On June 6, Rev. Jesse Jackson came to Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH) in Connecticut. His visit was in support of the 150 dietary workers whose union contract expired 30 months ago, the 1,800 service and patient care workers who are trying to get union recognition, and the community-labor campaign for an end to YNHH’s aggressive tactics in collecting unpayable medical debts from low-income patients. After a press conference, Rev. Jackson toured the hospital and met with workers. Ray Milici, a chef in the Hospital’s kitchen and longtime rank and file union leader, spoke at the press conference and guided Rev. Jackson through the hospital’s kitchen areas. Later, Milici spoke with the World about the day’s events. Following are his remarks.

It was so exciting today. The pressure is mounting on Yale-New Haven Hospital. The administration actually agreed to let Jesse Jackson go on a tour in support of the workers. That alone is a victory for us.

Rev. Jackson came down into the kitchen. One of the executives from the hospital tried to ambush him by talking his ear off – how many patients we serve, etc. But we showed Rev. Jackson the work areas, and introduced him to a lot of the workers. All the members were telling him we need a contract, and one member asked him to sign a card to her son in Kuwait. His words were very encouraging.

Then we went upstairs to the cafeteria. Our union members were coming up to meet Rev. Jackson, and one of the cashiers was so busy, she didn’t see him. He put his hand in her register – she looked around, then jumped up laughing and hugged him. They were both laughing about it.

After the tour, I had to go back to work, but I understand that Marna Borgstrom, second in command of the hospital, came with her entourage to meet with Rev. Jackson. Rev. Jackson said, “wait till I’m done talking to the workers” – he was talking to one of the unorganized workers in the hospital active in the union drive. They spent about 10 minutes talking while the administrators waited out in the hall. I understand that afterwards, Rev. Jackson told the hospital executives that these workers need the union and ‘you should not stand in the way.’

I was disappointed about the news coverage of the press conference. I spoke about not having a contract over the past two years, and revelations about the senior executives’ supplementary pension plan. They make up to $1 million a year plus they have two pension plans, while our pension fund is going down. We have members in food service that can’t afford the hospital’s health insurance. We work for a health care institution and we’re paying for benefits. Health care and pensions are two of our biggest issues.

The news didn’t show any of us (rank and file workers). Just a very short interview with Rev. Jackson about the medical debt issue. It’s hard for our little group of 150 workers to get any coverage at all.

But it was a big shot in the arm for us. Our struggle with the hospital continues. Jesse Jackson was there to support the workers and it has inspired us to fight on and boosted our morale.