Top Yale-New Haven Hospital administrators, including CEO Marna Borgstrom EPH ’79, may have misled the public and an independent arbitrator about how much they knew about tactics used during their anti-union campaign, according to a recent order by the arbitrator.
An ruling issued Wednesday by arbitrator Margaret Kern and provided to the News on Thursday night orders the hospital to turn over to the union any communications between hospital employees and an anti-union consulting firm. The order describes billing invoices from the consulting firm and lists details of about 40 meetings between consultants and hospital leaders, as well as 15 meetings held with employees in violation of the Election Principles Agreement. Hospital administrators have previously maintained that they had little oversight of the consultants and did not know until December about the improper meetings.
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Union spokesman Bill Meyerson said the recent revelations mean that Borgstrom and other leaders were involved in creating and implementing anti-union tactics in violation of the election agreement.
But hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said the hospital has always been upfront about what administrators knew, and he said the voluntary meetings listed in the invoices may be different from the ones the arbitrator ruled against in early December.
According to the order, one representative of IRI Consultants to Management, Lou Bardi, met 17 times with “executive leadership to review the campaign,” as well as seven times with “key executives” and 11 times with “senior” and other leaders. Jim Trivisonno, CEO of IRI, also met five times with senior leaders and “management.”
Although the document does not explicitly accuse specific administrators of misrepresenting their role in the anti-union campaign, Meyerson said the document brings into question the extent of Borgstrom’s and other leaders’ interactions with consultants.
“The more we learn, the worse it gets,” he said. “There’s still more to learn, and I suspect it’s going to get worse.”
Petrini said he was unsure what “executive” referred to, though he said senior leadership includes about 40 vice presidents and top directors.
But Kern appears to include Borgstrom among the executives who met with the consultants. In the written order, she juxtaposes the list of meetings with Borgstrom’s statement that there was “insufficient hospital oversight” of the consultants. According to the order, Borgstrom testified on Feb. 12 that she had met Bardi and Trivisonno once in July 2006 and then seen them periodically in the hallways. Immediately following that in the document, Kern enumerates the 40 meetings, as well as 45 other invoices for strategic assistance and advice provided to the hospital during the campaign.
IRI was hired to advise the hospital on how to work within the bounds of the Election Principles Agreement signed last March, Petrini said. The company focuses on preventing unions from forming but is not considered to be one of the most aggressive at union-busting. “Union avoidance” firms, as they often call themselves, now constitute a several-hundred-million dollar industry annually.
Another IRI consultant, Ted Pilonero, attended at least 15 voluntary employee meetings over five months before the union election scheduled for Dec. 20 and 21, according to the invoices. These meetings were later found by Kern to be improper under the election agreement.
Hospital administrators have maintained publicly that senior officials at the hospital knew nothing about the meetings until Dec. 6 because they were implemented independently by IRI. The arbitrator’s order states that Borgstrom had told Kern that she, the hospital’s chief operating officer Richard D’Aquila and labor relations head Ed Dowling all were unaware of the meetings until Dec. 6.
Kern implies in the order that Borgstrom’s testimony was misleading.
“It is to be noted that the June, July, September, October, November and December monthly invoices are date stamped as having been received in the office of Ed Dowling,” she wrote.
But Petrini said the meetings listed may include voluntary meetings that were not held immediately following required meetings — the type Kern ruled were unacceptable under the agreement. They could have been stand-alone open forum meetings, he said.
He said hospital administrators have not misled either the public or the arbitrator about their role in the anti-union campaign.
“We’ve always said we’ve been engaged with consultants,” he said. “These are issues we have recognized and addressed.”
The document also includes Kern’s response to a hospital challenge to her jurisdiction, which was first made last week. Petrini has said that once the union withdrew its petition to the National Labor Relations Board for a secret ballot, the arbitrator’s jurisdiction under the agreement, which was set up to govern an election, expired.
But Meyerson said the move was merely the hospital looking for an excuse to renege on its agreement.
Kern also sharply dismissed the hospital’s argument.
“The employer’s further argument that the arbitrator has already provided adequate remedies for all violations under the agreement is self-serving at best and inaccurate to say the least,” she wrote. “The arbitrator’s work is not yet completed and will not be completed until all of the cases filed by the parties are resolved and a final remedy issued.”
There is one hospital complaint against the union still pending, in which they allege that a union lawyer disparaged the hospital in testimony before the Connecticut state legislature and that the union disparaged the hospital in a press release when it withdrew its election petition. If true, both actions would be violations of the election agreement. Kern ruled yesterday in favor of a hospital request for any written communications related to the testimony or press release between the union, SEIU 1199, and any affiliated labor organizations. Meyerson said there are no such documents to turn over.