Workers Correspondence

Workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital have been organizing for the right to a union for the past four years. Now, the unionized workers at the hospital and at Yale University are tying their contract settlements to this union drive.

The most important thing in my eyes is a card-check neutrality agreement for the 1,800 hospital workers, because that is our future. Wages and benefits can come later – first you need the troops. The 150 of us who are dietary workers won our union, District 1199, 30 years ago. Being there by ourselves, we understand if we don’t grow we will soon be extinct. It’s that simple.

Our unit has been without a contract for two years. We’ve been going to the administration, trying to negotiate, comparing information on wages at nursing homes, at other hospitals, and at the university. We’ve been trying to negotiate a better health care plan.

We have members of the union and hospital employees that have to pay for insurance while we work for one of the wealthiest health care institutions. This is a disgrace. There are people on government programs because they can’t afford the insurance.

We’ve been trying to negotiate a card-check neutrality agreement, so that if the majority of workers sign up, the administration will recognize the union. Any kind of fair process to stop intimidation and let workers have a free choice about their union has been totally rejected.

They gave us a final offer almost two years ago and they haven’t moved since. It’s inadequate and substandard. Workers at food service have decided we won’t accept a substandard contract, and we’re in it for the long haul. It’s a great sacrifice going without increases.

I’m so proud of our group at the hospital. The boss sends letters, and holds evaluation meetings, telling the workers they can have this raise if the union agrees to contract. Our members are hanging tough. It’s a great victory for unity in the union.

We’ve been trying to take the high road. But, two weeks ago we took an overwhelming strike vote because we had no choice. The vote was 89-13.The feeling is that now we have to do something. On the same night, the unions at Yale University, Locals 34 and 35, also took overwhelming strike votes.

For a week, members of Local 34 were arrested while passing out leaflets at the Hospital, supposedly for “trespassing.” Hospital workers stood next to them, but were not stopped.

Twice before, the hospital was cited for violating workers’ rights to organize. They illegally told workers they couldn’t wear union buttons. They threatened workers with discipline. When I was passing out leaflets, I was told if I didn’t get off the property right now – I’ve worked on the property for forty years – I would be arrested. The Labor Board slapped the hospital’s wrist, and posted notices that we can pass out leaflets in non-work areas.

They’re not intimidating anyone. Yet, if the hospital is forced to back down, it will help the drive. It gives workers a sense of empowerment, knowing if they stand up they can win.

On Sept. 25, we hope to show how determined we are to resolve these contract disputes and forge a more positive relationship with the University, the Hospital and the community. This will be a peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience in the spirit of Martin Luther King, and it’s a badge of honor to stand up for justice. That’s the way I see it. I’ll be right there in the mix.