Last Thursday, the Dwight Hall Cabinet, a body composed of the coordinators of all Dwight Hall member groups, overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the Yale-New Haven Hospital for its violations of workers’ rights. The resolution also calls upon the hospital leadership to commit publicly to a card check process for union recognition. This action taken by Dwight Hall sends a clear message to the hospital management and Board of Trustees, on which our own President Levin serves, that Yale students stand behind the hospital employees’ right to choose freely and fairly how they will be represented.
Dwight Hall, as the center for community service and social justice at Yale, has been speaking out on issues of injustice in New Haven and around the world since its founding in 1886. Yale students who participate in Dwight Hall programs feel a strong connection to and membership in the New Haven community. It is this connection, along with a larger commitment to a vision of social change, that compels us to take a stand against the flagrant violations of human rights committed by the Yale-New Haven Hospital. These violations represent not only isolated acts of injustice, but also a betrayal of trust between the hospital and the New Haven community, of which we are a part.
Students have a vital role to play in this struggle because of the close institutional connection between Yale University and the Yale-New Haven Hospital. Dwight Hall has long been the social and moral conscience of this University. It is our obligation to ensure that Yale’s actions work toward, not against, a more fair and just relationship with its neighbors in the New Haven community. This relationship has been gravely compromised by the recent conduct of the hospital management.
Last March, months of student and community advocacy efforts culminated in a historic Community Benefits Agreement. In addition to addressing residents’ concerns, such as air pollution, job training and youth programming, the CBA established a conduct agreement between the hospital management and the Service Employees International Union. The hospital committed to providing SEIU with a nine-month neutrality period during which hospital employees, free from management intimidation and coercion, could decide whether they wished to form a union.
Throughout the fall, the hospital egregiously violated the neutrality agreement and federal labor law by spreading false information, threatening to fire workers who supported the union, and holding improper mandatory meetings to discourage unionization. In December, the National Labor Relations Board called off the scheduled union election following a ruling by independent arbitrator Margaret Kern that a free and fair election had been jeopardized by the hospital. To this day, Kern continues to hear testimony from workers who have filed intimidation complaints against management and is expected to issue a ruling prescribing a fair course of action at the hospital.
Dwight Hall refuses to condone the hospital’s behavior toward its workers and its breach of the community’s trust. We believe that the climate of fear induced by the aforementioned violations has eliminated the possibility of a free and fair election. The only just solution to this crisis is through a card check process for union recognition. This process would occur over a longer period of time and outside the workplace, thereby allowing hospital employees to make informed decisions in a significantly less coercive environment.
As an organization representing thousands of student volunteers and activists, Dwight Hall has a unique voice in the Yale and New Haven communities. Our decision to take a stand on this issue sends an unequivocal message to the hospital management and Board of Trustees. The workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital have the right to choose freely how they wish to be represented. The hospital is legally and morally obligated to preserve this fundamental human right.
Jessica Bialecki is a junior in Silliman College. Lauren Jacobson is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. They are co-coordinators of Dwight Hall.