Golden Living Centers, which in 2016 and 2017 sold the operations of 36 Pennsylvania nursing homes in a deal that did not include the real estate, is fighting an arbitrator's award of $1.8 million in vacation pay to 2,000 former employees, who are represented by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the union said Wednesday.

"This move amounts to nothing more than wage theft," Matt Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

John Barger, a licensed practical nurse at the Doylestown facility said Golden Living, which was his employer for 13 years, owes him $5,000. "The money would make a big difference in my life," Barger said on the call.

The dispute centers on a delay in the change of control at 17 facilities, including nursing homes in Doylestown and Rosemont, from Dec. 31, 2016 to Feb. 1, 2017. The union and Golden Living, which has largely left the business of operating nursing homes, had an agreement that Golden Living would pay half the vacation time, but that was contingent on the sale being done by Dec. 31, 2016.

When that did not happen, the union argued, the worker's collective bargaining agreement kicked back into effect, requiring Golden Living to pay 100 percent of the employees 2017 vacation time, according to Golden Living's appeal filed in United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Golden Living wants the arbitrator's Dec. 3 award to the workers vacated because the arbitrator, Matthew M. Franckiewicz, had improperly ignored the terms of agreements that superseded specific provisions of the union contract, the Dec. 29 Golden Living appeal said.

"The Golden Living Centers and the SEIU have had a long-standing relationship and history of working cooperatively at the company's Pennsylvania facilities," a company spokeswoman said in an email. "We sincerely hope to reach a compromise with the SEIU."