Last month we reported in this space how Georgetown’s response to research and teaching assistants seeking union representative had generated a crisis in campus labor relations. Georgetown’s much-admired Just Employment Policy provides for living wages for campus employees and defends all workers’ right to organize, as established in Catholic Social Teaching. But when the graduate student employees formed a union, the administration dismissed their right to a union and promised to fight their right to organize before the National Labor Relations Board. Happily, in the past month the two sides have taken steps toward a compromise solution: the union has proposed holding a certification election outside the auspices of the NLRB, and the university is considering the proposal. It’s a promising development: a number of K-12 Catholic Schools, such as those in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, bargain with employee unions outside the NLRB system. The Catholic Labor Network will keep you posted as negotiations continue.
In the labor movement, all eyes are on the Supreme Court and Janus v. AFSCME, where a member of the union is arguing that paying “agency fees” to pay for its services violates his freedom of speech. If Janus wins, all of state and local government employment will be rendered “right-to-work” and unions critically weakened.
On January 19, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops weighed in with a powerful amicus brief defending the right of workers to organize and opposing Janus and “right-to-work.” Read more
Every year, before the holidays, Pope Francis gathers the Vatican’s lay employees and their families to honor their service. He gives a short address praising their work and offering spiritual and temporal guidance for the year to come. This year, though, he also veered into a conversation about temporary workers. The Holy Father, who frequently preaches that workers deserve secure and dignified employment, had learned from one of the career employees that the Vatican itself employed temporary workers, and this concerned and alarmed him.
The Pope did not seem to be referring to temp workers in the American sense (i.e. workers obtained from temp agencies) but the Italian one. Under Italian law, workers who have passed a probation period have considerable employment security – and employers seeking to evade this obligation often choose to employ “temporary” workers on fixed, short-term contracts shorter than the probation period. Francis vowed to eliminate the practice in the Vatican as a matter of conscience.
The other day I had a meeting with Cardinal Marx, who is the President of the Council of the Economy, and with Monsignor Ferme, the Secretary, and I said: “I don’t want illegal work in the Vatican.” I apologize if this still exists…It’s a problem of conscience for me, because we can’t teach the Social Doctrine of the Church and then do these things that aren’t right.
Thank you, Francis, for affirming that employment is not just a matter of economics or even of law, but of conscience. You can read the Holy Father’s full remarks HERE.
In an election concluded in November, contingent faculty at Fordham University have voted overwhelmingly to form a union and bargain collectively. The bargaining unit will include both adjunct faculty and others not eligible for tenure, such full-time lecturers and postdoctoral research fellows. After much hesitation, the flagship Catholic university in New York City had joined Georgetown University and many other Catholic schools across the nation in consulting Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work, and adopted a neutral position during the vote, recognizing it was the right of the employees to decide for themselves whether they wanted to join a union. Today the faculty are represented by SEIU Local 200.
Sadly, a few schools in this position seem to have consulted “union avoidance” attorneys rather than CST. They are determined to prevent their employees from getting a union and are asking the NLRB and the courts to respect their “union avoidance” as an expression of their religious identity (!). Duquesne University, Manhattan College, Seattle University and St Xavier University have chosen this unfortunate route.
Good news from New York’s Siena College! Adjunct faculty at the Catholic College near Albany voted for representation by the SEIU two years ago – and have reached their first contract. Both sides pronounced themselves satisfied with the outcome. The secret of their success? Negotiating in a spirit of charity and mutual respect. As the Times-Union reported…
“Siena College and the union’s bargaining committees worked together diligently and in good faith to come to a fair and equitable resolution,” said Siena President Edward Coughlin. “I’m pleased that the new contracts have been ratified, and that we can continue the new academic year with this matter resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.”
Meanwhile, in Boston College, graduate teaching and research assistants voted 270-224 in mid-September to join the UAW (which represents TAs and RAs on some other campuses in the Northeast). The Catholic Labor Network hopes that BC will follow Siena’s lead, and bargain with the student employees in the spirit of Catholic Social Teaching.
In late 2016, health techs and other employees at Queen of the Valley Hospital voted 60%-40% to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). Hospital administrators, however, don’t want to recognize or bargain with the NUHW. Having lost the mail ballot election, they are demanding a rerun held in person at the worksite. The union has filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge, and the National Labor Relations Board has upheld the union’s position. Simple fairness dictates so: the losing side doesn’t get to keep running elections until they get the outcome they want!
Catholic social teaching requires employers to honor the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, but Queen of the Valley continues to pursue ever-more remote legal appeals. More than 100 US Catholic hospitals model Catholic social teaching by recognizing and bargaining with the unions their employees have chosen. In fact, the California Nurses Association represents nurses at Queen of the Valley! It’s time for the hospital to extend the same respect to their other employees as well.
CLICK HERE to review the NLRB proceedings in the case to date.
In an unfortunate setback for worker justice at Catholic institutions, Catholic Cemeteries of San Antonio has moved to strip cemetery workers of their union rights. The cemetery workers had been represented by the CWA for more than a decade when the union received a letter from the Catholic Cemeteries administrator Fr. Martin Leopold stating that they would no longer recognize the union after the current contract expired June 30.
