An Outraged City Confronts A Hospital’s Betrayal

IMG_6674.JPGYale New-Haven Hospital CEO Marna Borgstrom literally turned her back on union supporters who crashed a meeting Thursday, then was lambasted by state and city leaders for betraying community trust and breaking federal law governing an organizing drive for 1,800 blue-collar hospital workers. Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. called for card-check neutrality and disbanding the hospital’s board of trustees.

The remarkable stand-off capped a day of public outrage over the hospital’s tactics which led to the destruction of a peace agreement and the postponement of a long-awaited Dec. 20 and 21 unionizing election.

Standing outside the hospital Thursday, one day after an arbitrator issued a seething ruling saying Yale-New Haven had broken federal law by conducting anti-union tactics, DeStefano and others said they felt “duped” and betrayed.

“This was a premeditated, methodical, comprehensive undermining of virtually every aspect of that agreement,” said the mayor, referring to the conduct agreement he helped broker as part of the settlement to make way for YNHH’s Cancer Center.

Margaret M. Kern, a neutral arbitrator agreed upon by both sides, ruled Wednesday YNHH broke not only the agreement, but federal law and previous arbitrator rulings by continuing to pressure workers to vote “no.” “[It] appears the employer has given permission to over 200 managers and supervisors to conduct mandatory meetings on work time to discuss the union with employees,” wrote Kern. (Click here to read more about that.) The National Labor Relations Board Thursday adopted her recommendation to indefinitely postpone the union election, which had been set for Dec. 20 and 21.

Politicians and union supporters who poured onto the hospital’s sidewalks Thursday called the damage done by anti-union activities irreversible.

“I think it is impossible to have a free and fair election at Yale New-Haven today,” said DeStefano, joined by state legislators, Attorney General Dick Blumenthal and a dozen aldermen.

New Haven State Sen. Martin Looney called the hospital’s behavior “the worst form of cynicism and bad faith imaginable… It’s hard to imagine how we could rely on the hospital’s word on anything” anymore.

“It is not just us that is being insulted, it is the entire community of New Haven,” chimed in New Haven State Rep. Toni Walker.

IMG_6668.JPGBlumenthal held up the arbitrator’s report: “This is solid, verified, irrefutable evidence of lawbreaking.”

To fight back against the documented coercion by 200 anti-union managers, DeStefano called for a measure that would greatly boost labor’s odds in the union drive: Instead of a secret ballot election, he advocated the hospital recognize card-check neutrality, where a union is established by getting 51 percent of eligible members to sign union cards.

He also called for state legislators to examine the governance of the hospital board of trustees, which he said needs to include someone who “understands the needs of the community.” “I have no confidence in the management and board of this hospital anymore “” they broke that commitment.”

Click here to hear some of DeStefano’s remarks, recorded by Melinda Tuhus.

Looney said he isn’t sure what legislative power the State Senate has to dismantle non-profit boards, but he will explore all avenues to do so. Blumenthal said of his office, “our authority is unclear, but we’re going to explore every avenue” to investigate the hospital’s wrongdoings.

Confessing to wrongdoing for the first time, hospital spokesman Vin Petrini said Thursday, “We obviously regret that those meetings took place.”

“I can tell you that the meetings did occur, and when we learned of them, we asked managers not to hold them, and schedule them in that manner,” he said.

While politicians blasted the hospital for a “premeditated” anti-union campaign, Petrini downplayed the meetings as “isolated incidents” occurring “within a short period of time.” “It was never the intent of this organization to act outside this agreement.”

The Encounter

IMG_6654.JPGJust two hours before the public lambasting, a crowd of Yale University clerical workers gathered on the steps of the Yale School of Medicine to call on the dean and YNHH board member Dr. Robert J. Alpern to publicly denounce YNHH’s anti-union practices.

