Hospital workers and union organizers gathered outside Woodbridge Hall Thursday afternoon as Yale President Richard Levin and union leaders exchanged pointed words over unionization, charges of harassment and labor law.

The altercation followed an attempt by the group to meet with Levin in his Woodbridge Hall office. Workers and union leaders crowded into the lobby and packed the office of the president’s staff before Levin emerged from his own office about a half hour later.

Levin, who was on his way to a meeting, suggested that they talk outside. Once there, Levin and union leaders sparred over the group’s attempt to unionize hospital workers as well as the recent arrests of Yale workers and graduate students who were distributing leaflets about unionization on hospital grounds.

Workers and other union supporters gathered on the steps to the administration building, while onlookers — including globalization center Director Ernesto Zedillo — watched from across Beinicke Plaza as the dispute grew more heated.

The quarrel came amid growing tensions between the University and the federation representing its largest unions, locals 34 and 35, and the hospital’s dietary workers union. The dietary workers, who are attempting to organize about 1,800 other hospital workers, are considering a strike next month after more than two years of unsuccessful contract negotiations. The hospital workers are closely aligned with locals 34 and 35, who have made unionization for hospital workers a major goal of their own contract negotiations with Yale.

Levin has said he does not control the hospital, but union leaders Thursday called on him to use his role as a hospital trustee to help the group unionize.

Levin, meanwhile, urged workers to file for a secret-ballot NLRB election.

“I know you’re standing up for people that deserve to be heard,” Levin told the crowd. “Take those cards to the NLRB.”

The hospital workers have sought to be recognized through card-count neutrality, a process under which Yale-New Haven would agree to remain neutral and recognize a union if a majority of workers signed union cards. Levin has said NLRB elections are the accepted way to form unions, and hospital leaders have declined to comment on unionization.

As Levin spoke, the Rev. Scott Marks, a union supporter, interrupted him and the two continued a brief stream of angry interjections before Levin continued.

“You don’t want your people to hear what I’m going to say,” Levin said to Marks before telling workers that filing union cards to hold an NLRB election was the accepted way to form a union.

Union supporters argued that Levin should condemn the recent arrests at the hospital, which occurred after hospital police told workers they needed to move to nearby sidewalks if they wanted to distribute leaflets. Levin said he had no role in the arrests.

“Arresting people chilled the atmosphere,” said Nick Allen ’96, a union organizer. “There’s no way we can have a fair election.”

Hospital workers have repeatedly complained of being harassed and intimidated in their attempts to organize other workers. Union leaders have filed several unfair labor complaints against the hospital, including one that hospital officials settled with the NLRB least spring.

Levin said that workers have not been intimidated at the hospital.

“I was,” several workers shouted back.

Levin also criticized the leaders of locals 34 and 35 for stalling contract talks over the hospital workers’ unionization efforts. Marks asked whether Levin wanted the other unions to leave the hospital workers behind.

Before Levin left, dietary worker Ray Milici asked if a group of hospital workers could meet with him. Milici said the group was approaching Levin because they had been told they could not meet with hospital CEO Joseph Zaccagnino. Levin declined the request for another meeting, saying he did not think it would be appropriate for a trustee of the hospital.

“This isn’t going to go away,” Allen shouted as Levin left.

Many workers said they were not surprised Levin refused to meet with them again.

“All we want to do is have a meeting and talk,” said Lucy Reed, a dietary worker at the hospital. “Nobody wants to talk with us and it’s not fair.”

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”19821″ ]