The state of Connecticut dropped its charges Nov. 22 against eight union supporters who were arrested in September for leafleting outside Yale-New Haven Hospital buildings.
Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph LaMotta said in a court appearance Nov. 22 that the state decided not to pursue the cases further. Of the eight arrested union supporters, seven charges were nolled, meaning the state will not prosecute the cases but could refile the charges in the next 13 months. The final union supporter’s charges were dismissed.
The arrests also prompted unfair labor practice charges against the hospital, criticism of hospital and University leaders by union leaders, and a Board of Aldermen resolution that urged an end to the hospital security force’s arrest powers.
Union spokesman Deborah Chernoff said the unions remained concerned about the atmosphere at the hospital, which she said sends the message that communicating about unions is illicit.
Hospital spokeswoman Katie Krauss said the hospital was pleased that the charges were nolled rather than dropped entirely. She said this indicates that hospital police had probable cause to make the arrests.
In early September, hospital police arrested four members of Local 34, Yale’s clerical and technical workers union, who were distributing leaflets outside a hospital building. A week later, two more Local 34 members and two members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization were arrested for distributing information outside the Yale Cancer Center.
All eight were charged with second-degree criminal trespass and faced up to a year in jail. The cases were originally slated to be settled under community mediation.
Following the arrests, union leaders launched a campaign condemning the University for threatening free speech by arresting workers for leafleting. Union leaders have criticized Yale officials for allowing the arrests to occur. Yale leaders have said they were not responsible for the arrests because the hospital and the University are separate institutions.
Yale President Richard Levin declined to comment but said he is glad the matter has been resolved.
Union leaders filed formal charges against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board Oct. 28 for unfair labor practices. Chernoff said the Nov. 22 decision to drop charges would not affect the union’s NLRB charges.
The New Haven Board of Aldermen passed a resolution on Nov. 18 calling for the revocation of the arrest powers of Yale-New Haven Hospital security officers. The New Haven Board of Police Commissioners also held a meeting last Monday to take testimony from aldermen and arrested union supporters, but did not reach a decision on the issue. Union leaders said they expect a decision at tonight’s meeting.
Chernoff said that in spite of the state’s decision, the atmosphere at the hospital remains problematic for union supporters.
“There’s continuous surveillance that has as powerful, if not more powerful, an effect in itself — and says that there’s something wrong with communicating about the unions,” Chernoff said. “That issue is not dealt with by the fact that the charges were dropped.”
Krauss said she believed the state’s decision proved the validity of the arrests.
“We were pleased that the state really supported the fact that the arrests were legal,” Krauss said. She said the arrests were for trespassing on private property and were much like those at the unions’ planned act of civil disobedience Sept. 25, during which police arrested 675 union supporters for blocking traffic on a stretch of College Street.
Krauss said she believes the arrests have been publicized heavily because union-related issues are particularly contentious right now.
“The fact that it’s become clouded and portrayed as a free speech issue is really a by-product of the fact that it’s a really emotional, highly-charged political issue,” she said.
Chernoff said union leaders believe that Adam Manny, the worker whose case was dismissed, did not have his charge nolled because of a mistake. But Krauss said the charge against Manny was dismissed and not nolled because he worked for the hospital and had the right to leaflet on hospital grounds.