Thirteen cafeteria employees at Yale-New Haven Hospital have reached a settlement with the Service Employees International Union District 1199, three months after filing an official complaint against the union.
The National Labor Relations Board brokered the settlement and said District 1199, which represents 150 dietary workers at the hospital, must rescind its membership resignation policy, post notices of workers’ rights in the workplace, and withdraw all fines and other disciplinary actions taken against these workers.
The 13 workers — who continued to report to work during a three-week strike by unionized hospital and Yale workers in the fall — filed an official complaint Nov. 10 with the NLRB alleging the union engaged in illegal retaliation practices and failed to honor their resignations. The complaint challenged union bylaws which require workers to appear before a hearing to receive permission to resign. It also addressed a union tribunal designated to decide disciplinary action against the non-striking union members.
The initial complaint was filed with the assistance of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Foundation spokesman Justin Hakes said the bylaws violated the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case “Patternmakers v. NLRB”, which states that union members have the right to formally resign from a union at any time, without restriction.
“[Requiring that] members wishing to resign must appear before a hearing — is illegal under the Patternmakers law, which says they only have to fill out a form stating that they wish to resign,” Hakes said.
Hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said the challenges the workers faced before arriving at this settlement show the extent to which union officials will go to maintain control.
“The NLRB settlement demonstrates the union’s willingness to resort to a variety of tactics, legal and illegal, to impose their will upon employees who have demonstrated very little interest in their representation,” Petrini said.
But union spokesman Bill Meyerson said the hearing served as a protective measure for workers who wished to resign.
“In our experience, members who had notified that they wished to resign had been pressured by their employer — and the purpose of the hearing was to ensure that that was not the case,” Meyerson said. “But that doesn’t confer with current interpretations of federal labor laws.”
Hakes said unfair labor practices like these continue to exist because many workers do not have the means to pursue complaints.
“When union officials are maintaining a policy like this — it’s many times up to individual workers to challenge because while the NLRB exists to prosecute unfair labor practice and decide union representation, workers have to challenge such policies through the court systems, which is unfortunate because many workers don’t have resources to put behind lawyers, and organizations like ours have limited resources,” Hakes said.
The hospital has been negotiating with the union since January. District 1199 members participated in a three-week strike this fall alongside members of Yale’s two largest unions, locals 34 and 35.
Hospital representatives have attributed the failed negotiations between the union and the hospital to District 1199’s drive to unionize 1,800 other workers at the hospital, while union members continue to maintain the hospital’s offers are inadequate.
Petrini also said the union is putting pressure on the hospital to recognize the union without the standard practice of a secret ballot election supervised by the NLRB. Employers have the right to waive this requirement, but employees may be more susceptible to coercion without a secret ballot vote.
“[This settlement] also raises new concerns about the union’s push for card check process [a non-secret ballot election],” Petrini said. “That does not respect employee rights to a secret election ballot and provides no guarantee against ongoing union activity and coercion.”
No future negotiation sessions are currently planned between the union and the hospital.