Union Protests Carlyle's Bid for Manor Care

Brandon Boswell was among the protesters. The union expressed concern over whether Manor Care's service would be affected if Carlyle acquires it.
Brandon Boswell was among the protesters. The union expressed concern over whether Manor Care's service would be affected if Carlyle acquires it. (Susan Biddle - Twp)
By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 20, 2007

About 150 members of the Service Employees International Union staged a boisterous demonstration outside the Carlyle Group's District headquarters yesterday to protest the private-equity firm's proposed acquisition of nursing-home giant Manor Care.

Carrying a banner that read "Put America's Seniors Above Carlyle Profits" and chanting "Better staffing, better care, no more money for billionaires," the marchers gathered outside the building at 10 a.m. for about half an hour.

The SEIU, which wants to organize Manor Care's 60,000 health-care workers, expressed concern that the $6.3 billion buyout could lead to layoffs and cuts in benefits for employees, and to a reduction in the quality of care for patients. The union has also begun an initiative to draw attention to what it calls the growing concentration of wealth in a few private-equity companies such as Carlyle.

"Carlyle has not said how Manor Care workers will be affected and whether there will be wage and benefit changes," said John Reed, the head of SEIU's health-care local in Maryland, who led the demonstration. "Since Carlyle is in it for profit, we don't know how patient care would be affected."

Reed and his protesters, the vast majority of whom were bused by the SEIU from a conference at the Hilton Washington, north of Dupont Circle, were unsuccessful in delivering a list of demands to Carlyle executives, including assurances that Carlyle would disclose how planned changes might affect nursing-home workers, residents and taxpayers in each of the states where Manor Care does business.

Security personnel at Carlyle's headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue NW denied them admission to the company's offices, and no one from Carlyle would agree to meet with the union.

"When our portfolio company customers are well served, our investors are as well," Carlyle spokesman Christopher Ullman said in a statement. "Private equity seeks a win-win, where all parties stand to realize value."

Carlyle is one of the biggest private-equity firms in the world, with $76 billion under management. It owns dozens of companies, earning returns for its investors, which include pension funds, endowments and institutions, wealthy individuals and foreign entities.

SEIU members participate in pension funds with more than $1 trillion in assets, according to the union. Most of those pension funds invest 5 to 10 percent of their assets in private-equity firms such as Carlyle, the union said.

"It's not that we are against private equity, but we believe companies like Carlyle, because of their huge size, have to match that size with responsible actions in terms of the impact of their deals on workers and seniors," said Stephen Lerner, director of SEIU's private-equity project.

Manor Care, which traces its roots to a single nursing home in Wheaton 48 years ago, has grown into one of the largest providers of long-term care and services in the country, with more than 500 facilities under the Heartland, ManorCare Health Services and Arden Courts brands. Reed said the SEIU would like to organize Manor Care's employees. The union has about 1,000 members in Manor Care.

Stanley Dorsey, 44, of Baltimore, who works at a Manor Care facility in Towson, said he attended the rally to "fight for what's right." He said he hopes that after Carlyle acquires Manor Care, "it's better than what we got now."

SEIU is the largest union of health-care workers in the United States, with more than 1 million members, according to the SEIU. The union said it is the second-largest representative of public service employees with around 600,000 members.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company