Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said Friday that plans for Yale-New Haven Hospital’s new $430-million cancer center will likely be voted down by the Board of Aldermen if a conflict over unionizing hospital workers is not resolved, but aldermen said their vote would not necessarily depend on unionization.
The dispute, which pits Yale-New Haven against the Service Employees International Union District 1199, hinges on whether a secret-ballot vote for unionizing hospital employees should be held under National Labor Relations Board regulations. While the hospital will only support an NLRB election and claims the cancer center is a separate issue, the SEIU claims the NLRB process unfairly favors hospital management.
DeStefano told the New Haven Register that unionization and other community concerns could thwart cancer center plans because Yale-New Haven has not actively reached out to the city.
Several city aldermen said they will likely approve the cancer center as long as the hospital agrees to compromise with various neighborhood groups. Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said a vote on the cancer center would “fly through” if the hospital signed on to a community-benefits agreement. He said it is not the aldermen’s role to mediate community conflicts.
“It is very important to a majority of the Board of Aldermen that the hospital negotiate a community-benefits agreement that addresses the various issues of concern in the neighborhood and in the city,” he said. “I would say that my goal as an alderman is not to be an arbiter of what the neighborhood organizations and the hospital talk about.”
Yale-New Haven spokesman Vin Petrini said the mayor’s remarks were “disappointing” because they tied together unrelated matters, and he said the hospital believes the aldermen will see the issues as independent.
“The hospital has already agreed to abide by NLRB rules for a secret-ballot election on unionization, which should settle the issue of unionization,” he said. “But unionization and the cancer center should be separate and distinct issues, in any case.”
Though DeStefano said the hospital has a history of abusing NLRB rules, he said it is not clear whether hospital workers would necessarily want to unionize.
“I think in a frank discussion, the hospital will admit that they’ll use the NLRB to discourage a union,” he said in an interview with the News. “I think it’s all pretty transparent. The SEIU wants a union, the hospital doesn’t want a union, and the only ones who haven’t been heard from are the workers.”
SEIU/1199 spokesman William Meyerson said both a community benefits agreement and a unionization election outside of the NLRB process are needed to hold Yale New-Haven accountable to the community.
“The issues are related in the sense that the goal of both is to change the relationship between the hospital and the community,” Meyerson said. “Right now the hospital is unaccountable to anyone.”
He would not comment specifically on the mayor’s suggestion that the unionization conflict might eliminate aldermanic support for the cancer center.
Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez said no poll or survey has been conducted to measure the aldermen’s opinions on hospital unionization and its effect on the progress of the cancer center. Perez and Ward 4 Alderwoman Andrea Jackson said the mayor’s projection about a vote on the center is not necessarily accurate.
Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield said the Board of Aldermen wants the hospital to resolve its labor dispute, but it is too early to say whether or not the board will vote the center down if the hospital does not compromise.
“I will say we really want a resolution, and it would be nice for the hospital to come to the table and show a lot more cooperation,” Goldfield said. “I do think that they have basically been stonewalling this.”
But Goldfield also criticized the SEIU for combining the unionization and community-agreement issues into one.
“The union has tried to conflate a community-benefits agreement with recognition of a union, which I don’t really think is a fair thing to do,” he said.
Meyerson said the SEIU supports a community-benefits agreement, whether or not it is accompanied by a unionization vote.
Neither Yale-New Haven or the SEIU is willing to compromise about running a unionization election under NLRB rules.
Petrini said the NLRB process is inherently fair, but the SEIU will not budge on the issue.
“The hospital management is aware that under the present NLRB regulations they will be able to interfere with and intimidate workers without real penalties,” Meyerson said. “That should not be acceptable to anyone.”
Petrini said Yale-New Haven President Joseph Zaccagnino rejected DeStefano’s offer to mediate the conflict between Yale-New Haven and SEIU because the hospital does not intend to compromise further. Petrini said it is up to the union to make the next move.
“There is really nothing to mediate on this issue,” he said. “The hospital has been very consistent in its position all along.”
Petrini said the cancer center will benefit the community, creating 400 jobs and generating revenue for New Haven.
DeStefano said the conflict between the hospital and community is broader than the issue of employee unionization. He said he is concerned about the hospital’s payment-collection practices and other problems representing a disconnect between the hospital and the city.
“The common thread that runs through all this is, ‘What’s the role of a nonprofit community hospital in New Haven?'” he said.
Despite his criticisms of Yale New-Haven, DeStefano said the cancer center’s construction is a top priority.