Y-NH vote is ruled out

Hopes of a union election at Yale-New Haven Hospital were dashed once and for all on Monday.

SEIU District 1199, the union that sought to represent 1,800 workers at the hospital, withdrew its petition to the National Labor Relations Board for an organizing election, union officials said. The decision comes after the union uncovered training documents that, the officials said, show a pattern of top hospital administrators instructing managers to carry out an illegal anti-union campaign in the weeks leading up to the originally scheduled election, which was set for December of last year. But hospital officials said there is no evidence that the employee meetings at the core of the union’s complaints were ordered by hospital administrators.

While yesterday’s move formally takes an election off the table, the union’s position that a fair election would not be possible has not changed since the original election was canceled in December. Relations between the hospital and SEIU have now sunk to a new low, as the union is officially no longer willing to settle for anything less than card-check neutrality. The hospital maintains that its workers have the right to have a secret-ballot vote on a union.

Training documents show that hospital managers were instructed to hold mandatory anti-union meetings during work time, spread false anti-union information and act in other ways that would violate both the election agreement and federal labor law, union spokesman Bill Meyerson said. The documents were obtained through the discovery process ordered by the private arbitrator hearing complaints of misconduct by the hospital in the weeks leading up to the election.

The documents could not be released since they are part of the ongoing investigation by the arbitrator. Meyerson said the documents, which were obtained two months ago by the union, implicate some senior hospital administrators, but he declined to name which ones.

“Management knew what they were doing when they trained managers in ways that violated the agreement,” he said. “As a result, the hospital has destroyed the possibility of an election.”

In a Dec. 13 ruling, Kern found that one manager had held a mandatory meeting on unionization during work time, and she allowed the union to file charges with the NLRB that halted the scheduled election. At the time, hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said there was no “systematic” attempt to break the election agreement, but rather only a few isolated incidents.

While he did not explicitly deny Meyerson’s allegations, Petrini said there is “no evidence” to support an assertion that the meetings were ordered by higher-level administrators. He also said the meetings were voluntary, not mandatory. Marna Borgstrom EPH ’79, the CEO of Yale-New Haven Hospital, testified before private arbitrator Margaret Kern in a hearing two weeks ago. Kern declined to comment on the substance of the hearings.

Petrini, as well as Joseph Crespo, the chairman of the hospital’s Board of Trustees, were not aware of the union’s decision to withdraw its NLRB petition until contacted by a News reporter at 5 p.m. yesterday. But Meyerson said the hospital’s attorney was told of the decision Monday.

John Cotter, the assistant regional director for the NLRB, confirmed yesterday that his office had received the union’s request to withdraw their election petition, as well as the charges filed against the hospital in December. The regional director still has to approve the request, though he said that it is unlikely that the request would be denied.

If approved, the withdrawal will end the NLRB’s ongoing investigation into the hospital’s potential violations of labor law. The investigation has been moving along steadily over the past two months, Cotter said, but it was impossible to know how much longer it would have taken, since the hospital had not yet responded to the union’s charges. He said there were no preliminary findings available, which is standard practice in most cases.

The union has long supported card-check neutrality, under which the union represents a bargaining unit once more than half the employees sign union cards. Employers cannot campaign against the union, unlike in a union election. But hospital officials said they want their employees to have a chance to vote on a union.

Meyerson said he could not imagine a compromise under which the union would agree to an election instead of card-check neutrality.

“They destroyed the possibility of an election,” he said. “Then they denied that they did anything wrong. How can people like that be trusted, regardless of what they agree to?”

Kern said she did not know when she will release a ruling on the hospital’s charges. Once she does issue the ruling, it will include any possible remedies to the dispute, she said.

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