Labor leaders organizing a union at Yale-New Haven Hospital filed for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board Wednesday — a step nine years in the making that could lead to unionization of hospital employees by the end of the year.
Members of Service Employees International Union submitted the necessary signatures — representing 30 percent of the roughly 1,800 YNHH employees — under an agreement brokered in March during the negotiations over the construction of the YNHH Cancer Center. Hospital workers will vote by secret ballot to determine whether or not they want to unionize in the coming months. Both the hospital administration and union representatives have agreed to abide by the results of the vote, saying that employees have the right to decide whether or not to unionize.
YNHH spokesman Vin Petrini said that if the union wins the election, the hospital will negotiate a standard labor contract. If the election fails, then union representatives will suspend organizing and campaigning activities for one year, he said.
Local 35 President Bob Proto could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Petrini said the hospital has confidence in the voting process, and they do not believe unionization is necessary because the hospital already offers many benefits to workers, such as incentive bonuses, homebuyer assistance and free insurance plans for qualifying workers.
“Hospitals are a very special place,” he said. “The workers care deeply about serving patients, and we care about the employees who care for the patients — it’s a reciprocal relationship.”
His organization has a track record of being considered an excellent employer, Petrini said, as the American Association of Retired People, Working Mother magazine and Family Digest have called the hospital an exceptional place to work. He said the hospital gives competitive wages, benefits and tuition assistance.
But Phoebe Rounds ’07, a member of Community Organized for Responsible Development, said unionization would improve conditions for hospital workers. Because the hospital is one of the largest employers in the area, other employers might improve their working standards if hospital employees decide to unionize, she said.
“I think this development is tremendously exciting,” she said. “The workers at the hospital have really come together and are standing up for themselves, which has great implications for the entire community.”
Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05 said he thinks both the hospital and the union have valid arguments about the process of unionization for hospital workers. He called the decision to abide by a vote a “fair” process that will allow workers to protect their interests and decide whether or not to organize.
While he said unionization could help the hospital workers negotiate better benefits and pay packages, some workers might not want to pay union dues because they already feel like their needs and interests are well represented.
“There are good arguments from everybody’s perspectives, but ultimately it depends on what the workers want,” he said.
The details of the Cancer Center’s construction have been the topic of heated debate. In addition to the long-standing debate over employee unionization, some controversy centered around the community benefits agreement between the hospital and the city. In an agreement last March, the hospital committed to contribute $1.2 million for housing and economic development in the surrounding neighborhood and to hold the union elections that representatives filed for on Wednesday.
The $467 million facility will house all of the hospital’s oncology services in one building, which will streamline the patient care process already established in the current Yale Cancer Center. The building, which will accommodate 112 patient beds, will also include a specialized women’s cancer center and one floor each for diagnostic and therapeutic radiology.