Hospital rally draws support

About 300 supporters rallied with Yale-New Haven Hospital workers outside the office of hospital board chairwoman Julia McNamara GRD ’80 Wednesday to press the board to settle a new contract with better wages and pensions.

The rally — which took place at Albertus Magnus College, where McNamara serves as president — featured a number of speakers who called on the hospital’s board to renew contracts for members of the Service Employees International Union District 1199, which represents about 150 dietary workers. The workers, who have not had a contract since January, returned to work Sept. 23 after participating in a three-week strike but are still negotiating new contracts.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who played a key role in orchestrating a contract settlement between Yale and its two largest unions, expressed his support of the hospital union at the rally. DeStefano called on McNamara to adhere to the same standards and democratic principles when negotiating with the hospital union.

“I’d like to see a basis where there can be a fair and neutral [settlement] process,” DeStefano said.

A group of union supporters gathered at Albertus Magnus’ Mohun Hall administrative offices Wednesday afternoon, demanding to meet with McNamara.

McNamara was out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

The unionized workers participated in a strike last month alongside members of locals 34 and 35. Members of District 1199 have been trying to organize 1,800 other hospital workers. Hospital leaders claim that the unionization drive has been a major obstacle in settling new contracts.

No negotiating sessions have been held since the end of the strike and none are planned, hospital and union officials said earlier this week.

Local 34 President Laura Smith said the hospital workers’ fight for living wages and pensions did not end with the campus-wide strike two weeks ago.

“The members of our unions know, and Yale knows, and New Haven knows that we have unfinished business at the hospital,” Smith said. “It’s justice, it’s equal treatment, it’s treating people with respect for the hard work they do every day.”

Hospital cook Mary Strachn, 58, spent the afternoon with Smith at McNamara’s office. She said she urged McNamara to lead the hospital board in resuming labor negotiations.

“We hope that we get our point over to her,” Strachn said. “You know we don’t want to go out here at 65 to get a part-time job to make ends meet.”

Members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee said they are continuing to fight for New Haven workers’ rights by supporting the hospital workers.

“The situation at the hospital is urgent,” UOC spokesman Josh Eidelson ’06 said. “We continue to work to protect the rights to organize at the hospital, and as Yale students and New Haveners, [we continue] to push forward the social contract that has inspired a major movement in the city.”

Members of Locals 34 and 35 — whose contracts were settled Sept. 18 — came in busloads to show their support for the hospital workers at the rally.

Local 34 member Laura Koutsopolos, 40, said she appreciates the kinship between union groups.

“They supported us when we were out a month ago,” she said. “It’s really important for the employees to get a contract so they can get a livable wage.”

The labor dispute at the hospital is not officially linked to Yale’s unions, though leaders of locals 34 and 35 and District 1199 often spoke of the groups as a unified entity during the strike.

Local 34 President Laura Smith applauds hospital workers at a rally in front of Albertus Magnus College. The workers are seeking new contracts, but negotiations are at a standstill.
Philip Rucker
Local 34 President Laura Smith applauds hospital workers at a rally in front of Albertus Magnus College. The workers are seeking new contracts, but negotiations are at a standstill.

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