What a difference a summer makes.
Here was Ward 1 Alderwoman Rebecca Livengood last spring, stating that “while some requests of the cancer center, such as planning open public space into its construction, were negotiable, others, including obtaining representation in the Service Employees’ International Union for hospital workers, were not” (“Candidates talk at Ward 1 forum,” 3/22).
Now, here is Livengood last week in these very pages, arguing that Yale-New Haven Hospital workers “have the right to make their own decision about unionization through a secret ballot process” (“A chance to develop responsibly” 11/3).
This politically expedient switcheroo is an outright deception. There are two sides in this controversy: the SEIU and Yale-New Haven Hospital. Few things in this race are so black and white, and only one party to this dispute is offering the prospect of a secret-ballot election for workers: the hospital. The SEIU, to whom Livengood has pledged fealty, has opposed the secret ballot process ever since the cancer center was proposed. Last spring, Livengood said cancer center construction was a non-starter without unionization, whether the workers want a union or not. She is trying to have it both ways: tacitly supporting the union but mouthing vague and unsubstantiated backing for a solution to this impasse that is not on the table or being considered by anyone. Her opponent Nick Shalek, on the other hand, has been forthright and consistent in stating that he supports the hospital’s position.
Livengood has tried to neutralize the most important issue in this election because she knows how indefensible her position is. Thus, her campaign has wisely attempted to avert debate on the issue at all costs. The allegation of Shalek’s “blatant disregard of election law,” that he is not a Democrat and, my personal favorite, that his mother is funneling illegal cash into his campaign coffers, are all untrue and meant to distract us from the real issue in this campaign. Most galling was the allegation that Shalek’s using the office of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society for campaign activity was improper; throughout the fall, Livengood has used Dwight Hall as her own campaign HQ. When the News is firmly in your corner hunting for a Watergate when it knows no such scandal exists, the old adage about those living in glass houses does not apply.
A careful comparison between the hospital’s Community Benefits Agreement and that of another major construction project shows just how out of touch our Alderwoman is. In 1998, the city of Los Angeles spent $70 million in taxpayer money to acquire land for the new Staples Center, a privately owned, $1 billion for-profit sports complex. The owners agreed to pay 70 percent of their workers the living-wage rate of $7.72 per hour with benefits, and set aside a mere $1 million to fund nearby parks and recreation. All this for a city with 4.5 million people.
So what’s the hospital offering New Haven, a city of 123,000 people? Millions of dollars to support youth programs, day care, libraries and over 125 community groups. As for a living wage agreement, the non-profit cancer center will outdo the for-profit Staples Center by ensuring that every single one of its employees receives, at the very least, the city’s officially recognized living wage of $11.10 per hour in addition to benefits. Keep in mind that Yale-New Haven Hospital is proposing a non-profit cancer center, not a sports stadium owned by real estate moguls. Not a single dime of public money is going into its construction, rather, the hospital is shelling out $430 million to pay for it. In a city where a third of the residents live at or below the poverty line, the delay of this project means continued economic stagnation. Like a good New Haven politician, Livengood is highly skilled at redistributing wealth, yet has shown no aptitude whatsoever for creating it.
So the crux of this race is what it always has been: not the environment, not “responsible development,” not “social justice” or whatever other buzz-phrase the Undergraduate Organizing Cult wishes to blind us with. Those values are all important, but this election is about the power of national special interests to dictate local development projects.
Over the past 20 years, private sector union membership has been cut in half. Just this summer, SEIU president Andy Stern said his union was “verging on irrelevancy.” His decision to use a cancer center to make his union relevant is, in the words of a friend of mine who lost a partner to cancer, obscene. To compound this obscenity, the cancer center was not even discussed at the last Board of Aldermen meeting, held Oct. 20. Apparently, a resolution from the city Peace Commission “authorizing divestment of funds in corporations and institutions involved in the design, assembly and manufacture of nuclear weapons and components” was more deserving of the Board’s attention.
If Yale students can wade through the dense fog of cant, rhetoric and obfuscation that one side has plagued this race with from the beginning, then they will make the obvious choice. They will support Nick Shalek for Ward 1 alderman.
James Kirchick is a senior in Pierson College.