As the race for Ward 1 alderman heats up, the most important issue facing the city is the proposed $430 million cancer center affiliated with Yale-New Haven Hospital. Proponents argue that the center would rival Boston’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute and New York’s Sloan-Kettering, both world-class institutions. Aside from the obvious medical benefits the center would provide the 7,000 Connecticut residents stricken annually with cancer, its construction would supply hundreds of high-paying jobs for area residents as well as a needed economic boom to a depressed area of New Haven.
But not everyone in New Haven is happy about the Cancer Center. For the past seven years, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest unions to drop out of the AFL-CIO this summer, has been trying to force YNHH workers to join. They have managed to get most of the city’s politicians, labor leaders and religious figures behind them in holding up construction until the hospital agrees to their plans of compulsory and monopolistic unionization.
The hospital does not oppose the right of workers to form a union voluntarily. Rather, the debate concerns the process by which workers would decide whether or not to accept union representation. The hospital prefers current law, which calls for a National Labor Relations Board-monitored secret ballot election. The SEIU, like all major unions, opposes this law and supports an alternative process called “card-check neutrality.”
In contrast to the secret ballot, there is no confidentiality in a card-check process. To gain recognition from an employer, the union only needs to gather signed cards from a simple majority of workers in the bargaining unit. The SEIU supports this arrangement because it is much easier for unions to win when organizers can intimidate employees face-to-face over an extended period of time. In my time at Yale, I have been confronted with multiple stories of workers who have been harassed or even had their tires slashed for refusing to kowtow to their union’s demands. Many graduate students sign cards after months of nonstop harassment by GESO organizers ringing their doorbells and calling their homes at all hours of the day. Ask your TAs about this tactic; they will all be familiar with it.
Imagine if during last year’s election, President Bush changed the rules so that all he needed to win would be to “collect,” with the help of the FBI and local police, signed statements from a bare majority of registered voters. In the post-Reconstruction American South, blacks were forced to “vote” with white lawmen standing directly behind them. Is this the sort of model we want to replicate in the 21st century?
The “neutrality” aspect of card-check is equally chilling. This part of the bargain commits management, in this case the hospital, to silence on the issues of unionization. Once they have pressured a company into a card-check process, unions use the media to defame the company whose employees they are trying to organize while management cannot respond.
The relative benefits of a secret ballot, on the other hand, are abundant. Freedom House, the world’s most respected global democracy watchdog, lists the secret ballot as one of four requirements for a country to be considered an electoral democracy, alongside a multiparty political system, universal adult suffrage and open campaigning. A pillar of democracy is not only the freedom to form unions but also the freedom to not join unions. Current labor law, however, requires some eight million workers nationwide to either pay union dues or lose their job via the closed shop. Labor bosses and their collectivist sympathizers — like Ward 1 aldermanic appointee Rebecca Livengood ’07 — oppose the secret ballot because it hampers their multi-pronged scheme of forcing workers into unions they do not wish to join, robbing workers of their paychecks via compulsory union dues and accumulating power for themselves.
If the SEIU were so confident of its overwhelming support among hospital workers, it would accept a secret ballot. That way, this allegedly vast number would pull back the curtain and vote for the union. But the SEIU has tried for seven years to unionize these workers, all the while opposing the election method used by every legitimate democratic state in the world because it knows it can only win via scare tactics.
With the disintegration of the AFL-CIO and declining union membership (the percentage of American workers who belong to a union has dropped from 33 percent to 12.5 percent since 1955), the desperation of the national movement has become plain for all to see. For example, every year the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International, the parent of Yale’s locals 34 and 35, pours thousands of dollars of its blue-collar members’ dues into the coffers of GESO, none of whose “members” pay a dime to support their own supposedly democratic union.
In the unfortunate event that the Cancer Center is not approved, the city will forgo an inestimable economic gain. But most drastic is that more people will needlessly suffer and die from cancer because of the territorial desires of intransigent unions. This is the burden that the Cancer Center’s opponents will have on their consciences long after this political battle is over.
James Kirchick is a senior in Pierson College. He is an occasional columnist.