In a front page analysis piece Wednesday (“Still no solution at Y-NH”), the News described the current situation between SEIU 1199 and Yale-New Haven Hospital a “nebulous” one. Citing the diverse views of hospital spokesman Vin Petrini, President Levin and hospital Senior Vice President Dr. Peter Herbert, the News reporter suggests that the facts of the dispute remain “unclear” and open to interpretation.
Based on the past two and a half months of reports that have regularly appeared on the front pages of this paper and others including the New Haven Register and New Haven Advocate, as well as independent arbitrator Margaret Kern’s initial ruling in December, there is nothing “nebulous” about Yale-New Haven’s behavior. Over the past several months, the hospital has worked systematically to create a climate of fear among its employees, which has ruined the possibility of a fair NLRB election at the hospital. When SEIU organizers repealed their petition for an election with the National Labor Relations Board earlier this week, it was not because, as yesterday’s article suggests, they were afraid that they would lose the election — it was because, in the current atmosphere at the hospital, it is impossible to have a fair election.
A successful and democratic election process is contingent upon having an environment in which employees feel free to make their own choice about the union. That environment no longer exists. The most democratic process available to the workers in order to decide whether to form a union — indeed, the only viable process — is through card-check neutrality. Though President Levin claimed in Wednesday’s article that card-check is “fundamentally anti-democratic,” it is realistically a much more democratic process than an NLRB election, beginning with the fact that it measures the opinions of all workers in the bargaining unit as opposed to only those who show up to vote.
The hospital has argued that in a card-check process, workers are in danger of feeling pressured or coerced by union organizers into signing a card when they do not actually want a union. In taking this position, Levin has indicated his disregard for the employees at Yale-New Haven and his tacit approval of the hospital’s anti-union efforts. To suggest that the relationship between union organizers and workers has the same potential for coercion or intimidation as does the relationship between workers and their employer is to ignore the incredible power imbalance that exists between a worker and his boss. While a one-on-one meeting with a union organizer may make a worker feel uncomfortable, that worker has the ability to refuse to sign a card without fearing that he will lose his job or have his hours cut.
By contrast, workers who openly side with the union in mandatory meetings with their managers risk losing their overtime pay or being fired outright. Hospital managers and administrators have a power over their employees that SEIU organizers can never have. By regularly intimidating workers in public and private settings they have violated the union conduct agreement and the law itself. Moreover, though the hospital has claimed that they may have acted unlawfully in “isolated” incidents that were unrelated to a systematic anti-union campaign, the evidence already out in the open says otherwise. Over 200 complaints have been filed with arbitrator Margaret Kern in the two months since the election was called off, indicating that instances of worker intimidation have not been in any way random or infrequent. These seem to be merely the tip of the iceberg, as even filing a complaint requires a worker to testify in front of the offending supervisor.
Furthermore, when given the opportunity to sign cards in support of the union in a safe, intimidation-free environment this past fall, before the election was called, a clear majority of the 1,800 workers in the bargaining unit at the hospital decided to do so. Nothing at the hospital has changed since that time except the level of intimidation on the part of hospital managers, which has been carried out in order to prevent the formation of the union through an NLRB election.
Wednesday’s News’ View seems to echo the tone of its front-page article in its suggestion that the situation at the hospital is unclear because of over-politicized bickering. But there is nothing unclear about threatening workers, and there is nothing unclear about breaking the law.
The News is right to point out that it is not SEIU or Marna Borgstrom who should be the focus of this debate, but rather the interests of the workers themselves. At a “Workers’ Tea” held Wednesday night at the Afro-American Cultural Center, workers from Yale-New Haven Hospital spoke about their experiences working there the past few months and the sense of terror that has been created among them and their fellow employees. They emphasized that the hospital has not been a fair player, and that managers have held numerous anti-union meetings in which workers could only leave if they were brazen enough to publicly show their support for the union by leaving the meeting when it became “optional.” They further indicated that top hospital management has been present at these anti-union meetings, and that workers do not have any trust in Borgstrom’s fairness or decency.
These workers’ stories and experiences demonstrate that they know what their best interests are, and that they want a card-check process to prove it. Marna Borgstrom and President Levin, in his role on the hospital’s board, have, along with the rest of the hospital’s administration, broken the trust of workers and of the community. Only allowing workers a fair chance to form a union through a card-check process can restore that trust.
Margaret Sharp is a junior in Ezra Stiles College and a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee.