NEWBURYPORT — Citizens Supporting Anna Jaques Hospital members plan to hold a rally early next month as they continue their efforts to persuade an electrical union that has been picketing outside the hospital for months to leave the city once and for all.
The rally is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 2, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Brown's Square in downtown Newburyport.
The group, co-founded by Haley's Ice Cream owner Michael Roy, was formed as a response to what members believed were the bullying tactics of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 as it protested the hospital's decisions to hire nonunion electrical workers as part of its $15 million renovation project.
Roy said the rally is being organized to continue the group's support of the hospital and its staff. The rally will also feature live music, a raffle and an awards ceremony to honor group members, city councilors who have voiced their support of his group's efforts and those who first posted pro-hospital signs in businesses and on lawns, Roy said.
"IBEW 103 can certainly outspend us and out-manpower us, but we will do the max of what we can do," Roy said.
IBEW Local 103 spokesman Louis Antonellis said the rally wouldn't deter his union from continuing its protests.
"It doesn't change what we're doing. We've got a message, and we think it's legitimate. We think health care is important and we think hospitals should think so, too," Antonellis said.
The union has said it will continue its picket into 2012; it hasn't stated a specific time when it will end the pickets.
It is IBEW Local 103's contention that by awarding a contract to nonunion electrical workers, Anna Jaques Hospital could be hiring workers who aren't guaranteed health care benefits by their employer.
What started out as union members holding long banners directing people to an anti-hospital website in multiple locations expanded in June to include weekend flyovers by a rented plane holding an anti-hospital banner and a 9-foot-tall inflatable rat placed in the heart of Market Square. Over the Labor Day weekend, residents received a two-sided mailer from IBEW Local 103 that highlighted the victories won by unionized labor over the years, including the 40-hour work week and various child labor laws.
"Granted, the fights haven't always been pretty to look at, and even today, there are core values that remain at issue in this country, like health care — those who provide it and others who, well ... do something else. We are fighting health care hypocrisy because if anyone should champion the fight for quality health care coverage — it's hospitals. And for us, to simply ignore this issue would be equally hypocritical," the mailer reads.
Despite the mailing, IBEW Local 103 seems to have tamped down its campaign. The rat and rented plane have been noticeably absent, and union members are now standing behind a banner that directs people to a nonspecific website, unhealthyhospitals.com.
While Roy acknowledged that it seemed the union was backing off its earlier tactics, his group won't stop protesting the protesters until they leave town.
"I'm not convinced they're packing up and going," Roy said. "Hopefully, this will be a celebration rally."
But according to Antonellis, the union will still be in Newburyport when the rally takes place. "We're staying; we're not going anywhere," Antonellis said.
In addition to holding a rally, Citizens Supporting Anna Jaques Hospital is encouraging people to sign an online petition urging IBEW Local 103 to cease its protests in Newburyport.
The online petition reads: "We the undersigned residents of Newburyport and the surrounding 17 cities and towns in the Merrimack Valley serviced by AJH go on record asking our Federal, State, and Local officials to do all that is necessary to pressure the IBEW Local 103 to abandon their activities that demean, humiliate and intimidate our citizens, doctors, nurses and staff of Anna Jaques Hospital and to leave our city."
As of yesterday afternoon, 134 people had signed the online petition. A hard copy version of the petition will be available at the Oct. 2 rally, according to Citizens Supporting Anna Jaques Hospital members.