As I have closely watched the unionization effort at Yale-New Haven Hospital during recent months, I have been increasingly concerned by the hospital’s apparent bad faith in the proceedings.
In April of last year, hospital workers and community members reached an historic neutrality agreement with Yale-New Haven that was designed to create a fair process for forming a union. This agreement and the concurrent community benefits agreement were hailed as signs that Yale is willing, albeit under intense pressure, to consider the interests of the broader New Haven population in planning its expansion.
Since then, however, the hospital has repeatedly failed to adhere to the terms set forth in the agreement. Early last month, an impartial arbitrator called off the scheduled union election, citing the administration’s numerous violations of the agreement and of national labor law. In light of the hospital’s past failure to observe widely recognized principles of fair organizing, a different process is sorely needed to ensure that workers are able to voice their opinions free of administrative coercion.
Yale-New Haven’s violations of the neutrality agreement have been both flagrant and widespread. When the union election date was set for Dec. 20 and 21, the hospital stepped up its illegal campaign to deter workers from unionizing, with 200 managers and supervisors calling captive meetings during work hours to discuss the union with employees. In these meetings, workers were threatened with loss of wages, benefits and their jobs if they joined the union.
Such unacceptable anti-union behavior is not altogether surprising in a hospital run by CEO Marna Borgstrom, whose master’s thesis at Yale was a case study in union-busting. Margaret Kern, the impartial arbitrator, concluded that fair elections could not proceed in the existing environment, finding that the violations at Yale-New Haven were systematic and indeed supported by the administration, rather than isolated incidents discouraged by the hospital. Mayor DeStefano agreed, calling the anti-union activity “premeditated, methodical and comprehensive,” and saying, “They have poisoned the water as to whether there can ever be a free and fair election because of their intimidation and coercion.”
Given the hospital’s abysmal track record on this issue, there is no reason to expect that a fair election can take place at all, and certainly not in the coming months. It is critical to quickly find a viable alternative. Instead of an election, the hospital should agree to a card check process, provided for by the National Labor Relations Act, in which a union must be recognized once more than 50 percent of eligible workers sign cards indicating their desire to have a union. A card check system would mitigate the effects of the sorts of intimidation that occurred at Yale-New Haven in the run-up to the attempted election last month. Workers would be able to make their decisions when they are ready, in a neutral space, free from the kind of sustained anti-union campaign that can develop in anticipation of a fixed election date.
Mayor DeStefano has called for a card check process, and the New Haven Board of Aldermen has set a special hearing to investigate the hospital’s labor violations and discuss how to get the unionization process back on track. President Levin, who is a member of the hospital board and was involved in brokering the original agreement, has expressed his disapproval of the hospital’s behavior. Though he recognizes that the failure of this process would severely damage Yale’s relationship with the city of New Haven, he has yet to advocate a concrete plan of action. It is time for Levin to take a strong stand and publicly endorse a card check system.
It is also time for us, as concerned Yale students and citizens of New Haven, to make our voices heard on the issue. I will be at the Board of Aldermen hearing at City Hall, at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 29, and I hope you’ll join me.
Aaron Littman is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College and a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee.