District 1199 signs contract

In a vote of 68-4 Tuesday night, the unionized dietary workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital chose to accept a new contract with the hospital, bringing a partial conclusion to this stage of the struggle between the parties, which has been ongoing since January 2003.

A hospital spokesman said Thursday that the institution is pleased that the contract was settled and believed the new deal — which the union said is largely the same as the previous contract between the parties — was fair and reasonable. But officials of both Service Employees International Union District 1199, which represents approximately 150 dietary workers, and Yale’s unions said the workers had not achieved what they wanted.

“It’s not the contract they wanted or deserved — it’s what they could achieve under the current conditions,” District 1199 Spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff said. “It’s a somber reality. They’re proud they stuck together and moved the hospital a little.”

The dietary workers had joined locals 34 and 35 in their job action when the two union locals, which represent 4,000 clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers at Yale, struck last fall. The hospital workers went back to work after the other two unions signed new contracts with the University Sept. 22.

During the strike, union officials argued that Yale President Richard Levin, who sits on the hospital’s board, should work to improve conditions of workers at the hospital.

Levin said Thursday that he first heard about the settlement after returning from travelling on business.

“No comment, except ‘that’s great,’” Levin said.

The union members were seeking higher wages and better medical benefits. Hospital officials had in the past said the union purposely slowed contract talks to attempt to achieve an additional goal–organizing the 1,800 other hospital employees.

Under the new contract, Chernoff said, workers will earn an additional 25 cents per hour — the same raises other non-union workers received earlier this year — with an additional merit wage increase possible if the hospital does particularly well. She said workers will also receive a “signing bonus” worth approximately $750 for anyone who had worked more than 1,000 hours last year. The bonus essentially makes up for what the union members would have earned if they had received a wage increase at the same time as the hospital’s non-unionized employees, Chernoff said.

“In most ways, except for some wage issues, this contract is really simply an extension of the previous terms, in terms of medical benefits and vacation time,” Chernoff said.

Hospital spokesman Vincent Petrini agreed that what he referred to as a “market adjustment” was consistent with what other workers at Yale-New Haven had received two months ago. The new contract will give “longer term stability for employees that support both sides,” he said.

“Clearly we think this is an important decision on behalf of employees represented at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and will extend to the end of 2006,” Petrini said. “There’s some stability.”

Local 34 President Laura Smith said she was glad the workers at the hospital would now have some peace and admired them for their steadfastness, but she said the contract was not as a good as it could have been.

“This isn’t the contract these workers deserved, nor is it the one the hospital could have well afforded to give them,” Smith said.

In order for all of the workers at the hospital to receive better wages and health insurance, she said, there needs to be more unionized employees at the hospital, a goal she said Yale’s unions would continue to work to achieve.

The unions will also continue to fight for parity for workers doing the same job at the University and the hospital, Local 35 President Bob Proto said.

— Staff reporter Paula Brady contributed to this report.

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