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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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Slavery Remark Won’t Tank Union Election

(CN) - The 4th Circuit upheld a union election at a nursing facility that an NAACP director slammed for treating its nursing assistants like "chattel enslaved captives."

Supervisors with Ashland Facility Operations, which runs a facility north of Richmond, Va., summoned six nursing assistants into their offices in February 2010 after a reported theft.

The supervisors forced the nurses, five of whom were black and one of whom was white, to empty their purses. One nurse was asked to remove her shoes, and two nurses were told to remove their jackets.

After the nurses complained to the director about this treatment the following week, both supervisors were fired.

In May, the director of the Virginia State Conference NAACP, King Salim Khalfani, held a press conference on the nurses he termed "the Ashland Six." He said they had been treated like "chattel enslaved captives," and that Ashland was "a cesspool of inhumanity that needs to be told and fixed."

The same day, Khalfani introduced the nurses to Ken Pinkard, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 400.

After an organizing drive, the Ashland nurses voted to join the union in November 2010. One Ashland employee testified that she overheard other employees discussing the "slave-like conditions" during the time leading up to the election.

Ashland contested the election before the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that "the union's campaign was based in whole or in substantial part on unlawful appeals to racial prejudice."

The board found no connection, however, between Khalfani's comments and the union election.

A three-judge panel of the Richmond-based federal appeals court refused to review that decision, and ordered enforcement.

"Khalfani's comments fall short of being 'inflammatory,'" Judge James Wynn wrote for the panel.

"Although Khalfani's comments appealed to matters of race, they were not inflammatory because they were made in the context of raising legitimate concerns about the working conditions of CNAs [certified nursing assistants] at Ashland Facility - including the search of the so called Ashland Six," he continued.

The 18-page opinion notes that Ashland highlighted "what it contends constitutes evidence of a close relationship between the Union and the Virginia NAACP."

"However, this evidence falls far short of showing that the Virginia NAACP was 'instrumental in every step of the campaign process,'" Wynn added.

"The record includes no evidence that Khalfani's comments, made months before the election, rendered it impossible for employees to freely decide whether to certify the Union as their exclusive bargaining agent," the ruling also states. "Moreover, to the extent that Khalfani's comments may have caused confusion, Ashland Facility had ample opportunity to address this confusion and set the record straight at the eighteen meetings it held with employees during the critical period."

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