Catholic Hospital Negotiations on Opposite Coasts Turn in Opposite Directions

Contract Ratified in Spokane, Strike Brewing in Buffalo

Catholic Health SalariesAt Providence Health, a Catholic Hospital system embracing 34 hospitals in the Northwestern United States, many nurses and other health care employees have union representation. Even when both labor and management exhibit mutual respect, bargaining a contract is not always easy – but it’s often edifying and can go a long way toward helping each side understand the needs and priorities of the other, paving the way for a compromise reflecting the common good. After many months at the bargaining table, where staffing levels were a major sticking point, members of the Washington State Nurses Association ratified a contract August 3 covering nurses at Spokane’s Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. The nurses secured staffing commitments in some priority areas of the hospital; a management spokeswoman said that the contract “benefits both parties and meets all our needs.”

In Western New York a different story is unfolding. Nurses and other hospital employees at Buffalo’s Mercy Hospital argue that the facility is “understaffed and underpaid” and have voted to authorize a strike. While hospital administrators say they have made offers to improve staffing and wages, CWA Local 1133, representing the employees, argues that these offers are inadequate. The union has worked with community groups to publicize their views with white papers and informational pickets.

The Working Catholic: Baseball Lesson

by Bill Droel

Chicago White Sox hurler Chris Sale forgot that he is a member of a powerful labor union. Instead of following normal grievance procedure, he recently used a scissors to voice his objection to a management decision and destroyed team uniforms. Further, Sale by-passed his union steward, outfielder Adam Eaton, by whining that his manager should have addressed his grievance. He thus joins the list of rogue Sox.
It is not necessary to go all the way back to the 1919 Black Sox. Albert Belle, who played two seasons for the Sox in the late 1990s, exhibited a temper. So too on several occasions did Ozzie Guillen, a Sox infielder 1985-1997 and its manager 2004-2011. Jimmy Piersall, afflicted with bipolar disorder, was not a Sox player but was fired as their announcer for his criticisms of management. Then there is Dick Allen, who in 1972 brought his controversial reputation to Chicago.

Unlike Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) and other pioneering black major leaguers, Allen “would not follow Branch Rickey’s (1881-1965) directive to turn the other cheek and accept subordinate racial status,” writes Mitchell Nathanson in God Almighty Hisself: the Life and Legacy of Dick Allen (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). That is, Allen was in the second generation of black players and was not into “protecting and promoting illusions.”
Allen began his major league career in 1964 with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was used in unfamiliar positions, was injured on-and-off and was given a nickname (Richie) that was never before applied to him. In those days before a union and before free agency, Allen was annually a spring holdout for a higher salary. Allen also scuffled with other players, including a fight. He was late to the ballpark and violated curfew. To cope with his own shyness, Allen gave contradictory explanations to the press. In the opinion of some younger people, Allen was a cool guy. But many Philadelphia writers and fans considered him lackadaisical and the boors among them threw garbage, occasionally including a battery, at Allen. Although Allen “took no formal position” on race relations or urban discontent, Nathanson writes, he “became the symbolic face that unleashed white anxiety and discontent.”
How did Allen perform? During his seasons in Philadelphia (1964-1969), Allen was Rookie of the Year and three-time All Star (seven total appearances in his career).

After shorter stints with two National League teams, Allen came to our Sox and promptly staged a 41-day salary holdout. But, at least for awhile, Sox’ manager Chuck Tanner (1928-2011) knew how to handle Allen without ridicule or excessive pushback. In fact under Tanner, Allen was named team captain. As Nathanson wisely notes, Allen didn’t suddenly change his personality. “What changed was his employers’ understanding of him.”
Cubs’ manager Joe Madden, who at the moment is revered in Chicago, says he learned from Allen: “The more freedom the players feel out there, the greater discipline and respect you’re going to get in return.” If in any company, Madden continues, “employees have to come in and be concerned about a bunch of tedious nonsense, it’s going to prevent them from performing.”
Speaking for many of us on the South Side, former Sox’ executive Roland Hemond says: “Chuck Tanner and I both felt that Allen helped saved the franchise” by boosting fan interest. There was at the time pressure from some Sox’ owners and other club owners to move our team to Milwaukee or maybe Seattle.

Nathanson does not absolve Allen from problems that swirled around him. But “the true villain in [Allen’s] story was bigger and more all-encompassing than any individual.” Racism, of course. In Allen’s case it took the form of expecting each black to meet so-called traditional expectations. The wider lesson, however, is one that applies to all sports, to the tech industry (particularly to the biggest companies), to food growing and distribution industry, to hospitals and colleges that rely on part-timers, to major retail stores and more. Allen, writes Nathanson, opposed the idea that workers “were property to be bought, sold, valued and discarded by owners at their whim.” Despite the intentions of any one executive or any one employee, there can be an entire “system geared toward exploitation.” This, by the way, is what Catholicism means by saying exploitation is an objective sin, even if an executive is kindly or if an employee labors out of necessity or even to serve the church.

