Representatives from the parent company of two Maryland nursing homes say a lawsuit filed recently by employees is just a bully tactic in ongoing negotiations with the workers' union.

The lawsuit, alleging employees were not paid for time beyond scheduled shifts and were forced to work through breaks, was filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on Aug. 27 by workers at the Bayside Nursing Home in Lexington Park and Mallard Bay Nursing Home in Cambridge. Both facilities are owned and operated by Florida-based Home Quality Management.

Elizabeth Fago, Home Quality Management president, called the allegations ridiculous and said the lawsuit is a strategy to push her into concessions during ongoing bargaining with United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 400, which represents 80 nursing home employees. In particular, Fago and her attorney Pat Stewart said, union members are angry at the company's refusal to agree to a contract provision that would require all employees to join the union and pay dues within 30 days or be fired.

Stewart said the company has an open-door policy with regard to employees' concerns and maintains a hot line to receive worker grievances.

"Not once has someone complained that they were not paid any compensation due them for hours worked," Stewart said.

Fago said electronic timecards make it impossible to work a shift and not get paid because a computer automatically calculates wages. The only time a worker wouldn't be paid is when he or she clocks out and remains at work--a practice that is not encouraged, she said.

Carey Butsavage, a Washington attorney representing the employees, said the lawsuit has nothing to do with bargaining talks and that employees who use open-door policies usually "find the door open for them to leave their jobs." He said lunch hours are electronically deducted from the 8 1/2-hour schedule, thus leaving people who work through lunchtime without pay.