Yalies must speak out on hospital union issue

As the school year begins and we return to our commitments as students, we must also remember our commitments as citizens to the city of New Haven.

On March 22, 2006, Yale-New Haven Hospital and the city of New Haven entered into a community benefits agreement that promised responsible development and equitable treatment toward the communities of New Haven on the part of the hospital. A major piece of the agreement was a principles agreement that guaranteed the 1,800 workers at the hospital would have the right to organize a union in a neutral environment free from intimidation and coercion. In late November 2006, Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union recognized that a clear majority of the workers at the hospital were in favor of forming a union and filed for an election.

At this point the administration of the hospital made it abundantly clear they had no intention of upholding their end of the agreement. In early December, just weeks before the union election was to take place, Margaret Kern, the neutral arbitrator agreed upon by the hospital and the union, issued a ruling that condemned the hospital for engaging in a systematic anti-union campaign, stating, “[T]he employer has engaged in serious violations of federal law, the election principles agreement and prior arbitration awards.” Kern postponed the election, and the union, believing that the conditions at the hospital would never permit a free and fair election, withdrew its petition for an election from the NLRB.

Since then, the situation has only deteriorated. Among many fact-finding rulings subsequently issued, Kern ruled in June that the hospital was guilty of misrepresenting the amount of dues employees would have to pay the union, unlawfully polling employees on their views of the union, and threatening employees with loss of wages or benefits if the union were formed. These rulings came in response to over 200 complaints from employees about these union-busting tactics, and these tactics represent violations of both the principles agreement and the National Labor Relations Act. Currently, the community awaits Kern’s proposal for a remedy to these violations, but while Local 1199 has promised to follow Kern’s decision regardless of the outcome, Yale-New Haven Hospital indicated that it will not follow the decision should it not fall in their favor.

It is easy for us as Yale students to forget that we are members of both the Yale community and the New Haven community. While Yale-New Haven Hospital is technically its own entity, in practice the hospital and Yale are intertwined. President Levin not only sits on the hospital’s board but also appoints a third of the members of the board. Yale workers work side by side with hospital employees performing the same tasks, and hospital employees refer to themselves as working “for Yale.” Furthermore, as the University teaching hospital, Yale-New Haven plays host to many Yale medical students, undergraduates and students of the School of Public Health. Finally, Yale receives many federal grants that are shared with the hospital for research purposes.

Yale-New Haven Hospital is our hospital, New Haven is our community, and the principles agreement is a promise we all made to the 1,800 workers at the hospital to guarantee them the right to choose to form a union. This right is not only protected by U.S. law in the National Labor Relations Act but also by Article 23 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Humans Rights. It is therefore our responsibility to use our voices both as citizens of New Haven and as students at Yale to ensure the hospital upholds the community benefits agreement and abides by the decision of arbitrator Kern.

As a board member of the hospital and the president of this University, President Levin has the unique power to end this crisis. It is imperative that we demand that President Levin publicly call upon the hospital to respect the arbitrator’s decision and privately use his power to guarantee the hospital’s compliance. Only in this way can we reclaim the initial spirit and good will of the community benefits agreement, which was squandered by Yale-New Haven’s inexcusable behavior and the University’s refusal to address this situation.

Troy Schuler is a junior in Ezra Stiles College and a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee.

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