Yale-New Haven Hospital officials declined to sign a contract binding them to negotiate with neighborhood organizers during a meeting Tuesday night at the community center Casa Otonal. The contract, a “good-faith agreement” to work towards a community benefits proposal, was drafted in response to concerns about the hospital’s new cancer center.
The hospital officials met with leaders of Community Organized for Responsible Development, an alliance of local groups with ties to a union local conducting an organizing drive at the hospital, to discuss issues related to the center’s construction including hospital employee benefits, job creation, air pollution and the creation of educational opportunities for youth.
While representatives of both CORD and the hospital were generally dissatisfied with the results of the meeting, each side said they would continue efforts to produce a compromise that would satisfy both parties and lead to aldermanic approval of the cancer center.
At the meeting, Yale-New Haven spokesman Vin Petrini said the hospital insisted that any community benefits agreement be discussed as an issue separate from that of hospital employee unionization. A benefits proposal CORD penned in December included union issues along with community concerns. The ongoing conflict between Yale-New Haven and Service Employees International Union District 1199 involves disagreements about how a secret ballot unionization vote should be conducted at the hospital.
Petrini said the hospital rejected CORD’s contract because group organizers did not adequately discuss their proposals before asking hospital officials to sign a promise for further negotiation.
“We arrived at the meeting ready to learn more about the proposals and to resolve a number of issues,” Petrini said. “We were disappointed that CORD didn’t discuss any of the proposals in detail.”
But CORD organizer Rev. Scott Marks said the contract was not intended to bind Yale-New Haven to any specific benefits agreement, but to ensure that the hospital maintain a dialogue with the group to reach a mutually acceptable proposal.
“The purpose of the meeting was to create a new, more collaborative and less combatant relationship with the hospital,” Marks said. “We were hoping to focus more on the process of negotiation rather than the issues this time.”
Petrini said Yale-New Haven is willing to sign a community benefits agreement and is open to future meetings with CORD or other groups.
“We value the role we play in the community,” he said. “What happened at the meeting is not to say an agreement couldn’t happen, and we are receptive to community concerns about things like educational opportunities and affordable housing.”
While the hospital maintains it is looking for an agreement, CORD members said the meeting demonstrated that Yale-New Haven is not truly amenable to compromise.
SEIU representative William Meyerson said it was unreasonable for the hospital to refuse CORD’s good-faith agreement, since it only proposed a forum for discussion and did not dictate the terms of a benefits agreement.
Ward 4 Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks said the hospital has been successful in reaching benefit agreements with other community organizations. She said she supports the cancer center and hopes the hospital and CORD can reach an agreement.
“While I hope the hospital does come to some agreement with CORD, some of [CORD’s] demands just aren’t realistic,” Jackson-Brooks said.
Marks said although CORD was unsuccessful at the meeting, hospital officials promised to stay in communication with the group.
“We all agree that the cancer center needs to be built, but for us the question is, ‘at what expense?'” Marks said. “The meeting was a good first step, but we have a long way to go.”