Allen’s stats qualify him for the Hall of Fame. Yet baseball philosopher Bill James is opposed, not because of any specific disruption, but because Allen “did more to keep his teams from winning than anybody else who ever played.” The decision is now up to the Golden Era Committee at the Hall. It meets in 2017 and will vote on the matter.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free printed newsletter on faith and work.

Church Ministries Seek Freedom for “Sea Slaves”

Who are the “sea slaves?” They’re maritime workers duped into service onboard ship under false pretenses. Apparently common in the fishing industry, the employer will extend promises of good wages and working conditions and a limited term of service – promises that evaporate once the vessel hits international waters. And because these ships are serviced on the high seas, they may not return to port for months or years. Church ministries serving seafarers and migrants have come together in an effort called COMPASS (Coalition of Organizations and Ministries Promoting the Abolition of Slavery at Sea) to fight this abuse.  Kari Johnstone, who runs the US State Department office fighting human trafficking, recently visited the Vatican to coordinate with Catholic organizations in this effort; check out Catholics Praised for Coming to the Aid of Slaves at Sea.

Trading Up? Labor, Catholics and the TPP

The election – with both major party candidates expressing a critique of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) — has our friend Michael Sean Winters over at the National Catholic Reporter thinking about trade and the global economy. Winters recently attended “Trading Up,” a conference at the AFL-CIO exploring how the global trade system affects workers, communities and the global South, and offered this interesting observation:

What usually strikes me when I go to one of the conferences downtown is how starkly different is the language of most policy experts from the language of Catholic social doctrine. But, when you go to an event with organized labor, that difference shrinks. They may not use the same language, but the language they use is deeply moral, suspicious of abstractions at the expense of real world consequences, focused on the human person more than on the “laws of the market” or, for that matter, the laws of the state. There is a more honest admission of what we would call original sin and they call power, greed and self-interest, than you find in other progressive circles. I feel at home.

Click HERE to read Winters’ piece in its entirety.

Home Care Workers Secure Minimum Wage, Overtime Protections

Fight for 15 homecare

(Image credit: Fightfor15 Home Care)

In 1975, the Labor Department made a far-reaching decision – home care workers who assist the elderly and disabled with basic tasks were “companions” exempt from the minimum wage laws, much as babysitters were. With the aging of our society, the ranks of home care workers rapidly grew. Moreover, a job category that was once dominated by family members and community-based nonprofits was increasingly filled by employees of for-profit firms. Many, even while diligently caring for our parents and grandparents, were counted among the ranks of the working poor. Yet for forty long years these denied the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Read more

The Working Catholic: Idolatry

The Working Catholic: Idolatry
by Bill Droel

David Cloutier teaches Catholic ethics at Mt. St. Mary’s University in Maryland. The students give a skeptical “oh hum” to the unit about Catholicism’s sexuality teaching. However, the unit on property and consumption is met with shock, outrage and even offense. “They seem to believe that so long as [something] is gained through work, any property is theirs to enjoy as they please,” Cloutier writes in The Vice of Luxury (Georgetown University Press, 2015).
All private property, Cloutier says, comes with a social mortgage. Wholesome and fulfilling economics is not about the art of the deal, but at a profound level it is about making a gift. Genuine economic freedom, Cloutier asserts, “means a commitment to reciprocity.”

Cloutier makes his argument through the old categories of virtue and vice. He has a tough job, your Working Catholic blogger suspects, because college students no longer frame their thinking in such categories.
Luxury, Cloutier forcefully persists, is “vicious and sinful.” It not only degrades the individual but, contrary to opinion, it is not good for the economy. Cloutier’s message is not restricted to the pretentious Trump family. The vice exists in nearly all income groups. “The lure of luxury permeates the ordinary spending and experiences of middle-class [North] American life,” he explains. Luxury is not this or that object. Nor is it “an occasional slippage.” It “is a disposition.” It is a spell that comes over society as a whole.

Christian ethics struggles to assert its alternative to the vocabulary of our dominant individualistic or utilitarian ethic. In our culture, for example, the phrase hard-earned money automatically justifies buying lotto tickets, joining a handbag-of-the-month club, judging some people to be the undeserving poor, thinking that tips to a waitress are optional and more.
Drawing upon Catholic sacramental theology and Catholic social doctrine, Cloutier attempts an alternative language about consumption. Though ascetics can be admired, he does not call the majority of Christians to “radical renunciation.” At the other extreme, he does not favor a materialistic majority that washes things over with a little Sunday piety. He suggests “a genuinely sacramental worldview in which the spiritual is participated in via the material.” That is, nearly all objects are holy, though not in themselves, but as analogues of God’s creation and redemption—presuming a disposition toward grace not a disposition for luxury.
Coultier uses a Catholic principle called universal destination of goods. He also recommends Pope Benedict XVI’s talks and writing on “the culture of gratitude.” Both of these intriguing themes need popular rendering.

