Yale-New Haven posts promise not to hinder unionization

Yale-New Haven Hospital put up postings last week promising not to threaten or intimidate workers trying to unionize, following an agreement reached with the National Labor Relations Board last year. This round of NLRB-mandated postings is the third at the hospital in recent years, and a union local claims the labor board continues to be ineffective in changing hospital practices.

The agreement to post notices is in response to complaints filed between the winters of 2002 and 2003 by the Service Employees International Union and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union claiming hospital officials acted in an unfairly hostile manner towards unionizers and prevented workers from distributing union literature or wearing union insignia.

Yale-New Haven Vice President of Employee Relations Alvin Johnson said the postings will be left up for 60 days and are meant to clarify existing hospital policy.

“There was no fault found with the hospital’s policies,” he said. “This was just a normal response to claims of unfair labor practices filed against the hospital.”

But John Cotter, NLRB assistant regional director in Hartford, said while considering the postings as a policy clarification or a punitive measure against the hospital is a subjective judgement, the NLRB regional office did find that the complaints against Yale-New Haven had merit.

“There was a finding by us that the hospital was violating the law in its enforcement of solicitation rules,” he said. “If there were absolutely no findings of fault, the whole case would have been dismissed.”

Johnson said the postings directly state that the hospital will not participate in restrictive actions against employees and clarify a policy not permitting soliciting in restricted patient care areas.

Previously, workers distributing union literature at Yale-New Haven could only do so in employee locker rooms, lounges and hospital parking lots.

“We clarify that employees do have the right to convene in non-patient care and non-work areas, like the atrium,” Johnson said.

The NLRB ordered the hospital not to enforce rules with a bias against employees seeking unionization, though non-employees are not given similar rights to meet or distribute literature. Yale-New Haven has also promised to allow workers to wear union symbols.

But SEIU representative William Meyerson said Yale-New Haven has continued to flout promises made in past postings, and he criticized the NLRB for being too lenient and slow.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “The NLRB gives the hospital even less than a slap on wrist, and there are no consequences. The irony is this is the very process the hospital endorses for unionization elections. That says something.”

The hospital has proposed that the NLRB oversee a vote for employee unionization, but the SEIU claims this process is slanted towards management.

Cotter said the long delay between the filing of complaints two years ago and last week’s posting of notices is due to the NLRB’s complex legal processes — the posting agreement had to be finalized by the national NLRB office in Washington as part of standard procedure.

“There are highly technical legal issues involved,” he said. “As it is written, the law is very general, and so to interpret the no-solicitation laws will be complicated and time-consuming right off the bat.”

In the past, the hospital has accused the SEIU of intimidating and coercing hospital employees, though Meyerson denied the allegations. The NLRB forced union officials to make policy changes last year, after Yale-New Haven cafeteria employees claimed SEIU officials refused to honor their resignations from the union and disciplined them for working during a strike. The NLRB made the officials rescind their resignation policy, post notices of workers’ rights at the workplace and remove all penalties against the workers.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has said prompt resolution of the labor dispute at Yale-New Haven will be important if the city is to approve the hospital’s plans to break ground for its new cancer center by September.

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