“It is time for the university to join with the rest of the community “¬¶ in condemning the hospital’s anti-union campaign, and standing by the principles of labor, peace and partnership agreed upon in our last union contract,” called Laura Smith, president of Yale University’s pink-collar union, Local 34, through a megaphone.

Though she didn’t know it, Yale University President Rick Levin had already sent off a seething missive condemning the hospital’s betrayal of an agreement Yale helped draft.

After a brief rally, Smith got word that hospital managers were meeting in an auditorium just down the street. “Let’s go over there!”

“What’s disgusting? Union busting!” cried union organizers as a crowd of roughly 100 supporters, mostly Yale University pink-collar employees, marched down the sidewalk. “Hey hey, ho ho, this union-busting’s got to go!”

Supporters’ cries echoed inside a Cedar Street building. Inside, managers wearing blue YNHH ribbons filled auditorium seats. As labor advocates crashed the meeting, managers, including the hospital president and CEO Marna Borgstrom, got up and turned their backs to the intruders. Click on the arrow to watch.

“Shame! Shame!” cried a UNITE HERE organizer as tension grew. Click on the play arrow to watch.

IMG_6642.JPGIn a matter of minutes, the meeting was broken up, with managers filing out the door, escorted by union chants.

“They’re lowering their standards,” muttered one manager filing out the door. “They should be ashamed of themselves,” said another. A half-dozen managers asked declined to give their names.

The Next Step

The NLRB ruling did not set a next date for the union election, according to John Cotter, assistant regional director of the NLRB in Hartford. He said SEIU just filed a complaint with the NLRB (in addition to over 200 complaints filed with the arbitrator) Wednesday charging nine allegations against the hospital.

“The charges would have to be resolved before an election is scheduled.”

SEIU spokesman Bill Meyerson said card-check neutrality would be “one possible remedy,” but he’d wait until NLRB rulings to see what should happen next.

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Comments

posted by: nfjanette on December 14, 2006  11:46pm

Didn’t the union get nailed breaking the agreement first?  Why was there so little press about that decision by the arbitrator?  It seems that both sides are up to their usual BS, while pointing the finger at each other.  The politicians line up to blast the management because that’s the politically correct thing to do - where was the similar outrage when the union screwed up?

posted by: cere on December 15, 2006  12:21am

The union’s infraction consisted of an organizer flipping out.  The union publicly apologized as soon as it happened and pulled the organizer from the department, if I remember correctly,  In scale, as in intent, that is a far, far cry from what Yale-New Haven management has done.  In fact I would argue it initially recieved far more press than the anti-union meetings and threats, due to an anti-union bias on the part of both the register and the Yale Daily News.  This isn’t about political correctness, it’s about the hospital’s continuing and systematic violations of workers’ rights under federal law.  The folks at FHUE are right to be outraged, and the steps Destefano is outlining sound like a good way to move forward.  Maybe card check is the only way this will ever be resolved, and clearly the Trustees have abused the public’s trust for long enough…

posted by: Joe on December 15, 2006  2:47am

Great coverage. This is about the only place you could find a real story about YNHH. Glad you guys are here.

posted by: elmcityguy on December 15, 2006  7:46am

Why is it considered political correctness for the Hospital to abide by an agreement that they signed?

posted by: pinkbicycle on December 15, 2006  8:17am

This is great coverage of this issue.  God knows we can’t depend on the NH Rag to cover anything except stuff off the AP wire.  The Hospital ought to be ashamed and Marna ought to be fired.  The entire Board ought to step aside.  Talk about Thugs and gangstas.  They are acting like badboy rap artists—no decency, no consciousness and no sense of humanity.

posted by: Rob S on December 15, 2006  11:31am

I appreciate the Independent’s coverage too - the videos are great - but the Register is doing a very good job covering this story.  Consecutive front-page stories, and I bet they’re going to do a lot on Sunday.  Their publisher is on YNHH’s board, but those stories have been as aggressive as anything you see in the MSM.  There is a lot to gripe about the Reg, but give them credit the times they deserve it.

