As tension mounts between Yale and its unions, union leaders accused the University of involvement in the arrests of four workers distributing leaflets about unionization in front of a Yale-New Haven Hospital building last week.

Two Yale employees were arrested on Wednesday morning outside the Dana Clinic building on Howard Avenue after passing out leaflets about a strike authorization vote that afternoon. Hospital police officers told them that they could not distribute materials on hospital property and arrested the workers when they refused to move to a nearby sidewalk. Two more workers were arrested while distributing leaflets Friday morning, three hours before union leaders held a press conference to denounce the arrests.

The four workers, who are active members of Local 34, Yale’s clerical and technical workers union, were charged with second-degree criminal trespass.

Wednesday’s arrests occurred hours before union members at the hospital and Yale voted to authorize their leaders to call strikes or other job actions. The dispute over the arrests comes amid increasing tensions between the University and its unions, and reflects a longstanding dispute over the relationship between Yale and the hospital.

Hospital spokesman Mark D’Antonio said in a written statement that the leafleters were arrested because they were blocking an ambulance bay and a handicapped entrance and refused to move. D’Antonio added that the hospital respected their right to distribute leaflets but would not tolerate actions that impede access to the hospital.

But union leaders called the arrests violations of the workers’ free speech rights and said they represented a backward step in Yale’s efforts to improve relations with the unions. Throughout the Friday press conference, union leaders blamed Yale President Richard Levin for the arrests.

“I’m disappointed that this is what President Levin called a new era of labor relations here at Yale,” said Adam Manny, one of the leafleters arrested Friday morning. Manny said he had handed out leaflets in the area for at least three years, without any problems. Manny and other members of Yale’s largest recognized unions, locals 34 and 35, have been working with Service Employees International Union District 1199 to unionize about 1,800 hospital workers. District 1199 already represents 150 dietary workers at the hospital.

Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said the University had nothing to do with the arrests, which were made by hospital police officers.

“The hospital is a completely separate entity from Yale,” Klasky said. “They need to take up their concerns with the hospital.”

Hospital workers have complained repeatedly about being threatened by hospital officials for distributing union information. District 1199 has filed several unfair labor practice complaints against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board, including one that the hospital settled last spring.

Local 34 President Laura Smith said she expected the charges to be dropped, adding that the unions would pursue the matters in court if necessary.

“We’re not going to let this go,” Smith said. “Those workers are not going to have a criminal record for passing out leaflets in their workplace.”

Yale’s relationship with the hospital has been a major source of contention as the University and locals 34 and 35 continue to negotiate contracts for nearly 4,000 workers. District 1199 is negotiating with the hospital for new contracts for the dietary workers.

In the past, union leaders have argued that Levin controls the hospital, noting that he sits on the board and appoints eight of its 28 members. More recently, union leaders have asked Levin to urge hospital CEO Joseph Zaccagnino to recognize a union.

Levin has maintained that he does not have the power to affect the organizing drive. Through a spokeswoman, Zaccagnino has declined to comment on unionization issues, but hospital spokeswoman Katie Krauss said last week that the hospital believed a third party was unnecessary in its relationship with workers.