A new SEIU 1199 advertisement targeting Yale-New Haven Hospital may seem to be the harbinger of a renewed war of words, but some city leaders said the television ad is just a blip in what has otherwise been a relatively quiet few weeks of public rhetoric.
The 30-second television ad, which flashes the tagline “Cover-up at Yale-New Haven” seven times, began airing on all four Connecticut broadcast networks Thursday night. The hospital has attacked the ad, the first one since January, as a misleading attempt to obscure the issue of a new union election. But while the hospital criticizes the new ad campaign, and the union in turn claims that recent open letters from the hospital to the community are full of “lies,” all parties involved said the rhetoric has been fairly quiet. The relative silence, some speculated, comes in anticipation of an independent arbitrator’s upcoming ruling on hundreds of complaints lodged against the hospital.
Under the expired Election Principles Agreement, both sides were banned from making disparaging communications about each other. That agreement ended in early March, and one might expect the public rhetoric to become more hostile now that such communications are not subject to the arbitrator’s toolbox of remedies. But relatively few advertisements have been printed or put on air since the agreement expired.
Both union spokesman Bill Meyerson and hospital spokesman Vin Petrini, while each criticizing the other side for the tone and content of their ads, said the rhetoric is not becoming more heated.
“We’re not surprised,” Petrini said of the new union television ad. “We’ve been down this road before.”
The union ran a particularly disparaging series of ads for five months two years ago, Petrini said, and its use of ads is consistent with similar campaigns SEIU has been waging at hospitals nationwide.
Meyerson said the end of restrictions on disparaging communications has not had any effect on public advertisements so far, though he predicted — correctly — that the hospital would see the latest union ad as disparaging. He also said that recent open letters from the hospital to the community contained lies, but they were not, strictly speaking, disparaging of the union. But this trend could change, he said.
Even with a new ad in rotation indefinitely — Meyerson said the union will decide week to week whether or not to keep running it — public statements from the two sides have been fairly muted, some city leaders said. Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said he has not seen the new ad and had not even heard of it.
“I don’t think there’s been a lot of rhetoric [from either side],” he said. “Everything’s been sort of quiet.”
Despite Goldfield’s perception, an even newer public effort than the television campaign may signal another step away from the silence. Monday night, SEIU 1199 posted on its Web site a copy of a flier it said was distributed Monday. It names and has pictures of two hospital trustees who are senior officials at New Alliance Bank, and asks where they were in helping monitor the hospital’s conduct during the organizing campaign. Neither Meyerson nor Petrini could be reached for comment once the flier posting was first seen late Monday night.
But the flier may be just another blip, as both sides await a far larger event on the horizon. Kern, the independent arbitrator, will ultimately rule on more than 200 complaints against the hospital, a decision that could include a remedy of anything from a new secret ballot election to a bargaining order installing SEIU 1199 as the union at Yale-New Haven. Her ruling is being eagerly anticipated by both sides, with no sign of how long it will be until the decision is released.
“Everyone’s been waiting for the arbitrator to come out with an opinion,” Goldfield said.
Goldfield said he did not know what is motivating either party, but he speculated as to why both sides might be relatively quiet in anticipation of the decision.
“From the union’s standpoint I think they expect good things to come out of the arbitrator’s decision,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to pile on. They’ll be vindicated anyway.”
The hospital may not want to antagonize the arbitrator with inflammatory remarks either. While Kern could not issue a remedy for any remarks made after the agreement expired, the hospital may be concerned that any public remarks would still influence her decision, if only unconsciously.
The hospital is seeking a new secret ballot election for employees, while the union is seeking a bargaining order. Publicly, the union has said they would seek a card check process, a type of election in which a union represents workers once more than half the employees in a bargaining unit sign union cards. But Meyerson said a card check procedure is not found in the National Labor Relations Act, the governing document for resolving some disputes under the election agreement.
Waiting for the decision is keeping even the mayor, who has spoken out vigorously against the hospital’s conduct, out of the fray for now. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said late last week that he plans to expend political capital on the unionization issue, but not until after the arbitrator’s decision comes out.
Some leaders said the rhetorical silence before the storm that is sure to follow Kern’s decision is a positive thing for the city.
“I think a lot of it is propaganda, and I don’t know which side is playing which,” Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said. “One would bait one side, the other side is going to feel obligated to make a statement on its behalf. I’d like to wait and have a definitive answer from the arbitrator.”
Aside from the ad that began airing Thursday, the most recent television ad began airing in mid-January. It was pulled shortly thereafter after negotiations between the union and the hospital. In February, Kern ruled that it was disparaging in content, but she ordered no remedy in the case, since the ad had already been removed from the air. While 200 complaints against the hospital remain under the arbitrator’s consideration, exactly one remained against the union as of last week: a claim that a press release and SEIU 1199’s lawyer’s public statements at a state legislature hearing were disparaging of the hospital.