HR Strange But True!
April 21, 2005

A nursing home in Wakefield, Massachusetts, has accused one of its employees of threatening co-workers with voodoo if they did not vote to unionize.

The Boston Globe reports that the allegation has set off outrage in the Boston area's Haitian and labor communities, with leaders accusing the company of using unfounded stereotypes and insulting its own workers.

Employees of the nursing home, Harborside Healthcare at Wakefield, voted 41-22 vote last month to join Service Employees International Union, Local 2020. On April 1, Harborside filed an objection with the National Labor Relations Board. The objection accuses Marie Chery, who served as the union's observer during part of the voting, of telling employees that she would know how they voted because of her "voodoo powers." Hence, her presence "served as a visual reminder of the intimidation and threats," according to the objection.

"'More than 30 employees are Haitian immigrants, and numerous employees believed Ms. Chery's actions to constitute a very powerful, serious, valid and credible threat against them," the company's labor counsel, Jeffrey L. Hirsch, wrote to the NLRB.

He went on to defend the objection in an interview with the Globe. "You have to remember that those of us born and raised in this country might think that's ridiculous," he said. "Diversity means understanding where people come from and what their values are and what their fears are."

The objection sparked a street protest outside company offices this week by Harborside workers, union organizers, Haitian community leaders, and other nursing care employees. "They lost the election 2 to 1 so they had to trump up charges," Local 2020 President Celia Wcislo told an angry crowd of about 75.

One of the protesters was Chery, a Haitian immigrant and nursing assistant. She doesn't practice voodoo, she said; she's a Seventh Day Adventist who has worked at the nursing home for five years and has yet to get a raise.

The Globe reports that with Haitians making up about 80 percent of nursing home employees in the Boston area, religious leaders have been pushing hard to improve working conditions in the homes, which have become key battlegrounds for union organizers as a result. The Wakefield center is one of 45 facilities around the country operated by Harborside Healthcare, one of the nation's largest nursing home companies.

Source: Boston Globe

This is probably the oddest dispute we've seen involving union organizing, but it almost certainly won't be the last. Make sure you know what's legal and what's not with What to Do About Personnel Problems in [Your State].

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