Cloudy skies and strong winds did not stop nearly 2,000 of Yale’s workers and local community members from gathering in front of the medical school Thursday afternoon to protest upcoming layoffs to the University’s clinical staff.
After marching up College Street, the union demonstrators arrived outside the medical school offices on Cedar Street, where they called for greater job security. The demonstration followed the first round of layoffs of over 100 union employees, according to Local 34 President Laurie Kennington ’01. The University had previously told union leaders that clerical jobs at the Yale Medical School were not in danger of being cut, but on Thursday Yale began a round of cuts by laying off two employees in the dermatopathology department, Kennington said.
“The question is not whether there will be jobs here. The question is whether there will be good jobs here,” Kennington told the crowd, which was packed into nearly an entire block of Cedar Street. “If [Yale] ever needed an incentive to settle early and settle peacefully, you are that incentive,” she added, referring to the ongoing contract negotiations between Yale and its two blue and pink collar unions.
In early March, Local 34 workers delivered petitions to School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern and University President Peter Salovey requesting job security for 986 union jobs at the medical school. Alpern, who greeted workers at his office, told them they had nothing to worry about.
The union has previously accused Yale of relocating positions from the medical school — which is part of the University and whose employees are members of Local 34 — to Yale-New Haven Hospital, which is a separate, non-unionized entity.
University spokesman Tom Conroy attributed the layoffs to state budget cuts, citing a recent $160 million reduction by the state in Medicaid payments to Yale-New Haven Hospital. That cut has lead to an $18 million decrease in funding for the services the hospital provides to the medical school, particularly to the school’s clinical departments and Yale Medical Group, the faculty medical practice unit.
“This significant reduction in revenue will require Yale School of Medicine to make significant cost reductions, and the school will work tirelessly to minimize the impact on the faculty and staff,” Conroy told the News. “Given that the largest part of Yale’s budget is compensation for staff, there will necessarily be some staff reductions.”
But union leaders have argued that the incoming medical school layoffs are not part of downsizing operations or a lack of finances. At Thursday’s rally, speakers cited the recent growth of New Haven’s university-hospital complex, from the University’s $154 million budget surplus last year to its $25.6 billion endowment.
“It’s not like Yale is broke,” said Lisa D’Abrosca, a registered nurse and president of the hospital nurses union at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London.
These pending job cuts, incongruous to the University’s expanding finances, would allow Yale to hire non-unionized workers for similar positions at YNHH instead, according to Kennington.
The University has denied these claims, repeatedly assuring both staff and union leaders that “there is no current plan to move bargaining unit jobs to the hospital,” according to Conroy.
D’Abrosca said the University’s excuse for the layoffs is the delayed acquisition of L+M by YNHH, due to an executive order by Gov. Dannel Malloy in February that will hold off approval of hospital system mergers until January 2017. Several state unions have criticized the planned merger, suggesting that it would create a monopoly-esque system.
Local 35 President Bob Proto declared the layoffs a power move by Yale, aimed at diminishing the unions’ voices during their four-year contract negotiations. Negotiations for a renewed contract between the University and Locals 34 and 35 began mid-March.
“They want to contain and diminish us,” Proto said, drawing cheers from the crowd. “Yale thinks our bargaining units have fallen asleep. Yale has decided not to take the smooth road with us. That’s fine. We are better on the rough road than them.”
Speaking on behalf of other state and local elected officials, Senator Chris Murphy said the plight of Yale’s unions is similar to unions across the country whose jobs are at risk because of “big company profits.”
“I like good old-fashioned organizing,” said Murphy. “This is great, guys.”
According to the U.S. News and World Report, the Yale School of Medicine currently ranks 7th in the country for research and 72nd in primary care.