posted by: cere on December 15, 2006  1:50pm

The register coverage hasn’t been horrible, given what they’ve proved themselves capable of in the past.  But they did not report DeStefano’s call for card check and the hospital board’s disbanding.  This may trouble some given the fact that their publisher, as Rob S points out above, is on said board.

posted by: Andrew on December 15, 2006  2:22pm

I read this story, and then called a friend who works at YNHH to get the scoop.  Not surprisingly, the story is full of half truths and missing facts.  I vote no:  Bad coverage.  Interview both sides, get the story right, and lose your agenda.  If I wanted an editorial, I would have read an editorial.  I want news.  Just give me the facts.  And all of them.

posted by: SupportYNHH on December 15, 2006  5:56pm

This is completely ridiculous.  I have spoken with many employees at YNHH..none of which who feel they need a union and none of which who feel they were intimidating when going to VOLUNTARY meetings.  If you believe the fiction that the NHR writes or the further fiction of the New Haven Independent, you should probably stop smoking the peace pipe and come to reality.

Attacking YNHH managers is disgusting and just a show of what union membership can really be like.  Having Local 34/35 union members…NOT EVEN THE UNION THAT IS TRYING TO REPRESENT YALE NEW HAVEN HOSPITAL EMPLOYEES…....march into a management meeting…is not only disrespectful, but a show of what is likely to come if the employees of YNHH decided to choose a union to represent them.  Unfortunately for the union, the employees don’t wish to be represented…and the union seems to HATE elections.  Why?  Well, elections are far too “intimidating” and people should not be able to secretly choose who will represent them.  Rather, cards that have been signed over a period of 8+ years should be used to DEMAND representation even though the employees were told that these cards were only to call for an election.

This is just a rag mag with another fictional account of an event that left many wondering exactly what kind of organization would represent them in such a disrespectful, rude, and dishonest manner.

That’s all I have for now.

posted by: strangerthanfiction on December 16, 2006  12:13am

This is one of the worst double crosses I can remember in recent New Haven history. Yale New Haven Hospital obviously lied and proved they will do whatever it takes to get their way. If YNHHospital were a person, they’d be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. We entrust people with this kind of moral code to take care of us when we are sick and needy? God help us.

posted by: elmcityguy on December 16, 2006  9:16am

Supportnyhh -

You seem to have some misconceptions about what went on the other day. No managers were “attacked”. They may have been intimidated, but they were as free to leave as their employees are from their meetings, no one stopped them. Locals 34 and 35 are NOT going to allow union busting meetings on University property, which is what that was.

As far as the cards collected, they haven’t been collected over the past 8 years, the collections started after the community agreement was finalized earlier this year, the same agreement that YHNN was found guilty of breaking.

YHNN union busters are sounding more and more ridiculous as time goes on. The Register has hardly been pro-union over the years, and Rick Levin, President of Yale University, has publicly spoken out against the hospital.

If the Hospital stopped its campaign of lies, telling people they’ll lose their jobs, or that the medical benefits they’d get would eat away any raises, or they’d lose seniority or any of the other lies they spread, or that dues will have them earning less than they do now, perhaps things wouldn’t need to be so confrontational.

Finally, why would the mayor and community leaders NOT be outraged that the hospital broke it’s agreement with them, and why would anyone support a business that breaks not only an agreement with it’s city, but federal laws?

