On Monday, the Board of Aldermen narrowly passed a resolution recommending New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and the Board of Police Commissioners revoke the arrest powers of Yale-New Haven Hospital security guards. The proposal, drafted by Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, comes after the unions filed a formal charge with the National Labor Review Board in October for the September arrests of union leafleters. It also urges the hospital to drop all charges against those arrested.
Ward 28 Alderman Brian Jenkins told the News he considers this a “people issue,” not a “union issue.” In fact, it likely is a number of different issues — people and unions included — combined, which led to support for the proposal. One can only hope, though, that in considering this gesture of support for the unions, the aldermen did not neglect the issue that is indisputably paramount: safety.
Union leaders filed NLRB charges last month because of three separate arrests of union leafleters, including the arrests of eight union supporters — six Yale workers and two graduate students — who were distributing union pamphlets just outside the hospital doors. At the time the charges were filed, Local 34, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization and the Service Employees International Union District 1199 claimed that Yale-New Haven Hospital had “unlawfully threatened and coerced employees.” A hospital spokesperson characterized the charges as without merit and as another attempt to draw attention to the unions’ goals.
At their meeting Monday, aldermen described the arrests as an “abuse of power,” a violation of civil rights, and a potential liability for New Haven, since the security guards are privately employed but making arrests for which the city is legally responsible. They decided, by just two votes over the 16-vote majority required to pass the resolution, that the 34-year-old policy that allows guards to make arrests should be discarded.
Those who voted against the proposal feared the increased burden on the already understaffed New Haven police force would create a less secure environment for hospital employees and patients alike. If the proposal would indeed forfeit safety in the name of empathy, it will prove at least misguided and at most dangerous for everyone at Yale-New Haven.
Nationwide, there is precedent in both directions — some top-notch hospitals give security guards the power of arrest, others don’t. Some hospital officials elsewhere say arrests actually occur very infrequently and so can be left to police; others say giving security guards the power to make arrests makes people feel safer at work.
That sense of safety is certainly important, and if security guards are in fact being pressured by their supervisors to arrest leafleters as a means of intimidation, that is a grave concern that the Board of Aldermen is right to address. Now that DeStefano and the Board of Police Commissioners have the proposal, it is something they should consider. But unless they are convinced forbidding security guards from making arrests will address that potential problem without opening the hospital to more serious physical threats, it is a plan the mayor and the commissioners should ultimately reject.