Put it this way: Gratitude is one disposition. “Thanks for the new day.” “Thanks for this coffee.” (A slogan that your blogger believes in after the third morning cup.) “Thanks for our beautiful country.” Every sincere expression of gratitude implies a giver, someone beyond the self. Gratitude makes each and every thing relational. “Thanks to the fair trade farmers and to the electric company for this coffee.” “Thanks to our 18th century patriots, to our service personnel and to all those involved in civic groups for this beautiful country.” “Thanks mom and dad, now departed, and thanks to God for this new day.”
Earned through hard work for my free use is another disposition. But no job, no country club membership, no private jet and no object can fulfill this disposition’s expectations. Objects that have only material significance automatically rust and disappoint. This hard work disposition eventually becomes resentment. Evidence? Donald Trump.
Objects can give life if they signify a relationship. With gratitude they automatically become little sacraments.

Coultier’s book with its 20-page bibliography and 15-page index is not for a popular audience. It assumes some familiarity with Catholic philosophy and theology. It contains too much jargon and engages in a tad too much moralizing. But the book’s message is quite important and the message deserves a respectful hearing among a wide audience. Is Cloutier perhaps preparing a booklet edition?

Droel edits a print newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Sad turn at St Martin’s

Caritas in Veritate doesn’t apply to small schools where it is not hard to talk to an administrator?

“The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must be honoured today even more than in the past,” observed Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate. Administrators at St. Martin’s University in Washington state aren’t so sure. Contingent faculty there voted 63-34 to seek representation from SEIU 925, but the school refuses to deal with the union and is invoking religious freedom as a legal defense. Indeed, administrators say they don’t understand why anyone would want a union there. The Seattle Times cited the Chancellor’s bemused response to the organizing campaign:

“I guess the first thing I thought is, ‘That’s peculiar; I wonder why they think they need a union to be heard?’” said Abbot Neal Roth, who is on Saint Martin’s board of trustees and also serves as the university’s chancellor. “We’re such a small school, and it’s not hard to talk to anybody who is an administrator.”

Oh, Abbot Roth. I admire your innocence, and your question sounds like an excellent aid to discernment. If St. Martin’s were to take the money currently being paid to expensive union-busting lawyers, and instead use it for an administration retreat reflecting on why St. Martin’s instructors voted 2-1 to form a union, it would be much more productive.

Imagine, for example, sitting in a room with Pope Benedict and explaining to him why Caritas in Veritate didn’t apply to St. Martin’s. I’m sure you are sincere in your belief that a union isn’t good for your school, but would you really feel comfortable arguing your point with the pope?

Negotiations at Catholic Health (Buffalo) coming to a head?

A year-long contract dispute at Buffalo’s Catholic Health system may be heading for a strike. Nurses and other employees at the system’s St. Joseph Hospital have been bargaining since their contract expired last summer; now the contract has also expired at the system’s Mercy Hospital property. Among the key issues: the nurses are calling for improved staffing ratios, while the hospital is asking for employee concessions on health insurance. Now the Mercy employees have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, and St. Joseph workers will vote later in the month.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) represents thousands of employees at the two hospitals and has created a website to share views and information with members and the public. To visit, CLICK HERE. The hospital responded to the strike vote with a statement on its website.

The Working Catholic: The Undeserving Poor? by Bill Droel

Too many people seem too sure about the causes and the cure for poverty. I hear it in the barbershop, at my favorite lunch spot and frequently at the bar. “If only they would get a job and quit living off my hard-earned money.” The adjectival hard-earned is always used. I also hear: “My family made it on their own. Why can’t those people?” Plus other riffs on the same theme.
These longstanding complaints are not confined to barroom banter. They are part of public discourse. Elected officials, foundation executives, talk-show hosts and others routinely make a distinction (maybe not in those exact words) between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. By popular opinion, for example, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (which everyone calls food stamps) is an undeserved handout while Medicare and Social Security are—here’s that phrase again—hard-earned benefits.

Have the poor always fallen into these two categories? Or is the distinction something new?
We will soon celebrate the 500-year anniversary of the great Protestant Reformation. Along with the significant improvements it made to Christianity, the Reformation created unintended consequences. Prior to the Reformation Christian love or caritas looked upon the poor as worthy in and of themselves. They were not despised but assisted to the degree Christians were able to do so. At the same time, please note, the poor of long ago were not romanticized. The poor who made appearances in the New Testament, for example, were not held up as exemplars of virtue.
After the Reformation sympathy or humanitarianism replaced nonjudgmental caritas. This is a subtle shift that hardened into the distinction between deserving and undeserving. It solidified in our country in the 1850s as the poor became synonymous with immigrant Catholics. The orphan trains sponsored by humanitarian groups in New York serve to illustrate the newer approach. Many children wandering the streets were taken-in by an aid society and placed in “a healthier environment” with a rural family in the Midwest. The aid society judged the child’s natural family to be unfit, particularly because it was assumed the natural father (probably Irish-American) drank beer and/or whiskey. The Sisters of Charity and other Catholics in New York tried to retain the older approach: Avoid making judgments; open urban orphanages that kept the child in proximity to the natural family. (Babe Ruth in Baltimore was one example.)

The term Protestant approach or Protestant ethic in this blog is not the same as Protestant religion as practiced in a Methodist or Lutheran church. Nearly everyone in our country, including the Catholics, is Protestant in how they understand poverty, its causes and its remedy. Congressman Paul Ryan, for example, says that he thinks about poverty using Catholic social philosophy. Ryan might devoutly worship in a Catholic church, but his ideas about poverty are not traditional, old-school, mainstream Catholic ideas.

Do some people cheat on their food stamp application? Of course. Are some people who receive assistance lazy? Of course. Are some of those who appear at the door of a parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society simply con-artists? Of course. Does a St. Vincent de Paul volunteer have a duty to use donated money and food wisely? Indeed, yes. Does a parish volunteer have a fiduciary responsibility to turn away someone who repeatedly asks for help and yet who looks like, with a fresh haircut and a clean shirt, could get a job? That is a tough call for a real world Catholic.

Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work for National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Working Catholic: Fashion Statement by Bill Droel

Some philosophical and religious traditions look askance at fashion. Eastern religions, for example, focus on the transitory nature of the material world. They advise us not to get infatuated with appliances, jewelry or one’s wardrobe. Gnostic philosophy, which has at junctures influenced Roman Catholicism and other expressions of Christianity, says appearances are a deceptive illusion. Some strains in evangelical Christianity are unimpressed with art because only a direct relationship with God is important.

Being an Irish-American Catholic, I carry around an analogical imagination. That is, in my tribe God is mediated through the world’s beauty and order, particularly through God’s primary analogue, other people. Nature, artifacts, responsive institutions, plus architecture, music, film, novels and even fashion can dispose me to God’s grace.

This column won’t at first ring true to anyone who knows me because nearly my entire wardrobe is off-the-rack from outlet stores. Nonetheless, I take notice of a student or neighbor who has style, a look, or flair—maybe an unusual hat, a colorful scarf, or a sport coat that seems to match the personality. These touches, at times, briefly reflect the divine to me. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, The Idiot, a character says, “The world is saved by beauty, if at all.” That seems right to me.

Catholicism is in favor of fashion, though with an urgent caution. There is no place for the exploitation of designers and models, including on the so-called reality TV shows. Similarly, the sweatshop conditions in the apparel industry must give way to international labor standards.

Bill Cunningham (1929-2016), the longtime fashion reporter for New York Times, brought his Catholic faith to bear in his work, though implicitly. Cunningham himself was no fashion plate. He usually wore a blue jacket with large pockets. Into his 80s, Cunningham peddled a bicycle around Manhattan. He never owned a TV; he didn’t go to movies. Yet society types and models were pleased whenever Cunningham drifted into a party or a show. Cunningham never sampled the hors d’oeuvres nor even took a soda at any of the galas. “I just try to play a straight game, and in New York that’s almost impossible to be honest and straight,” he once said.

Upon return to New York from his service in the Korean War Cunningham took newspaper writing assignments about fashion. He added a $35 camera to his reporter’s notebook. By the late 1970s he was full-time and soon developed a popular “On the Street” column.
His idea was that fashion is not just patterns and material in a studio. I went to “the shows and the streets to see how people interpreted what designers hoped they would buy,” he once said. He found out that ordinary New Yorkers in their own way create or influence fashion. Cunningham came to believe that fashion is all around. He spent many hours on the streets looking for a stylish accessory or a unique outfit. On the street, he said, “you find the answers you don’t see at the fashion shows… My whole thing is to be invisible. You get more natural pictures that way, too.”

Fashionable does not mean expensive. It is about a person’s confidence and their consciousness of the world around them. We are saved by beauty.
Cunningham’s humble lifestyle attuned him to the beauty of all God’s creation. One of Pope Francis’ major themes is the priority of experience over ideology or abstractions. Cunningham once explained his approach to work in words that echo that theme: “I never go out with a preconceived idea. I let the street speak to me.” Seek beauty and it will find you.

Trivia contest: Who was the world’s first fashion designer? Hint: Genesis 3:21.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter about faith and work.