Y-NH hospital dispute sets unions against Univ.

The dispute between Yale-New Haven Hospital and the union seeking to organize 1,800 of its employees has now spilled over to affect the University’s relationship with its unions.

A secret ballot union election scheduled for Dec. 20 and 21 was postponed days before the election by the National Labor Relations Board after a private arbitrator ruled that the hospital acted illegally in campaigning against the union. Both the NLRB and independent arbitrators are investigating the hospital’s alleged misconduct, a process which will likely take weeks or months to complete. But in the meantime, a recent opinion piece authored by a Yale labor leader has opened a rift in Yale’s labor-management relationship over the distinction between the University and Yale-New Haven Hospital.

In a letter scheduled to be sent out to University employees this morning, Vice President for Finance and Administration Shauna King said that an op-ed piece in the New Haven Register written by Local 35 President Bob Proto unfairly paints the University and hospital as acting as one and makes collaboration between Yale and its unions more challenging.

“It has made a challenging situation more difficult,” she said in an interview Friday. “How do you keep people enthusiastic [about collaboration] when it’s characterized as same-old, same-old? It surprised us.”

Proto said yesterday that he was not laying blame on the University for what happened before the union election, but that University President Richard Levin and the other University-affiliated members of the hospital board of trustees are just as accountable for what happened as the rest of the board. Union members sometimes see the hospital and University as the same, he said.

The hospital is overseen by the Board of Trustees, including Levin, Yale Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer, School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern and two additional members appointed by Levin.

“I don’t think [Yale] management gets it; they don’t get it through the eyes of someone who sees the Yale hospital in the press breaking the law,” Proto said. “They do tie that to Yale.”

Levin criticized the hospital’s actions in a statement issued Dec. 14 and offered the University’s assistance in resolving the dispute between the hospital and SEIU District 1199. Yale Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander played a critical role last March in brokering an agreement that led to the easing of nine-year tensions between the hospital and SEIU over the election issue.

But despite Levin’s offer, it does not appear that Yale will be playing any role in mediating the dispute. Ralph Craviso, Yale’s head of labor-management relations, said that Alexander’s help came when both parties wanted the assistance, but Proto’s op-ed now limits the University’s ability to become involved.

King, Proto and Local 34 President Laura Smith said they remain optimistic about work on the best practices and creating a more positive relationship between Yale and Locals 34 and 35. Smith said the true test of the relationship lies in how they cooperatively handle the dispute.

Progress on the dispute between the hospital and SEIU District 1199 has been limited in recent weeks. The postponed election will not be rescheduled until after a National Labor Relations Board investigation into union complaints has been completed, John Cotter, assistant regional director in the NLRB’s Hartford office, said. He said a typical investigation would be completed by the end of the month, but this one could last much longer due to the number of complaints filed and witnesses to be interviewed.

Margaret Kern, a private arbitrator hired by the hospital and union, will hold hearings this week to hear testimony on approximately 250 individual complaints workers have lodged against the hospital. These grievances are distinct from the one filed by the union on Dec. 6, which concerned a supervisor holding mandatory anti-union meetings during work time and ultimately led to the election’s postponement. Kern held hearings last week on hospital complaints but has not yet ruled on them.

Yale-New Haven has offered to sit down with the Service Employees International Union to help resolve the tensions, Petrini said, but SEIU has so far declined. SEIU communications director Bill Meyerson said the union will not discuss a settlement until it better understands who in the hospital administration knew about or ordered the anti-union meetings that were allegedly held during work hours possibly in violation of federal law.

Petrini said that in retrospect the meetings some managers called to discuss the union election were inappropriate, but there was no systematic directive from the hospital administration to hold such meetings. Once administrators found out about the meetings, he said, managers were told not to continue scheduling them immediately after mandatory staff meetings.

But Goldfield said the meetings seem to have been planned from above, and he wants administrators to explain themselves at an aldermanic committee hearing Jan. 29. He said that as of Sunday, the hospital administration has not yet indicated if they would attend. Though there have been some complaints against union organizers, Goldfield said, the hospital’s misconduct was more jarring.

SEIU District 1199 has been attempting to represent workers at Yale-New Haven for nine years. Tensions between the union and hospital eased last March when the two settled on an NLRB-supervised secret ballot election. The agreement was part of a broader package that led the Board of Aldermen to approve construction of YNNH’s $430 million cancer center.

SEIU already represents 140 food service employees at the hospital and has been seeking to represent 1,800 additional workers, including nursing assistants, housekeepers and clerical employees.

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