The latest round of contract negotiations at Yale-New Haven Hospital has ended in a stalemate. After the second negotiation attempt in three months, Service Employees International Union District 1199 dietary workers returned to the hospital yesterday still without contracts.
Despite participating in a three-week strike with locals 34 and 35 earlier this fall, approximately 140 hospital workers represented by District 1199 have been without contract since Sept. 23, while University union members received eight-year contract settlements. Jesse Jackson will be making an appearance at the hospital today to support the unionization of hospital labor and protest the hospital’s debt collection procedures.
At the union’s request, the hospital’s negotiation team met with union officials on Wednesday night. Union officials had hoped the hospital would propose a contract different from their “final offer” which union members voted down on Sept. 19.
“[In their opening remarks, they] made numerous references to the Yale University contract settlement,” hospital spokeswoman Katie Krauss said. “They asked if the hospital had anything new for the union, and we said we didn’t, so the session ended — it lasted less than 15 minutes.”
Union representatives did not receive the “final final offer” for which they had hoped, District 1199 spokesman Bill Meyerson said.
Krauss said the union is deliberately slowing negotiations while trying to unionize 1,800 other hospital employees.
“The hospital’s position has been that District 1199 is more interested in unionizing the hospital staff — than looking after the needs of workers represented by them,” Krauss said.
A legal battle
On Oct. 10, the hospital filed formal complaints with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that District 1199 stalled contract negotiations by paying workers to reject the proposed contracts on Sept. 19.
The union denied these charges, and the claims are still pending.
Adding to the union’s woes, on Nov. 10, 14 union members filed complaints with the NLRB stating that District 1199 did not honor their resignations during the strike, and that they were subject to harassment for their decision not to participate in the walkout.
“The whole law on this can get fairly complicated,” NLRB spokesman John Cotter said. “Did they get the resignations, was it not done in time? There may be a [union] bylaw against being allowed to resign when there is a contract pending.”
The union has also been involved in promoting a campaign from the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, or CCNE, an organization with close ties to Yale’s unions. The CCNE most recently published a report claiming that the hospital is one of the most aggressive debt collectors in the state. According to the report, the hospital’s tactics include putting liens on patients’ houses in order to collect debts, collecting when the properties are eventually sold, and taking a fixed amount from employees’ paychecks.
Krauss said the CCNE and the union are taking part in a corporate campaign, using the media, politicians and clergy to attack the hospital. Krauss attributed these actions to the union’s frustration at its failure to further unionize hospital employees.
Earlier this week, students taking part in a legal clinic at the Yale Law School announced they will file suits against the hospital on behalf of community members who are the subjects of such hospital debt-collection tactics.
The union is not directly connected with this action, but Meyerson said the union is supportive.
“The union is not involved except to the extent in whatever role we played in helping to disseminate the [CCNE] report,” Meyerson said. “But it’s an extremely important development, and necessary.”
Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal filed a complementary suit against the hospital last February, alleging the hospital billed patients who were eligible for the “free bed fund.”
The hospital maintains that it effectively communicates with patients about the availability of these funds, posting signs in Spanish and English and informing patients of their financial options upon admission to the hospital. Krauss said the hospital also established the Yale-New Haven Free Care Fund four years ago, which used $2.5 million dollars of the hospital operating budget last year.
In a rally on Wednesday, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. supported the union in urging the hospital to change its debt collection procedures.
However, the hospital said it has conducted a review of its debt collection procedures for several months. Changes include increasing the amount of debt necessary to place a lien on a patient’s home, which has resulted in the removal of 95 percent of liens on homes. In addition, the hospital has cancelled over 800 patient accounts.
Krauss said the hospital’s problems are symptomatic of a national health care crisis, and the hospital should not be vilified for problems that require national solutions. Meyerson and CCNE President Andrea Cole also alluded to a national health care crisis.
“There is a systematic challenge facing all hospitals and health care providers in the United States,” Krauss said in a press release. “[Yale-New Haven Hospital] — is witnessing declining support from the federal government. Yet, despite that challenge, YNHH will never abandon its mission of caring for those in need.”
The lawsuits are currently pending.