NEW HAVEN, Conn. — After a year of door knocking and organizing, neighborhood activists who have joined forces with the union organizing drive at Yale New Haven Hospital decided it was time to hold a community-wide solidarity event. The result was a May 21 rally and concert for “Our Community, Our Jobs, Our Hospital,” which brought together over 2,500 people to demand the hospital administration respect the needs of the people of this city.
Community Organized for Responsible Development (CORD) and SEIU 1199 sponsored the free event, which featured hip-hop recording artist Wyclef Jean and gospel singer Lucinda Moore. Buses and cars started rolling into New Haven several hours ahead of time as people hustled to get front-row places.
Yale University’s teaching hospital, one of the wealthiest institutions of its type, has refused to allow its workers the free choice to join a union, even after charges were filed against it by the National Labor Relations Board for anti-union intimidation. In addition, as it has expanded, the university/hospital complex has taken property from homeowners in the multiracial Hill neighborhood, already in dire need of affordable housing.
Against this backdrop of gentrification, the New Haven Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a resolution last year requiring major developers to enter into Community Benefits Agreements when requesting development funds. This action infuriated the hospital administration, which has tried to pick and choose which community groups it will relate to as it plans to build a major new cancer center.
In response, the bonds between the community and union have grown stronger.
The concert was a vibrant, uplifting experience that united people committed to a just cause. Union members from as far away as New York and Rhode Island, concerned activists, student organizations, environmental groups and elected officials participated.
State Sen. Martin Looney took everyone back in time when his father was a shop steward at Winchester Repeating Arms factory, calling it a wonderful experience that his father shared with the entire family. “People have the right to organize without fear of intimidation from the boss,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a strong supporter of unions and the right to decent wages, gave an impassioned plea in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act. Three weeks later, she and Rep. George Miller of California conducted a hearing in New Haven to learn from the workers at Yale New Haven Hospital, Cintas and Chef’s Solutions about their difficulties in trying to organize a union.
Wyclef Jean reached out to the young people present, including to high school members of the Young Communist League from the Hartford area who were invited into Wyclef’s limousine when they recognized him.
A CORD delegation led by youth marched onto the stage to address Yale New Haven Hospital’s unwillingness to negotiate the building of the new cancer center while receiving state funding. Despite hospital propaganda to the contrary, CORD is in favor of the cancer center, but the group wants it built right, with negotiations to determine such issues as parking, hiring and training.
Debra Dimbo, a 34-year worker from the hospital, said, “We need a union at the hospital. I want to retire with dignity.”
SEIU President Andy Stern spoke on the issues of union organizing in today’s difficult climate and the right for all workers to have affordable health insurance for themselves and their families.
Due to severe thunderstorm warnings, the post-rally march had to be cancelled. But the local marching band and CORD co-chairs went on the stage and gave an outstanding stepping performance.
Continuous pressure has led to the resignation of hospital President Joseph Zaganino, effective in September. The unfolding struggle for labor and community rights is moving forward to a victory that will benefit the entire New Haven community.