Hospital workers debate union vote

As hospital administrators and union organizers trade public accusations of misconduct, workers at Yale-New Haven hospital are privately debating an upcoming vote on whether or not to unionize.

The union election — which will take place on Dec. 20 and 21 — has been a source of increasing tensions at the hospital in recent weeks. Reports of worker intimidation by both pro- and anti-union advocates spurred the Board of Aldermen to action last week, and many staff members said they believed the reports though they had not themselves experienced intimidation.

Allegations of worker intimidation by hospital management have circulated around the hospital. While a few workers said they had not heard reports of misconduct, most said they knew of the reports and believed them.

“I think it’s very unfortunate,” said Diane Forth, a hospital care coordinator who opposes unionization. “A lot of emotions are running high and it’s easy to get into heated arguments and take things personally, and that leads to conflict. I think some people have been fearful to speak out against the union because of that.”

Last Monday, New Haven clergy rallied in front of City Hall, accusing Yale-New Haven Hospital of violating the terms of a conduct agreement reached last April meant to ensure a interference-free unionization vote for hospital employees. The Board of Aldermen, at its regular scheduled meeting later that night, adopted a neutral stance and asked both hospital administration officials and union officials to abide by the agreement after being presented with evidence that pro-union advocates had been intimidating workers as well.

Union organizer Kendall Fells said in recent weeks hospital workers have been arrested for handing out pro-unionization leaflets, asked by employers how they plan to vote and called in by hospital officials for mandatory meetings about unionization.

“[The hospital] is now not only violating the contract, they’re violating the law,” Fells said. “Workers shouldn’t have to go through all that to vote in a union election and decide if they want a union or not.”

Hospital spokesman Vin Petrini, who last week denied allegations that hospital administrators have tried to interfere in the election, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

While a few hospital workers declined to comment, one worker — who preferred not to be identified — said issues like inadequate hospital staffing and insufficient medical coverage for single parents have persuaded her to vote for unionization.

“We didn’t have anything until the union came into the picture,” she said. “We need someone to stand up for us.”

But Forth — who has been working at Yale-New Haven off and on for the past 25 years — said she thinks most pro-union workers at the hospital do not understand the full ramifications of unionization.

“I think the union is divisive and has long outlived its use,” Forth said. “When I need to go to my supervisor, I want to represent myself. I don’t need a group advocating for me and everyone else.”

Forth said she thinks unions tend to fashion contracts to their own benefit and favor their own members over workers who had seniority prior to unionization. She said she thinks morale would suffer among hospital staff if the union, which has attempted to organize workers multiple times in the past years, came into the picture. The hospital has always been “employee-friendly,” Forth said, and hospital management has never been unresponsive.

Other workers remain torn over the upcoming election. Dyshant McLean, who works in material services at the hospital, said he does not plan to vote in the upcoming election because he does not want to side with either the hospital or the union.

“Employees here don’t get a fair shake,” McLean said. “I have a situation with the administration, but I have no problem with my department or the money.”

McLean — who was put on “final warning” and suspended for four days without pay after an altercation with a hospital doctor that occurred outside of work hours — said he has a problem with how the hospital treats its employees, but he does not think unionization will fix this kind of fundamental problem.

Some hospital workers seemed unfazed by the upcoming election. Johnson said he had not heard many people in his department discussing the vote and will need more information before deciding which way to cast his ballot.

“I want to hear more about what the union has to offer,” Johnson said.

Fells said the union has been trying to get into the hospital for the past 10 years. He said the hospital, which is not-for-profit, made $52 million last year in 2005, and portions of this money went to pay raises for high ranking officials within the hospital.

“Right across the street, you have university workers who make three to five dollars more an hour for doing comparable jobs,” Fells said. “The University didn’t give them this, those workers fought for it. Why don’t these workers deserve the same thing?”

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