Wednesday, I went from a conversation with an 1199 member at Yale – New Haven Hospital to a dinner at Yale’s Slifka Center for Jewish Life with Marvin Lender (that’s right – the one with all the bagels), prominent Jewish philanthropist and Chairman of the Board of the Hospital. The topic? Jewish tradition and business ethics.

I showed up with fifteen-some friends eager to discuss, in light of Jewish tradition: the Hospital’s three-year refusal to make a contract offer with across-the-board raises for its unionized food service workers, who’ve now twice gone on strike (although in a meeting with students a few months back, the Hospital’s Vice President for Public Relations claimed that they hadn’t, and he had to be corrected by the Vice President for Labor Relations); the paralyzing, and empirically justified, fear of the Hospital’s non-union workforce, who make significantly less than the Local 34 and 35 members who perform identical work beside them, that discussing organizing will cost them their jobs; and the Hospital’s failure, even after its latest reforms, to formulate a policy which ensures access to healthcare for New Haveners lacking full health insurance.

Lender’s response to the first few questions along these lines have two basic parts. First: He could serve on “any board I wanted to,” but “I chose Yale – New Haven Hospital” because of its work helping people. “My heart goes out” to “those poor people” who work there and “love their jobs” but “are being targeted by the unions.” The Hospital “is too busy helping people” to “get into a – excuse me – a pissing contest with the unions.” Second: Secular organizations, like Yale – New Haven Hospital, “aren’t like Jewish organizations,” in that there’s a rigid structure and so “my job isn’t to tell [Yale – New Haven Hospital President] Joe Zaccanino what to do.” The Board just “hires and fires” him. So “it would be inappropriate for me to comment on specific issues.”

When we questioned Lender’s categorization of a non-profit Hospital’s service to the poor and treatment of its workers as “day-to-day issues,” he became visibly more uncomfortable and markedly more curt. He was relieved to get a question from one of the couple people in the room not there to talk about the hospital, this one about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and spoke sympathetically and articulately about his responsibility, as a confidante and ally of leaders of mainstream Jewish organizations, to pressure them to commit to a two-state solution. So I expressed my agreement with his principle that those in positions of influence over powerful leaders who’ve gone astray have a moral obligation to speak out, cited some sources from Leviticus, Megillat Esther, and Pirkei Avot to that effect, and urged him to push Yale – New Haven Hospital into line with our shared ethical tradition. His response: “Are you trying to tell me that Esther or Mordechai with Chairman of a Board?”

Lender became increasingly rude as Jared Maslin, drawing on his experience at SHOUT helping the poor file applications for Yale – New Haven Hospital’s Free Bed Fund, tried to briefly describe the process to contextualize his question. “Are you going to ask me a question or not?” Lender asked, to which Jared replied that he wanted to make sure everyone in the room could understand the situation, prompting Lender to tell him that that was a waste of time. Jared, taken aback somewhat, suggested that he and Lender could talk about the issue after the dinner, to which Lender responded adamantly, “Now we won’t.” So Jared related that his experience suggests that the application system intentionally erects intimidating and often insurmountable beuracratic boundaries to dissuade those who need assistance from seeking it, and asked Lender what he would think of giving a third-party of some kind oversight over the process. Lender’s response: “It would be inappropriate for me to comment on that ‘yes’ or ‘no.'”

Shaking his head in his hands during questions, Lender announced, in a supreme moment of irony, “I’d didn’t come here to talk about this. I didn’t come here to talk about the Hospital. I came here to talk about business ethics.” That just about said it all. He then accused us of being rude and insisted that he was being “respectful” anyway, and accused us of “wasting the time” of all the people there who didn’t care about the Hospital, a peculiar sentiment given that all but a few of us had come specifically to discuss with one of the most powerful leaders of the Hospital how it’s treatment of the New Haven community clashed with religious and ethical values and what he planned to do about it.

Towards the end, Lender insisted that those who wanted to talk about the Hospital should “send me a letter.” That sounds like an invitation to me.

Talked this afternoon to an eighteen-year employee in dietary services at Yale – New Haven Hospital. She described her anger at the Hospital administration’s attempts to divide reassign, and cow the Hospital’s union employees into settling for a humiliating contract, and its campaign to scare the rest of its workforce out of discussing a union. She recounted a manager’s response to the gash on her face from a broken door which slammed down on her at work: “I hope it knocked some sense into you.”

