Despite frigid temperatures, dozens of students and community members gathered at Beinecke Plaza on Wednesday afternoon for a protest arranged by the Undergraduate Organizing Committee to decry what they see as unjust action by Yale-New Haven Hospital managers toward its workers.
Approximately 70 students gathered near the steps of Woodbridge Hall, where University President Richard Levin’s office is located. Speakers at the protest denounced both what they saw as worker intimidation by hospital management — which hospital president Marna Borgstrom EPH ’79 admitted to in a letter Wednesday — and Levin’s refusal to endorse a card-check procedure as an alternative to a secret ballot union election.
The hospital said on Wednesday it will file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to hold a unionization vote, but SEIU 1199, the union seeking to organize 1,800 of Yale-New Haven’s employees, had withdrawn its petition for an NLRB election last week. Union leaders said they had uncovered upper-level hospital management documents instructing managerial staff to engage in illegal anti-union behavior in order to dissuade employees from voting for the union. An independent arbitrator ruled in December that the hospital had violated the neutrality agreement between the two sides.
New Haven resident, hospital employee and local spoken-word artist Influence performed at the protest. He afterward recounted his experiences with management staff at the hospital, whom he claimed intimidated workers by saying wages would go down if employees joined a union.
History professor Jennifer Klein also spoke at the rally, addressing the benefits of a card-check election over an NLRB election, which Yale-New Haven has advocated.
“[The NLRB election] has become a platform of coercion,” she said, adding that a card-check election is more democratic because it excludes hospital management from the process.
But hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said Wednesday that a card check election undermines the core democratic principle of secret ballots and opens the door for coercion if the union does not immediately get 50 percent of the vote.
In a card-check process, employees indicate on a card whether or not they would like to organize. If more than half of the employees agree to organize, the union can ask hospital management to recognize the union. But even if all employees wish to organize, employers are not legally required to recognize the union after a card check.
“We still firmly believe that our employees deserve the right to vote on this issue,” Petrini said. “When an employee steps into a voting booth, he is free to vote his conscience, free from coercion on either side. We firmly believe that this is a cornerstone of a fair process.”
Levin had previously called a card-check process “fundamentally anti-democratic”, saying that he had seen social pressure at work when he was in graduate school. Levin and Bruce Alexander, Yale’s Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs, sit on the hospital’s Board of Trustees.
UOC member Hans Schonburg ’10 said he has been disappointed by Levin’s response to the situation.
“The fact that President Levin has dragged his feet on this issue is something I don’t find acceptable,” he said.
But Schonburg said that in a meeting last week with UOC members, Levin seemed “open to debate” and “receptive” to the UOC’s arguments.
“We definitely made it clear to President Levin that we were unwilling to back down on this and that President Levin has very little ground to stand on,” Schonburg said.
While more than 200 complaints against the hospital have been filed with the arbitrator who is overseeing the dispute, complaints were also filed alleging union intimidation of workers. These latter charges were dropped.
Margaret Sharp ’08, who is active in the UOC, said the UOC will continue to pressure Levin and await arbitrator Margaret Kern’s ruling on the complaints, which is expected in coming weeks.