Workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital, who struck alongside Yale’s unions for three weeks, will return to work today despite their own unresolved contract dispute.
Members of the Service Employees International Union District 1199, which represents about 150 dietary workers at the hospital, rejected the hospital’s latest contract offer Friday. The union has been negotiating for a new contract since January, but workers will return to work today in an effort to show their good faith in bargaining, union members said.
Now that Yale has settled its contracts with locals 34 and 35, union and city leaders say District 1199’s efforts will become their priority.
Leaders of Yale’s two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, say they will now focus on the hospital negotiations, and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. pressed for resolution at the hospital last week when he announced the settlement between Yale and locals 34 and 35.
District 1199 members said the hospital’s latest offer was inadequate, while hospital officials said the union is more interested in increasing its membership than in settling the current contract dispute.
District 1199 member Hazel Johnson characterized the hospital’s current proposal as “lousy.”
“I feel like nothing was resolved by going out,” Johnson said. “We’re going back to the same conditions without a contract.”
Hospital spokeswoman Katie Krauss said she is pleased that the union members will be back at their jobs today.
“It’s better for everybody if they’re working and getting a paycheck,” Krauss said.
But Krauss said the dispute has not been related to terms of the contract. Instead, she said, it has focused on District 1199’s drive to unionize 1,800 other workers at the hospital.
“The union wants to keep contracts unsigned as a leverage tool,” Krauss said.
Locals 34 and 35 dropped the hospital’s organizing efforts from their list of official contract demands in late August. But Local 35 President Bob Proto said union members can now devote their efforts to resolving the labor dispute at the hospital since their own contracts are settled.
“Our next stop is [hospital president and CEO] Joe Zaccagnino’s doorstep,” Proto said.
Johnson said she did not believe the end of the strike by locals 34 and 35 would weaken District 1199’s bargaining position.
“We’ve got the mayor, we’ve got [congresswoman] Rosa DeLauro,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a lot of backing and we still have 34 and 35 behind us.”
During the strike, SEIU President Andrew Stern called the hospital “a center of arrogance” at a number of high-profile rallies. Stern was also one of several labor leaders who got arrested in an act of civil disobedience Sept. 13.
SEIU and the AFL-CIO sponsored a full-page advertisement in The New York Times Monday alleging that the hospital uses aggressive methods to pressure patients without insurance to pay their medical bills.
“There’s a sickness at Yale-New Haven Hospital and it’s spreading,” the ad read.
The ad also said the hospital’s latest contract offer was rejected because it was not as good as the contracts locals 34 and 35 settled last week.
A full-page, black and white advocacy ad costs about $125,000, New York Times advertising representative Lucia Scholar said.
Krauss said that since August, District 1199 has changed its bargaining demands to reflect those of locals 34 and 35, but that comparing the two contract negotiations is like “comparing apples to oranges.”
The organizing movement at the hospital was not legally tied to contracts for locals 34 and 35, but union leaders often referred to the three unions as part of one effort.