posted by: pinkbicycle on December 16, 2006  5:13pm

So if the idea of a union is so distasteful to the employees then how can a vote hurt?  The hospital must not be sure of its employees and their treatment thereof.  I would think if you were confident in yout role as management, that being a nazi would be a waste of time.  There are always three sides to a story, their side, our side and the truth.  What toubles me, is that the hopsital has not learned from history.  So either they are unsure—which is baffling—or they are fascists/nazis/oppressors of freedom and workers rights.  Listen if people are really concerned about any issue they would spend the time to look into the matter.  But I know most folks aren’t that interested.  We live in a sound-bite society. Unless you are close to the issue at hand you really have no idea what is going on.  And often the entity with money and political cache gets the upper hand in terms of what is put out to the mainstream.  Hell, even in slavery there were slaves who were opposed to freedom. There were slaves who were afraid to fight for freedom, there were slaves who told on other runaway slaves.  I suspect a great many employees are afraid.  It doesn’t mean they aren’t decent people it just means that they know they have commitments to hearth and home.  That is very real.  The hospital understands that and exploits it.  It doesn’t matter what you and I think , neither of us is dependent on the Hospital for our pay. Often Uncle Tom is unfairly cited as a traitor to the race—but it wasn’t Uncle Tom it was Sambo who betrayed his people.  But history unfairly attributes this betrayal to Uncle Tom.  What is my point.  The hospital is playing plantation politics and it is working.  They never had any real intentions of accepting this state afairs.  Why should they?  Public outcry and negative opinion my not be enought to turn the tides.  Perhaps negative, international publicity may do the trick.

posted by: Tom on December 17, 2006  10:46am

If some employees felt so intimidated by YNHH’s managers, how come their faces are plastered all over the news and on google videos?  Also, is it not YNHH who provides great health care for the traumas which happen in our wonderful City of New Haven?  Patient care is what it is all about. Instead of the Mayor trying to gain votes (which didn’t help him when he ran for Governor) from this side show that the Union is creating, he should be out on the streets helping the kids and other people who pay his $$$$.  It’s all about the ching and bling!!!!  Step to the plate and see what you are supporting Mr. Mayor.  Loss of Governorship today maybe loss of Mayorship tomorrow?

posted by: Paula on December 17, 2006  1:56pm

People really need to know the truth about Unions.  They have agressive tactics that they use to force themselves in employee’s work places called salting, neutrality agreements, and corporate campaigns, just to name a few.  People really need to educate themselves as to what is going on at YNHH.  YNHH has fallen victim to those tactics. I wonder how many millions of dollars local 1199 has the chance to lose if they do not use strong arm agressive behavior to obtain organization?  I still don’t understand the point behind “low class” behavior like barging into a manager’s meeting.  I guess those must be the bed pan cleaners that the Union referred to in their Daily News artical a few months back while the union was out spending their member’s hard earned monies on vacations and parties.  I also feel for those poor union memembers who are forced to do things because it is “bad union behavior” if you refuse.  Thanks for the chance to be a voice in the New Haven area.  As far as the NH Register goes, it’s not even worth recycling.  As far as the Mayor goes, he’s not worth recycling either.

posted by: B on December 17, 2006  3:32pm

Your article is absolute B.S.
Put your political agenda aside for a minute and learn the facts.
The union willingly backed down because they new they didn’t have the vote.
They didn’t have the vote because this union has done nothing to offer.  The people they are looking to unionize have better pay and benefits than those currently employed by the union.
The union filed more complaints than the hospital to the NLRB, but it was the hospital who had more complaints against the union validated than opposite…and the NLRB was established to protect the union.
If this doesn;t say something about who is in the wrong here, I don;t know what does.
The union backed down, because they don’t want to be banned from the hospital for a year.
They want to come back and unionize the nurses, and why the hell would nurses need to be unionized?
Our Mayor is a moron ready to go down with a ship that is inevidabely sinking.
Oh well, at least he’s not our govenor.

posted by: B on December 18, 2006  9:21am

Your absolutely right Pink bicycle, let’s have the vote.

posted by: local resident on December 18, 2006  10:13am

The union knows it does not have the votes, and I can prove this fact as follows:

1.  The union wants to organize YNHH workers sooner rather than later.

2.  They filed multiple complaints with the arbitor knowing that the outcome would be a delay in the election.  They proceed to celebrate this outcome amongst themselves and the local media.

These are facts and they are indisputable.

