Yale-New Haven Hospital CEO Marna Borgstrom personally violated federal labor election law despite her claim that only lower-level managers were engaged in questionable conduct, according to a complaint filed Friday by the National Labor Relations Board.
Until now, Borgstrom has distanced herself from the wrongdoings confirmed to have been committed by lower managers against the worker’s union trying to organize at the hospital. The new allegations against her are just the tip of the iceberg of the four-page complaint issued by the NLRB, which amounts to the equivalent of a legal indictment against the hospital. The rest of the complaint lists more than 15 specific violations of federal law allegedly committed by various managers, ranging from conveying to employees false information about the ramifications of unionization to threatening their jobs if they were to support a union.
Hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said the allegations against Borgstrom are “baseless.” But NLRB Asst. Regional Director John Cotter said that after carefully reviewing convincing evidence, including sworn affidavits by hospital employees, the government agency is ready to prosecute the hospital if no settlement is reached before a hearing set for July 10.
“There was a large-scale attempt to undermine the union,” Cotter said, noting that the NLRB, which sometimes takes many months or years to rule on a labor law violation, reached a decision unusually quickly following the union’s filing of complaints last December and again in March. “Everything involving [the hospital] is beyond the usual timeframe, because there are so many related issues.”
The only remedy the board may impose by law is ordering the hospital to post notices of its illegal conduct for 60 days, Cotter said. But the NLRB’s decision is perhaps the largest legal setback for the hospital since the dispute began and will likely lead to renewed political pressure on administrators to acquiesce to the union’s demands. Those demands include either the issuing of a bargaining order, which would oblige the hospital to recognize SEIU-1199’s presence at the hospital, or a card-check, a type of a election in which it would be easier for the union to be recognized than in a secret-ballot election.
Petrini said he found it “encouraging” that the NLRB did not choose to seek the bargaining order, and that failing a settlement, the hospital looks forward to presenting evidence at the hearing that will exonerate Borgstrom. The hospital has already presented evidence to the independent arbitrator who is also reviewing the case under authority given to her by the Elections Principles Agreement, reached last year between the union, Yale and the city. The evidence shows that Borgstrom did not threaten anyone or interrogate them about union allegiance, Petrini said.
He said the hospital is holding out hope that a secret ballot election will be ordered or that the union will agree to one on its own.
“The one voice that hasn’t been heard in this debate yet is the voice of our employees,” Petrini said. “Meanwhile, we’ll continue to defend the hospital against any baseless charges brought by the union. We’ve offered a positive and practical way to solve this, and they flatly rejected it with the same old rhetoric as in the past.”
Last week, in a lengthy and blunt letter, the union rejected Borgstrom’s request for a secret-ballot election and demanded that the independent arbitrator issue a bargaining order instead.
Hospital spokesman Bill Meyerson said that while the NLRB is “not an adequate vehicle to protect workers’ rights” due to its weak enforcement mechanisms, it is another reason why Borgstrom should publicly “make real amends” for her hospital’s wrongdoings.
“Petrini can say all he wants, but this is a finding by the NLRB based on their investigation,” Meyerson said. “This is further evidence of systematic, pervasive violations of workers’ rights, of the law, of the agreement, and further reveals attempts on the parts of Borgstrom and others to cover it up.”
Margaret Kern, the independent arbitrator, ruled last month that the hospital had to turn over evidence that might implicate managers in working with a since-fired consulting firm that specializes in fighting union campaigns.
A ruling by Kern — whose authority has been questioned by the hospital since the Elections Principles Agreement expired earlier this year —could potentially order a remedy more significant than the 60-day notices demanded by the NLRB. Her decision is expected soon.
Check out the full complaint: