NEWBURYPORT — For months now, electrical union workers carrying signs and banners highly critical of Anna Jaques Hospital have become a familiar sight along many of the city's main roads.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 has been protesting the Highland Avenue hospital's decision to hire nonunion electrical workers from MEC Electrical Contractors Inc. of Chelmsford for its $15 million expansion project.
The union's tactics, which include using a small plane and giant inflatable rat to spread its message and plastering car dashboards with negative fliers, are not sitting well with one local businessman.
Word late last month that IBEW Local 103 would continue its protests for another year proved to be too much for Michael Roy, co-owner of Haley's Ice Cream at the Route 1 traffic circle and former owner of Michael's Harborside on the waterfront.
Roy said over the weekend that he had ordered signs supporting Anna Jaques Hospital and will soon be protesting the protesters. He is hoping others will join him in holding signs that read "I support Anna Jaques Hospital."
"I don't want to be a rabble-rouser and create a big problem, but I do want to make a statement," said Roy, an incorporator for the hospital.
Months before the May decision to hire nonunion electrical workers, IBEW Local 103 workers were protesting the hospital's decision to even consider hiring a company other than a union shop. The union created a website exposing the hospital and 24 doctors in particular who have made malpractice payments during their careers.
Since May, IBEW 103 has stepped up its campaign, unveiling a massive inflatable rat that towers over protesters. And on Sundays since May, a small plane has been flying over the city with a banner directing people to the union's website. The plane was even seen by many buzzing around Newburyport High School during graduation exercises, infuriating many people.
Most recently, the union began placing fliers on cars parked around the downtown area. The provocative flier shows an elderly woman crying and being comforted by another woman. Above the image, the flier claims there are falls and traumatic accidents occurring at the hospital. The flier also alerts people to the group's presence on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.
Roy insisted he didn't begrudge IBEW Local 103 for trying to do what it could for its members, but said the situation was becoming absurd and out of hand.
"I'm sorry they didn't win out, and I'm sorry these fellas are standing on the picket line when they'd like to be working," Roy said. "But to me they've made their statement, and life goes on. So, when I heard they are going to be out there for a year, I said, 'Oh, man.'"
Roy said another factor in his decision to take action came after a recent visit by friends turned almost tragic when one of them needed a lifesaving operation after complaining of stomach pain. He said the level of care and professionalism witnessed at Anna Jaques only deepened his appreciation for having a world-class hospital just minutes away from his Newbury home.
"I was surprised there wasn't more of a statement by the community on how much they support the hospital," Roy said. "I just felt a message was being missed here."
When informed of Roy's actions, Anna Jaques Hospital spokeswoman Deborah Chiaravalloti said in an email the hospital "appreciates his support."
Attempts to reach IBEW Local 103 spokesman Louis Antonellis via some of his fellow union members picketing in Market Square were not successful.
Saying he typically is more apt to shy away from the spotlight, Roy said taking to the streets to support something he cares deeply about isn't exactly ingrained in his personality. As a member of the business community for decades, Roy has politely declined countless requests to publicly support various causes and political candidates over the years.
"But in this case, I am being offended by signs, and I thought, I'll make my statement and hold my own signs," he said.
Roy expects to have his signs soon. But those interested in helping support Anna Jaques Hospital need not track him down for signs. It's easy enough for people to make their owns signs, he said, adding he'd like to see his "I Support Anna Jaques Hospital" campaign grow strong roots and spread throughout the city.