Union says no to election

In a letter released on Friday, the union seeking to organize at Yale-New Haven Hospital soundly rejected a hospital proposal for a new Election Principles Agreement, demanding instead that an independent arbitrator force the hospital to recognize the union.

After months of asking SEIU/1199 to discuss how to hold a new election, the hospital outlined explicitly what it would offer in exchange for a new election in a letter dated April 16. The letter, addressed to a union negotiator who is also an assistant to SEIU’s president, was met with a strongly-worded reply from the negotiator, Lawrence Fox, on Thursday. The reply demands that the arbitrator issue a bargaining order, forcing the hospital to recognize the union as representing Yale-New Haven employees and to negotiate a contract with it.

In the letter, the hospital offered to sign a new Election Principles Agreement, a document governing conduct during an organizing campaign leading up to an election. The previous agreement, signed in March 2006, expired last month. According to the April 16 letter from hospital CEO Marna Borgstrom, the new agreement would essentially include all the same rights as the previous one, except with added protections for the union. These would include banning the hospital from holding meetings with employees to discuss unionization as well as allowing each side to review written and oral communications concerning the organizing effort before they are distributed. The hospital would also not hire consultants to meet with employees eligible to vote, as it has in the past. In exchange, a new election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board would be held.

Union spokesman Bill Meyerson said the proposal was the most detailed the hospital offered so far, but union officials said the hospital should not be rewarded with a second agreement after it violated the first election agreement. In mid-December, a neutral arbitrator found that the hospital broke the existing Election Principles Agreement and federal labor law in the lead-up to a secret ballot unionization election scheduled for Dec. 20-21. The violations stemmed in part from anti-union employee meetings held during work hours.

As a result of the violations, union officials said, a fair election is no longer possible at Yale-New Haven.

“You, your executives, managers, supervisors and consultants not only destroyed that chance [of a free election] but you so manipulated, coerced, frightened, and misled employees about the Union and the harm that the Union would inflict on employees that you cannot undo it even if you wanted to,” Fox, the union negotiator, wrote in a letter addressed to Borgstrom in reply to her April 16 letter.

As a result, the union is asking the neutral arbitrator for a bargaining order. Under a bargaining order, the hospital must recognize the union as representing employees in the bargaining unit and would have to negotiate a contract with SEIU/1199. Originally, the union had advocated for a card check process, in which a union represents workers once more than half the employees in a bargaining unit sign union cards. But Meyerson said the union is now requesting a bargaining order from the arbitrator, as the arbitrator is adhering to the rules set forth in the Election Principles Agreement, which does not recognize the card check process.

Meyerson said the hospital proposal was little more than an attempt to undermine the agreement signed last year, as the hospital’s proposal would allow its violations of that agreement to go unpunished. Yale-New Haven has been offering to meet with the union outside the bounds of the arbitration process to discuss a new election ever since the arbitrator’s December ruling, which led to the first election’s postponement and then cancellation, hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said.

Petrini said Borgstrom’s letter was simply the latest in a series of attempts to address the issue in a productive way, and that it did not mark a new step for the hospital. He said he was disappointed, though not surprised, by the union’s “negative and misleading rhetoric” used in the latest letter. Even in the letter itself, Fox admits that it had a harsh tone.

“I realize that this letter is blunt,” he wrote. “You and the Hospital deserve nothing else.”

But for the hospital, resolving the dispute through a new election is taking on a new urgency as the arbitrator’s ruling draws near. The arbitrator, Margaret Kern, has not indicated to either party when she will issue a final ruling on the charges against the hospital, both Meyerson and Petrini said. At the moment, the arbitrator has no more hearings scheduled, Petrini said, though she could call new ones at any time. Kern is now weighing the evidence heard on four specific charges, though approximately 200 were filed by the union and have not yet been dismissed, he said.

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