SEIU Local 1199 is bringing a class action law-suit against against Yale – New Haven and Bridgeport Hospitals for aggressively dogging low-income sick people for medical bills while failing to inform them of their right to access to the state-funded free-bed fund designed to help ensure access to healthcare for the unemployed and working poor. The YDN headline calls the suit the “latest indicator of ongoing tension.” The source of tension, of course, is Yale – New Haven’s continued refusal to deal justly with the New Haven Community, be it its unionized workers still laboring without a contract, its non-union workers struggling to organize in an environment which spawned multiple NLRB settlements, or the working-class patients it aims to serve.

The leadership of Yale – New Haven Hospital is also the driving force behind the New Haven Savings Bank conversion plot, and the main beneficiary should their get-rich-quick scheme succeed. This week depositors also filed a class action lawsuit against the conversion, which would rob New Haven of its communal bank without a vote by its depositor-owners. As 1199 spokesman Bill Meyerson told the YDN:

The same group of individuals that are denying depositors a vote on what happens to their bank — denying them a right of the profits and surpluses of the bank through this conversion plan — sit on the hospital board of trustees, and are making the decisions about suing patients with inadequate insurance for the so-called crime of being sick and uninsured…it’s about the accountability of a select powerful group who run vital institutions in this community.

After several months of community mobilization, Yale – New Haven Hospital has now agreed to remove most of liens it placed on the homes of those in New Haven unfortunate to be both poor and sick. This is a great step forward in the struggle for a Hospital that deals justly with its employees and its patients. Check out CCNE’s new report for more on the issue.

Last night Yale President Richard Levin hosted the Yale undergraduate community at the second house the University provides him for such a event. Here’s the “trick or treat” of which several copies showed up:

Mr. Richard C. Levin
43 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06520

NOTICE OF CLAIM OF LIEN

The undersigned claimant hereby claims a lien under State Senate Bill No. 568 of the Civil Code of the State of Connecticut and hereby declares the following:

1. That a statement of claimant`s demand, after
deducting all just credits and offsets, in the sum of
$42,000 per month, for the remainder of Mr. Richard C. Levin’s life.

2. That the name of the owner[s], or reputed owner[s]
of the property is [are]: Mr. Richard C. Levin, President of Yale University. Although he doesn’t really own it, but he might as well.

3. A general statement of the kind of work done or
materials furnished by claimant, or both is:

Fostering an environment of mutual respect and charitable relations. Payment is long past due by the claimant.

[insert]

4. That the name[s] of the person[s] by whom claimant was employed or to whom claimant furnished the materials is [are]:

Yale University, Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital, Yale School of Medicine.

5. A description of the property sought to be charged
with the lien is: The official residence of the President of Yale University, 43 Hillhouse Avenue, in compensation for the houses of working people in New Haven put under lien by Yale Psychiatric Institute. At least Mr. Levin has someplace else to go.

DATED: __October 31, 2003______________

Sincerely,

The Future of New Haven

Earlier this week, William Sledge, from his perch as Master of Calhoun College – a spot that puts him in loco parentis for one twelth of Yale’s student body – having already donated $250 to Ward 1 Aldermanic candidate Dan Kruger, took to the pages of the YDN to vilify current Alderman Ben Healey for supporting the removal of arrest powers from the constables at Yale – New Haven Hospital, who are accountable not to the city but to the Hospital Board, in response to a pattern of that Board using the constables not to protect patients but to arrest leafletting staff. Sledge, who serves as Medical Director of YNHH’s Psychiatric Hospital (that he serves as Calhoun Master while otherwise employed not by the University but – since it was subcontracted last year – by the Hospital further disproves the argument that the two institutions are discrete), argued that Healey’s move to defend patients and workers from illegal, counterproductive, and unjust abuses of the constable power,

reflected a strong bias towards meeting the goals of the union and indicate that his activity as an alderman is driven by an ideology that is so strongly pro-labor that it overwhelms matters such as the security of those he represents. This bias gets in the way of clear thinking and inhibits the political and administrative imagination required to work out creative solutions.

Alek Felstiner, who witnessed the arrests last year, ably and resoundingly refutes the argument here.

Hundreds rallied outside of the Albertus Magnus College office of the school’s President, Julia McNamara, who serves as the Chair of the Board of Yale – New Haven Hospital. The energy was real strong, and the cause imperative. Everyone who was there realizes that the fight goes on to get these 150 workers contracts, and Locals 34 and 35 will not soon forget the solidarity that brought us a win and that will will make us keep winning until Yale comes to internalize the extent to which its self-interest is tied up in that of this city and this movement. As the YDN reported:

“The members of our unions know, and Yale knows, and New Haven knows that we have unfinished business at the hospital,” Smith said. “It’s justice, it’s equal treatment, it’s treating people with respect for the hard work they do every day.”