Hospital talks hit impasse

More than two weeks after locals 34 and 35 settled their contracts with Yale and ended a three-week strike, labor negotiations have stagnated between Yale-New Haven Hospital and its dietary workers, who returned to work Sept. 23 without a contract.

The two sides have been negotiating since January. On Sept. 19, members of the Service Employees International Union District 1199, which represents about 150 dietary workers, rejected the hospital’s latest contract offer. No negotiating sessions have been held since then, and none are planned, hospital and union officials said.

Union officials said they were told before they rejected the offer that the hospital would not make another contract proposal, but at least one union spokesman said he hoped negotiations would continue.

“Maybe they have a final final offer,” union spokesman Bill Meyerson said.

Hospital spokeswoman Katie Krauss said the hospital remains open to negotiations.

“I don’t think there’s really ever [the] word ‘final’ in contract negotiations,” Krauss said. “However, the union at that time was pushing for hospital employees to get the same kind of contract as University employees, and that was unrealistic.”

Hospital officials have maintained that 1199 is intentionally avoiding a contract settlement because they are focused on the organizing drive of 1,800 other hospital workers. But union leaders said if the hospital makes a fair offer at the bargaining table, workers will sign a contract.

Since linking their efforts for new contract negotiations with those of Yale’s two largest unions locals 34 and 35, District 1199 has sought wages, pensions and benefits comparable to those University workers receive.

District 1199 member Ray Milici said union workers continue to participate in a number of small job actions. He said 1199 members plan to visit the homes or workplaces of each hospital board member. They have already visited the home of board member Marvin Lender and leafleted his neighbors, Milici said.

This afternoon, union members plan to visit the office of Albertus Magnus College President Julia McNamara GRD ’80, who also serves as chairwoman of the hospital’s board of trustees, Meyerson said. The purpose of the visit is to “end the abusive debt collection” of the hospital, Meyerson said.

“[We want] to call on her to use her position to ensure that workers at [the hospital] receive the same kinds of wages and benefits as Yale University workers,” Meyerson said.

In the last few weeks, District 1199 has publicized allegations of aggressive debt collection by the hospital. Milici said future efforts will include informing the public that Joseph Zaccagnino, the hospital’s president and CEO, is on the board of the New Haven Savings Bank. The bank has recently come under fire for trying to switch from a mutual bank to a bank with stockholders.

McNamara could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Other members of the board include Yale President Richard Levin and Quinnipiac University President John Lahey.

Milici said returning to work without a contract was disappointing, but he said workers’ spirits remain high.

“[1199 workers] felt really good about the strike,” Milici said. “I can hear them [in the kitchen] singing, ‘We want a contract, we want a contract.'”

Milici said another strike was not out of the question, but he said he considered it unlikely because of 1199’s small size.

“We don’t want to be out there alone,” Milici said.

The organizing movement at the hospital was not legally tied to contract negotiations for locals 34 and 35, but leaders of locals 34 and 35 frequently linked the hospital’s labor dispute to their own during this past round of talks.

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