On Tuesday morning, we watched in disbelief as the Yale-New Haven Hospital police arrested four women for criminal trespassing. Their alleged crime? Handing out leaflets to fellow workers at the entrance to the Yale Cancer Center.
“But I thought the hospital can’t interfere with leafleting,” one woman protested.
“We work here — we have a right to be here,” another insisted.
Douglas Doyle, the police chief of Yale-New Haven, acknowledged that the hospital had entered into a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board that allowed workers to leaflet on hospital grounds. The settlement was in response to unfair labor practice charges by hospital workers — they had been threatened with arrest for attempting to leaflet.
These arrests were different though, according to Doyle. He claimed that the settlement only protected workers employed by the hospital.
True to form, Yale-New Haven police did not interfere with the hospital worker who was leafleting alongside the other four who were arrested — two medical school employees and two graduate student researchers. It did not seem to matter that these four work every day in hospital buildings alongside hospital employees.
Doyle justified this distinction with a technical response. Due to complicated leasing arrangements, the hospital was effectively “condominium-ized.” By this, he meant that employees who work down the hall from each other cannot communicate freely — at least if the subject is unionization.
Doyle’s distinction has little legal precedent. Regardless of its validity, to silence any employees on the basis of arcane legal technicalities is beneath the dignity of an institution dedicated to the free exchange of ideas.
Yet it’s not going to be easy for these workers to vindicate their right to free expression. Last semester, we were part of a team of Yale Law School students and faculty who examined the NLRB process as well as infringements upon workers’ rights within the Yale community.
We found that the NLRB’s remedies for unfair labor practices are too little, too late. Indeed, after the last bout of arrests for leafleting occurred, almost a year passed before the NLRB and Yale-New Haven reached a settlement. It is this settlement that Yale-New Haven now seems to be violating, at least in spirit .
Delay is no mere inconvenience. These arrests and other unfair labor practices create a hostile work environment. Spreading fears of retaliation chill free speech. Delay also affords employers more time to engage in anti-union activity.
Furthermore, these arrests are not isolated incidents. In our report, we found a widespread pattern of interference with employee free choice by administrators and managers at Yale-New Haven and at the Graduate School. From what we witnessed on Tuesday morning, things are getting worse. All told, eight workers have been arrested since the beginning of September.
In an academic community that places such a high value on freedom of expression, there has to be a better way. Yale-New Haven and Yale University would do well to emulate Cornell University, Catholic Health Care West, the University of Washington, and Verizon in working out innovative labor peace agreements with various unions. By restricting harassment of workers and streamlining the inefficient NLRB process, these agreements have helped to reduce coercion as workers grapple with the important decision of whether or not to form unions. Negotiating labor peace agreements would encourage uninhibited information-sharing and deliberative decision-making — a promising step toward healing Yale’s long-troubled labor relations.
We call on Yale President Richard Levin to protect the rights of University employees — especially these workers who were brave enough to stand up to harassment from the Yale-New Haven police.
Joshua Civin and Lisa Powell are third-year students at the Yale Law School.