Sarah Stein

In response to concerns about the School of Medicine outsourcing and relocating jobs, New Haven’s Local 34 Union voted Wednesday to prioritize “securing” 986 union jobs in the school.

This act of mobilization came following suspicions that the University could be attempting to undermine Local 34 membership, which represents clerical and technical workers at Yale, by transferring jobs from the School of Medicine, whose administrative employees belong to Local 34, to the Yale-New Haven Hospital, whose workers do not.

“The University has declined to commit in writing that our jobs are secure,” said Laurie Kennington, president of Local 34. “We see specific threats where work is threatened to be subcontracted or where new positions are hospital positions.”

The concerns about subcontracting came to a head this August when the Pediatric Emergency billing office hired extra workers to take care of backlogged administrative jobs. Yolanda Giordano, who works in the department of pediatrics and is recording secretary of Local 34, said this subcontracting violated the University’s deal with Local 34 and suggested to some that the University had been trying to undermine the union.

Kennington said this was particularly troubling given a trend in which other university-hospital partnerships move university jobs to the hospital, potentially to establish a more advantageous relationship with unions and to cut administrative costs. Kennington said similar transitions had been made in the cases of Vanderbilt College, Case Western Reserve University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Because the medical school and Yale-New Haven Hospital collaborate on many administrative tasks, Kennington said administrators at both institutions work closely enough together that if there is a job opening on one end, it could theoretically be filled on the other end. She added that the potential for some medical school jobs to be filled at the hospital leads to concerns that the University would try to offset administrative jobs to the hospital to avoid paying extra for union jobs, and more broadly that whole clinical operations might be ceded to the hospital. This possibility directly leads to fears that union jobs are insecure, she said.

“It’s a violation of our contract, and the University knows it’s a violation of our contract,” Giordano said. “Management should have come to us before they went ahead and signed a contract.”

Giordano added that she was concerned the University would see a decline in the quality of work in her department if more subcontractors were hired, as subcontractors lack the decades of experience in the field that current union workers possess, she said. She added that even one subcontractor was too many because of the precedent it set and the threat it posed to members of the union.

However, Michael Peel, Yale’s vice president for human resources and administration, said the University hired the subcontractors with no intentions other than filling a shortage and meeting demand.

“Yale has the right to cover spikes in work with casual labor or subcontractors,” Peel said. “That was the specific case which occurred in the pediatric billing department, which had a surge of work which temporarily exceeded staff capabilities and had to be addressed quickly or there would have been a loss in revenue.”

Peel added that administrative and clerical workers at the medical school do not need to worry about their long-term job security, as the University has continued an upward trajectory of hiring medical school workers for many years and shows no indication of slowing down.

School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern similarly said the University had no intentions of moving positions to the hospital to eliminate union jobs, despite media claims otherwise. In his description of media coverage, Alpern referred to a June 2015 article in the New Haven Register claiming that Local 34 is “facing the prospect of 986 unionized clinical jobs being transferred from the university to the hospital.”

“There is no need to worry,” Alpern wrote in an email to medical staff, discounting the claims as “rumor.” “There is no plan to move 986 of our clinical jobs over to the hospital, and there never has been.”

Kennington said these threats have been particularly worrisome for the past two years, ever since members of Local 34 observed Yale medical school administrative and clerical job openings being filled as hospital jobs, meaning that they ceased to be union jobs. She added that this shift was not only a threat to medical school workers who faced pay and benefit cuts if they lost union status in the transfer, but also a threat to people in New Haven who faced higher costs if the University transferred parts or all of its clinics to the hospital — something Kennington said has been done at other universities across the country. She said differences in how insurance and government health care models treat the two systems would lead to higher costs if the clinic was moved from the University to the hospital.

“The University has declined to remedy violations of our contract for positions that are posted as hospital positions,” said Giordano. “This gives us doubts about their willingness to secure our jobs into the future.”

Local 34 is composed of nearly 4,000 members, 80 percent being women.