NEWBURYPORT — In the months since union electrical workers began protesting Anna Jaques Hospital's decision to hire nonunion electrical workers as part of a $15 million renovation project, hospital officials have been careful not to respond publicly.
Behind the scenes, however, the hospital's frustration with the situation has led it to ask state lawmakers for help. Newburyport's two state lawmakers confirmed they were approached by Board of Trustees Chairman George Ellison in June and asked if they could contact the state attorney general's office and ask whether the protests had reached a point where they may be considered illegal.
The attorney general's office determined that nothing could be done.
The picketing began in March, as the hospital sought bidders for its $15 million expansion project. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 held banners highlighting a union-created website that details malpractice payments made by Anna Jaques Hospital doctors over the years. The protesters were occasionally accompanied by an inflatable giant rat. The union workers picketed in several areas around the city that had connections to the hospital, such as street entrances and affiliated doctors offices.
But by June, after the hospital officially made its decision to hire a nonunion contractor, IBEW Local 103's campaign expanded beyond the hospital. In recent weeks, City Hall and Market Square have also been targeted for picketing. The 9-foot-tall inflatable rat has occasionally been situated in the bullnose area of Market Square and at an entrance to the waterfront boardwalk, and a rented airplane has been flying over the city every Sunday with a banner that directs people to the anti-hospital website. Neighbors who live near the hospital's Low Street entrance have complained that union workers have caused nuisances.
The union has also continued to target doctors affiliated with the hospital, posting information about malpractice suits. Fliers criticizing the hospital's board of directors have been put on car windshields all over downtown Newburyport.