolved. The members held that issuance of the
unfair-labor-practice complaint does not preempt state court jurisdiction.

To win the defamation suit, NLRB said that Beverly must show that SEIU Locals 668 and 585, District 1199P, and/or Dist. 1199P boss Thomas DeBruin, made a false statement of fact and did so with actual malice and that the company was harmed as a result.

The SEIU statements in question preceded a three-day strike in Apr. 1996. SEIU distributed a handbill outside of nursing homes in Mar. stating that Beverly was being prosecuted by the federal government for labor law violations, had engaged in hundreds of illegal actions in the previous 10 years, had been cited by OSHA for safety violations, and had been sued for wrongful death of a nursing home resident. The handbill was headlined “Must We Strike to Make Beverly Obey the Law” and stated: “Family members, residents and the public deserve to know the truth about the quality of care.”

A radio ad was aired on Pa. and Md. radio stations during Mar. which stated Beverly’s attempt to impose a gag order on workers had been “declared illegal by government officials” and that “250 more unfair labor practice violations were filed against Beverly.” The radio spot claimed the company was ignoring employee complaints about staffing, patient care, and working conditions, was refusing to bargain in good faith, and was forcing the workers to strike.

SEIU distributed a second handbill titled “Family Alert.” The notice stated that according to a union-conducted employee survey of health and safety problems, the nursing home lacked water hot enough to clean dishes, linen, and clothing and to give residents hot baths and showers.  [BNA 8/17/00]