Filipino Nurses Seek National Labor Relations Board Review of Repressive CommuniCare Employment Contracts
CINCINNATI, OHIO — Today, five Filipino immigrant nurses filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against their former employer, CommuniCare Family of Companies, to challenge the company’s use of training repayment agreement provisions (TRAPs) in the nurses’ employment contracts. The nurses seek NLRB review of CommuniCare’s TRAPs which obligates them to pay CommuniCare steep reimbursement penalties if they left their jobs. The nurses are represented by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Murphy Anderson PLLC (Murphy Anderson), and Herzfeld, Suetholz, Gastel, Leniski & Wall PLLC (HSGLaW).
This year, the NLRB’s General Counsel announced her intent to seek relief against non-compete agreements as an interference with worker rights under the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB General Counsel identified TRAPs as a specific instance of this practice because they deter workers from freely participating in the U.S. labor market. The NLRB General Counsel has already issued a complaint against another employer in Cincinnati, Juvly Aesthetics, for requiring workers to agree to a similar TRAP in NLRB Case No. 09-CA-300239.
“I came to the U.S. to fulfill my American dreams, but my expectations are far from the reality that I experienced working with CommuniCare. I was put in extremely difficult working conditions dealing with 20 to 25 patients at the same time, and I constantly prayed that I would survive my shift without making any mistakes,” said Jhane Engnan, a 34-year-old nurse from the Philippines.
Asian Americans make up 8.9% of registered nurses in the U.S. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, one report indicated that 24.6% of the nurses who died from the disease were Filipino.
“TRAPs are just another tactic employers use to trap workers into impossible situations—either continue working in exploitative jobs or risk severe financial penalties,” said Elizabeth Koo, Senior Counsel at AALDEF. “We are committed to representing these nurses to challenge these provisions in their employment contracts and improve working conditions for their former colleagues and other immigrant nurses.”
In separate cases, CommuniCare is suing the nurses in Ohio for alleged breaches of contract related to the TRAPs and is seeking $50,000 in reimbursement for fees it purportedly paid for each nurse to transfer to the United States.
“I believe CommuniCare has to be held accountable for abusing the legal process. By dragging immigrant nurses and other similarly situated healthcare workers through the courts, they are effectively sending a chilling message to others who dare to escape from horrible working conditions that they too will be pursued,” said Arman Candelaria, a 35-year-old nurse from the Philippines and former employee of CommuniCare.
"I’m heartbroken and mentally crushed after being forced to leave because of this horrible situation,” said Jeddalyn Ramos, a 30-year-old immigrant from the Philippines also being sued by CommuniCare, despite paying them back the TRAP fee. “Honoring the agreement that I had signed with CommuniCare, I paid the breach of contract fee and was unfairly sued. The emotional damage that has been caused up until now is unbearable. Not even in my worst nightmares would I have imagined to be attacked like this.”
AALDEF’s efforts are supported by the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s fastest growing nurses’ union, who works to ensure all nurses are protected and know their rights as workers.
In a joint statement, AFT President Randi Weingarten and Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus said: “These types of clauses force workers to keep working under dangerous conditions with unsafe workloads that damage patient care. If we are serious about honoring our nurses as ‘heroes’ as we did during the height of the pandemic, then we must treat them with the dignity, respect and basic labor rights they deserve. The AFT is committed to this fight, which is why we launched our Code Red campaign to address the dangers of understaffed hospitals and combat the corporate greed that drives these dangerous and unethical practices.”
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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.