The most logical conclusion one can deduct from these facts is that the union knows that they would have lost a December 20th election and is seeking additional time to mobilize support.  If they felt they would win the election, why would take action to delay it? 

On a side note, Destefano is hardly an voice of objectivity.  He was a long shot for governor at best given Rell’s popularity, but what sealed the deal was his support of the unions in their opposition to the Cancer Center approval until a union concessions were made.  He was portrayed (perhaps unfairly) for placing union politics ahead of the needs of cancer patients.  What I don’t understand is how he can have the audacity to make the claim that a card check process would be more fair and less subject to coersion than a secret ballot election.

posted by: Jacki on December 18, 2006  11:49am

ElmCityGuy must not work at YNHH, or he would know that the union organizers have been harrassing employees for years trying to get cards signed.

They showed up at my house numerous times, and I have an unlisted phone # and don’t allow my dept. to have my address.

These visits were made BEFORE the NLRB said the union could have our addresses. What is so fair about that?

The union made their complaints because they saw so many of us employees wearing the “Vote No” buttons. They realized they won’t win.

posted by: strangerthanfiction on December 18, 2006  12:38pm

There is a lot of discussion here about the merits of the Union, YNHH etc. And that’s fine. But the fact is that YNHH flat-out lied to secure the Cancer Center agreement deal. Views about the Union pro and con should be expressed in an open and fair vote—they should not have been doled out to captive employees in mandatory meetings run by the hospital on work time. It’s a flagrant disregard of what they agreed to, it’s unethical and it’s downright against the law.

posted by: B on December 19, 2006  8:55am

STRANGER THAN FICTION,
The lies AND PROPAGANDA that you are putting your faith in and peddling may seem innocent, but you must understand that they are ruining honest people’s lives.
A very close person to me is a victim of this union propaganda and deceipt.
Entirely false claims about her have led employees to look at a once loved boss as an elitist who has no feelings for the “little guy”.
This is exactly the picture the union wants to paint, when the truth is that many people in this position are against the union because they support the “little guy”.
It is the belief that employees will receive better benefits and still be financially rewarded for their merrits that keeps many of the administrators from wanting a union for their employees.
What’s worse is because of labor laws, she can not even defend her own position to her employees.
These union leaders are a group of individuals trained to provoke and identify problems where they never occured.  If they new anything about working for a living, there union would be using them for exactly that purpose.  If you want to follow them down there path of lazines and deception, than you are really no better…and hey why not pay their bills with your hard earned money.
Once again, know the facts and don’t get caught up in the hype just because you think a vote for the union is a vote for the little guy.

posted by: strangerthanfiction on December 19, 2006  9:58pm

I’m not advocating for the union or the hospital, just for an honest debate and a fair vote. The neutral arbitrator ruled there were many violations of fundamental labor law by the hospital. The most grievous of these, in my opinion, were documented cases of employees getting the company line in “captive meetings.” That has been admitted to.  That’s fact and that’s appalling.

posted by: Heartbroken on December 26, 2006  10:41am

This whole issue has gotten so way out of hand; it’s ridiculous.  My husband is a manager at YNHH and this is just about breaking his heart.  He is a good manager to his employees - he ensures they have they ability to take school courses, time off for various needs for family and if the union gets their grip on the hospital he feels like his hands will be tied; that he won’t be able to give his staff what they need.  Once the union is in, if a unionized employee calls in sick to work, he can’t even cover that person’s responsibilities while their out.  In healthcare, we can’t afford to have some tasks go undone.  It’s not all business, patient care is at stake.  The benefits that YNHH as an employer offers are unparalleled - too many to even count.  I just don’t see that they need a union there at all.  And don’t even get me started about what the union says are hospital violations.  The union put so many restrictions on the managers about what they were allowed to say and what they were not allowed to say - even the more conscientious mangers were afraid to even open their mouths.  Of course people are on edge - they have JOBS to do and people to take care of an all this debate about the union is wearing on people and stressing them out - no matter what side they are on.