A document leaked anonymously to New Haven’s City Hall provides the clearest and most startling picture yet as to how Yale-New Haven Hospital management might have violated a Election Principles Agreement struck with the union trying to form there for the past nine years.
The document, which runs more than 30 pages and is entitled “Response Team Employee Relations Workshop,” appears to have been designed for mangers who were expected to instruct their employees as to why unions are unnecessary, corrupt, harmful to individual workers and anti-democratic.
When juxtaposed with an independent arbitrator’s December ruling against one hospital manager who held mandatory meetings for employees, it is clear that aspects of the document were put into use in at least some limited circumstances. But an administrative assistant — who said she would have been responsible for distributing the manual to managers — said she never saw it disseminated and was doubtful it was widely used.
Hospital spokesman Vin Petrini confirmed the document — which was provided to the News by a City Hall official — was real and said “there was training provided to managers at the beginning of the campaign.” He said the document was created by IRI Consultants to Management, a consulting firm hired by the hospital, but union leaders said the distinction between the hospital and the company was meaningless.
Petrini said that in retrospect, there are components of the training manual that “are not consistent with the Elections Principles Agreement or our values as an organization,” and he said they have since been overhauled.
Although the Election Principles Agreement called for factual communications and no disparaging of unions by the hospital management, several pages of the manual instruct managers to spread speculative information about unions. The use of words such as “could” and “may” is widespread.
For example, the twentieth page of the manual outlines “things you may do” during last fall’s organizing campaign, which ended in December when the election was called off by an independent arbitrator, who cited violations of the Election Principles Agreement.
“Talk about any bad experience you or others you know may have had with unions,” the document instructs managers. “Also talk about the union’s past. Tell employees about documented history of Mafia influence and corruption of unions. Tell employees examples where union leaders have embezzled money from their members’ pension and health insurance funds. Tell them about situations where unions have made promises and have not delivered.”
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said he was personally offended by the Mafia reference as an Italian-American, and Petrini said management in retrospect was particularly troubled by its inclusion in the document.
Facts are listed as only one among four categories of messages that should be delivered to employees by managers. The document instructs them to “Remember FLOP,” which stands for facts, law, opinion, past experiences and examples.
“You are free to state your opinions about the union as long as it does not sound like a threat or a promise,” the document suggests. “You need to tell employees that you do not believe the union is in their best interest and explain the reasons why…Tell them that unions are desperate for new members because they have lost hundreds of thousands of members in recent years.”
The document also includes a list of 27 “things you may do,” including: “tell employees your OPINIONS about the union’s leaders” and “tell your employees that the organization prefers to remain union free and that you would like them to vote ‘NO’.”
Petrini said IRI Consultants to Management, not hospital leadership, developed the manual for the hospital’s use — although it is unlikely that the hospital would have used the document without the approval of senior leadership. The consulting firm was hired to advise hospital administrators on how to work within the agreement.
In reality, IRI’s services are designed for administrations seeking to prevent union formation, although it is not one of the most aggressive union-busting firms. Still, IRI CEO Jim Trivisonno was slated to speak on at a recent conference for human resources professionals, under the topic of “Union Organizing in Health Care: the latest tactics, trends, and prevention strategies.” Trivisonno also recently spoke to the Council on Union-Free Environment.
A spokesman for IRI declined to comment Tuesday.
“Any client information that we may or may not have would be privileged,” he said.
It is unclear how much of the firm’s advice to YNHH managers is unique, as consulting firms such as IRI sometimes create standard materials they reuse for clients facing similar union organizing drives.
The document does appear to make some effort to stay within the confines of the agreement, reminding managers that they must “NEVER T.I.P.S.D.,” which stands for threaten, promise, spy, or discriminate. And one page lists 10 “things you may not do,” such as argue with union sympathizers and make changes to workers’ wages and benefits. It also says that employees cannot be “systematically” called into offices for discussions concerning the union.
Petrini said that he is not trying to minimize the fact that the hospital engaged in anti-union activity.
“We clearly didn’t run a perfect campaign,” he said. “We’ve fully retrained our managers on the agreement, and we’re hopefully looking forward to a point in time where we can have an election on the issue.”
But the agreement between the union and the hospital expired last week, and Petrini has declined to comment as to whether the hospital might disregard the ruling of the independent arbitrator Margaret Kern, who is likely to rule against Yale-New Haven.
Union spokesman Bill Meyerson said that the document provides some indication of hospital missteps, but he said “what’s described in there was not everything.”
But Mary Nofsinger, an administrative assistant who is not an eligible union voter – the union chose to exclude assistants to hospital vice presidents – but whose husband is eligible to vote, said she had not come across the document, even though she would be the one to copy and distribute it. She also said she spoke with a manager who sat in on high-level meetings but who had not ever seen the document put into use.
“I seriously doubt that thing was ever widely distributed,” she said.
Nofsinger added that she has been dissatisfied by recent media coverage that has referred to the “intimidation” of employees by mangers. Although she said she recognizes she does not know the situation throughout the entire hospital, she said it is clear to her that “the badgering has gone both ways.”
“I’ve worked here for 20 years, and I have not heard one single word from anybody I know that ever anything was said to them negatively or that they were scared,” she said. “I find the verbiage in the majority of the articles…to be so alarmist and dramatic.”
The future of the unionization drive is currently in limbo. In an unprecedented move last week, the hospital filed with the National Labor Relations Board to hold a secret ballot election. But DeStefano and the union, which had withdrawn its own petition along with more than 200 complaints against the hospital last month, have said the hospital’s move was an attempt to circumvent the independent arbitrator and hold an election already tainted by intimidation. The union refiled its charges of unfair labor practices Friday, and the NLRB subsequently suspended the hospital’s election petition indefinitely.
Kern’s ruling on the more than 200 union complaints against the hospital is expected soon. She may suggest a remedy – a bargaining agreement, a card-check election, or a secret ballot for instance – but she lacks the legal authority to implement her decision.