This summer nurses at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, PA organized to seek collective bargaining. This might have been an opportunity for bearing witness to Catholic Social Teaching: Church teaching on the right of workers to organize is clear and consistent, and in their 1986 Pastoral letter Economic Justice for All our nation’s bishops stressed that “All church institutions must also fully recognize the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively with the institution through whatever association or organization they freely choose (353).” Unfortunately, hospital administrators responded much the way secular, for-profit employers often do. According to Unfair Labor Practice charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board and recent health reports publicized by the Center for Advancing Health, administrators conducted illegal surveillance of union supporters and disciplined at least one of them in retaliation for their organizing activity.
Despite this, the nurses at the Bucks County hospital outside Philadelphia affiliated with the Trinity chain voted 403-285 to join PASNAP, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals. The hospital and the union are currently in difficult negotiations for a first contract. It doesn’t have to be this way: more than 200 other Catholic hospitals and nursing homes bargain constructively with unions representing their employees in a spirit of mutual respect. We hope and pray that the same positive spirit soon comes to St. Mary Medical.