Construction is expected to begin on the Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Center by September, according to an agreement announced Wednesday by Mayor John DeStefano Jr., hospital administrators and union leaders that brings an end to nearly a year of bitter negotiations.
The compromise calls for Yale-New Haven to commit to a community benefits agreement, under which the hospital will contribute $1.2 million for housing and economic development in the neighborhood surrounding the center and will also begin making voluntary tax payments to the city. The agreement between the hospital and SEIU also sets the terms for a union drive that will conclude with a secret ballot election to be overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
“We fully expect we will break ground on the hospital’s new … cancer center in six months,” DeStefano said. “The hospital will dramatically strengthen its leadership role by creating a foundation for job creation and family financial security in greater New Haven.”
According to the hospital, the new cancer center will create more than 500 permanent jobs and generate annual revenue of $5 million for New Haven, in addition to $4.5 million in one-time construction fees. Yale-New Haven spokesman Vin Petrini said the hospital has been seeking to build the center since November 2004, when its board of directors approved the plan.
DeStefano said negotiations had been moving rapidly in the past six weeks, culminating in nearly 48 hours of continuous debate in the days leading up to Wednesday’s announcement. Yale Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander played a crucial role in mediating the agreement between the city, the hospital and the union, the mayor said.
In addition to providing monetary contributions to the neighborhood and the city, the hospital agreed to hire 100 nearby residents annually into entry-level positions and to provide job training so that 50 city residents employed at the hospital as nurses or allied health professionals could advance in their fields. The hospital will also fund two city positions — an asthma coordinator and an uninsured children’s outreach coordinator — and contribute at least $500,000 over five years to the Mayor’s Youth Initiative.
“This is an organization that feels very strongly about our ties to the community,” Petrini said. “This is a way we can reinforce those ties.”
Ward 3 Democratic Committee co-chair Maurice Peters, a member of the Community Organized for Responsible Development, which had raised concerns about the cancer center project and insisted upon a community benefits agreement, said he believes dialogue about the project has been important in that it showed New Haven residents, especially the city’s youth, how to effect change in their communities. But although the agreement is a positive beginning, he said, the community will continue to agitate for improvements to their neighborhood throughout the rest of the process.
“It’s never enough, and it wasn’t what we were looking for, but it’s a good start,” Peters said. “I believe there’s going to be another fight. What that is, I don’t know.”
SEIU spokesman Bill Meyerson said the union, which has been working to unionize employees at the hospital, was very pleased with the agreement, which allows for a nine-month organizing drive followed by a secret ballot election. Although some involved with the process said a nine-month drive is fairly short, Meyerson said the time is reasonable considering that SEIU has been trying to unionize the hospital for nearly eight years.
“What we’ve got is an agreement with the hospital that will provide for a fair secret ballot election for the workers to choose,” he said. “That has been our goal all along, and we’re very pleased that we’ve come to this point.”
The SEIU and the hospital had previously sparred over whether or not a vote on unionization would be carried out through the NLRB, which provides a framework that the SEIU had said put employees seeking unionization at a disadvantage.
Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05 said he was impressed at how the hospital had committed itself to engaging with the neighborhood and developing the surrounding area.
“This is an important step forward in terms of Yale-New Haven Hospital’s relationship with the community and how it can serve as an economic force just like Yale University has,” said Shalek, who made his support for the cancer center one of the major issues in his election campaign last year.
Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said the terms of the agreement came as a surprise, particularly the concessions made by each side. Had an agreement not been reached, the issue of whether and how to build the center would have been left to the discretion of the board, and he said the board was unanimous in wanting the two sides to reach a mutually beneficial consensus.
“Rather than allow the board to make that decision, I think both sides saw it in their interest to define the outcome for themselves,” he said. “I think the board was pretty consistent that there needed to be an agreement and some concessions on the hospital’s part in order for this to move forward.”
Goldfield said the community benefits agreement addressed many issues common to other CBAs, such as housing and job development, but that this agreement is notable for creating a citizens’ advisory committee that will advise the hospital on its free care policy and will develop a program to help uninsured or underinsured patients get care. The board, he said, strongly supported the new free care program, whose inclusion in the terms of the CBA he attributed to the work of Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison.
The hospital and the city will also work together to design and construct parking facilities for the new center, while the hospital has agreed to make improvements to area traffic signals identified in a previous study.
Anita Dunn, a worker in Hospital Services at Yale-New Haven, said she looked forward to the project’s development, though she said she understands that tensions would surround any major development in the neighborhood.
“It’s going to be a pain with the construction, but it will be built and all these people will be employed,” she said.
The Board of Aldermen will hold a hearing on the agreement on April 6, Shalek said, and the board is expected to vote on the construction by May. Construction on the center is expected to begin by September, he said, one year after it was initially scheduled to start according to the hospital’s development plans.
— Staff Reporters Summer Banks and Andrew Mangino contributed to this report.