Y-NH awaits final NLRB settlement

Yale-New Haven Hospital will soon put up posters describing its illegal conduct in the weeks before a unionization election last December — but that doesn’t mean hospital officials are ready to admit any wrongdoing.

The National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C. is expected to give its stamp of approval soon to a settlement agreement between the hospital and the NLRB’s regional office in Hartford. The settlement, which calls for Yale-New Haven to post notices describing its illegal conduct for 60 days, was signed last May in the wake of a five-month investigation into the hospital’s actions leading up to the planned election.

The settlement’s approval would clear the way for the NLRB to consider holding a new election, this time at the hospital’s request. But the union, SEIU/1199, has rejected the entire NLRB process as providing too few safeguards for workers. In its stead, the union is pinning its hopes on the remedy soon to be issued by an independent arbitrator, who ruled in June that the hospital had violated federal labor law as well as an agreement with the union about conduct during the election process. She is expected to propose a remedy soon — but has been expected to do so “soon” for months now.

The settlement has already been approved by the regional office of the NLRB, as well as its general counsel in Washington, hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said. It must now pass muster with the actual board, which Petrini said is expected to happen soon, though he was not sure when.

Though an NLRB official has said the remedy is the harshest it can impose on the hospital, the agreement does not require the hospital to admit any wrongdoing. And it is this caveat — in addition to the fact that the hospital has been required to post notices multiple times, to little effect — that has some union leaders steamed.

Union spokesman Bill Meyerson said the posters will be meaningless.

“After all the hospital has been found guilty of by the arbitrator, they chose to oversee their agreement with us and the community, after all the findings, to order yet another poster without any admission of wrongdoing?” he said. “It’s a travesty.”

The union has long viewed the NLRB remedy process as too weak at protecting workers, Meyerson said. SEIU has requested that the arbitrator require the hospital to recognize the union, through a procedure called a bargaining order. Exactly what Kern’s remedy will be remains unclear.

Both Petrini and Meyerson had said last spring that her decision was coming soon. This week, both declined to speculate as to why it has taken so long.

Attempts to organize service employees at the hospital date back to 1998, but this past year saw one of the union’s best opportunities yet. As part of a March 2006 agreement that let construction go forward on the Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Center, the hospital and union signed an agreement to hold an NLRB-supervised election later that year.

But days before the scheduled election in late December, allegations arose that the hospital was threatening workers. The union filed more than 200 complaints against the hospital with the independent arbitrator and, with her consent, asked for the election to be postponed.

Union officials withdrew their election petition from the NLRB in February, canceling the election once and for all. But in an unusual move, the hospital then filed its own petition for a union election. Saying the well had already been poisoned, the union refused to agree to a new election, and refiled more than 200 complaints against the hospital with the NLRB.

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