After decision, Y-NH pays local union $2M

The settlement is over. Now comes the hard part.

This month, Yale-New Haven Hospital paid $2 million to District 1199 of the Service Employees International Union as part of an arbitration deal forged after a near-decade-long battle between the two parties. In 2006, SEIU/1199 workers had tried to have a “fair” union election, but the hospital interfered, according to an independent arbitrator and the National Labor Relations Board.

The $2 million was part of an agreed $4.2-million bill independent arbitrator Margaret Kern slapped on the hospital over violations of a previous Election Principles Agreement between the hospital and SEIU/1199 union organizers to allow for a December 2006 uninterfered union election for the 1,800 service workers there.

But the workers and hospital must now work toward a way to allow for possible unionization of the workers, something that the two have failed to accomplish for the last nine years.

Although the hospital wants the union dispute to be over, union officials said they refuse to continue with the old plan to have an election.

SEIU spokesman Bill Meyerson said Thursday that hospital administrators have been “untrustworthy” and there cannot be a fair election for the workers at the hospital under the current leadership. Meyerson added that the funds SEIU/1199 had gained from the arbitration deal will be used to help the service workers to unionize, but the group has no definitive plans on how to do so yet.

In a statement, Yale-New Haven Senior Vice President Vin Petrini said he hopes the payment “closes the chapter and the book” of SEIU efforts to organize the service workers into a union, according to the New Haven Register in an Aug. 16 article. Petrini, reached at his home phone Thursday night, declined to comment because he did not take non-breaking news interview requests after regular office hours.

Since 1999, SEIU/1199 organizers have been helping some service workers to organize others to unionize. The union election was the first genuine effort for possible unionization that had been agreed upon among the city, hospital officials and union organizers, the organizers said.

At the time when the agreement was broken, the hospital had misled workers, telling them that benefits and wages would dip had they unionized, according to Kern’s conclusions. When the hospital volunteered to have another agreement, the union flatly rejected the request.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in March 2007 that the hospital “is very clearly a partner that you not only can’t trust, but is clearly misrepresenting the facts.” His administration had lost touch with the hospital, officials claim, after the agreement violations.

And in May 2007, the National Labor Relations Board found that the hospital management anti-unionization movement had top administrators involved, including then-executive vice president and chief operating officer and now-president and CEO Margna Borgstrom EPH ’79.

But as the flame started to cool in early 2007, hospital officials also focused on pleasing the city by refining an grudgingly approved plan for a new cancer center.

The new center was contentious in the past because, among other things, city officials had wanted an increased amount of housing in the area of the center’s garage. City officials approved a $530 million cancer center in 2006, but the garage, laboratory and pharmacy still needed to be approved.

Ultimately, the hospital and city agreed on having 24 market-rate housing units surrounding the garage.

By October 2007, the arbitrator issued her bill to the hospital.

In a 47-page report, Kern rejected the union’s request for her to issue bargaining order that forces the hospital to acknowledge that the SEIU was representing hospital employees and must thus forge a contract with the union. But she nonetheless mandated that the hospital pay $2.2 million to the 1,800 workers and $2.3 million to the SEIU/1199.

The hospital later disputed the amount they should pay to the SEIU/1199, and a settlement was reached for $2 million this month. The hospital paid the remaining funds owed a week later. Officials paid the $2.2 million to the workers, however, from the get-go.

It remains unclear what the two parties will do now that the payments have been completed. Unionization may still continue, union workers say.

DeStefano said the dispute between the two parties will still continue as long as there is no “free and fair election” for unionization of the workers, the New Haven Register reported Aug. 16.

Meyerson said he was unsure when the dispute between the two parties will come to a close.

“It’s too early to say,” he said.

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