Fr. Leopold’s letter made no attempt to reconcile the action with Catholic social teaching. It did, however, advise the employees they had no legal recourse, arguing that the First Amendment puts Catholic Cemeteries beyond the reach of U.S. law. The union is pursuing an appeal before the National Labor Relations Board.
The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel
Martin Luther King (1929-1968), one of our country’s foremost leaders in race relations, is less remembered for his advocacy of the dignity of work.
The City of Memphis is sending a tax-free grant of $50,000 each to 13 retired sanitation workers, plus one more still on the job. This gesture, N.Y. Times (7/26/17) reports, is “an improvised fix to one of the most bitter legacies of Memphis’s labor history.”
In February 1968 two Memphis garbage workers died, crushed in a compactor. Their fellow workers caucused; lamented their low pay; detailed their unsafe work conditions; discussed joining AFSCME, a union; and called for a strike.
As the days passed, threats and confusion dominated the Memphis scene. King went there on March 18th to support the workers. He returned on March 28th for the same purpose. This time violent young adults roamed the streets. A curfew was imposed. King retreated to Atlanta and then to Washington.
King’s advisors discouraged further involvement in the Memphis situation, but he returned there. It is the lesson of the Good Samaritan parable, he said. “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers,” I am like those who passed by. Aware of threats against him, he preached: “But it doesn’t matter to me now… I may not get there with you… [But] we as a people will get to the promised land.” On April 4, 1968 King was murdered in Memphis.
The city reached a settlement with the workers on April 16th. Some details were hastily left incomplete, specifically about retirement. Thus all these years later, the 14 living workers who participated in the 1968 strike get $50,000 toward retirement.
Back during the 2001 New York City mayoral campaign, candidate Michael Bloomberg made what the press treated as a major gaffe: “Being a sanitation worker in this day and age is more dangerous than being a policeman or fireman.” His point could have been better made, but Bloomberg was correct—more injuries, more deaths. Garbage collectors fall from trucks, get hit by traffic, get cut by objects in bags, get injured or killed as they repair or clean equipment.
Robin Nagle was a driver for a 35-ton New York City garbage truck that she nicknamed Mona. Pedestrians obliviously walk in front of and behind Mona, she writes in Picking Up (Farrar, Straus, 2013). Residents think nothing of throwing out all manner of hazardous material. Plus the complaints.
In December 2010 New York City was paralyzed by snow. Sanitation workers were on the front line of storm clearance. Frustrated residents said that workers intentionally went slow during the recovery, as a passive-aggressive protest about work conditions. Nonsense, Nagle details. “Sanitation pride wraps around many things, but snow fighting is one of the biggest.” To punctuate her retort, Nagle tells about Mona in a five-truck caravan clearing an expressway. After an arduous push down a lane, the foreman led the trucks off a ramp. He gathered the drivers for a very profane pep talk—maybe unaware that one was a woman. The determined convoy quickly went up the opposite ramp and, says Nagle, “we did indeed bust the [vulgar noun that the foreman used for highway], just as we had on the northbound.”
These days health care delivery is a major topic. What two occupations most contribute to the delivery of our health? Plumber and garbage collector.
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.
On June 28, Pope Francis addressed Italy’s CISL/Confederation of Trade Unions, an umbrella organization of labor unions much like America’s AFL-CIO. The pope had much to share, especially for those of us called to pursue justice in the labor movement. The Holy Father observed that today’s market economy is anti-union precisely because it has cast off ethical and social responsibilities.
The capitalism of our time does not understand the value of the labor union, because it has forgotten the social nature of the economy, of the company. This is one of the greatest sins. Market economy: no. We say social market economy, as Saint John Paul II taught us.
The big news in Catholic employment relations this month: Fordham University President Joseph McShane, SJ announced that out of respect for Catholic social teaching on the rights of workers the university would not oppose their adjuncts if they wished to form a union and bargain collectively.
Adjunct faculty at universities across the United States, Catholic and secular, have sought to form unions in recent years to remedy low pay, poor benefits, and job insecurity. Some Catholic universities, such as Georgetown and Trinity Washington, have adopted a neutral stance, leaving the decision to the workers themselves – a stance conforming with Church teaching on the right of workers to join trade unions. Others, however, such as nearby Manhattan College, have refused to recognize and bargain with adjunct unions – and then invoked First Amendment protections to escape legal consequences, seeking to associate “union avoidance” practices with the preservation of religious freedom.
Fordham adjuncts and administrators spent the spring in tense confrontations over the instructors’ union aspirations, and it often seemed that Fordham would follow the example of Manhattan, Duquesne and other schools denying employees their right to organize. But instead, after a long process of discernment, Fr. McShane announced in an email:
After much consultation and reflection, I have decided that the University will not oppose the unionization of adjunct faculty. As you receive this email, we have initiated discussion with the union over the University adopting a stance of neutrality regarding the organization of our adjunct faculty.
I have become convinced of the rightness of this course of action over the last few months by conversations with my fellow Jesuits. After all, organized labor has deep roots in Catholic social justice teachings. And though this is an issue that many universities are facing—not all of which have come to the same decision—given its Jesuit traditions and historic connection to first-generation and working-class students, Fordham has a special duty in this area.
(The complete text of the email can be found online courtesy of Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative.) We at the Catholic Labor Network applaud Fr. McShane and the Fordham administration on this important decision, and the witness it offers to Catholic business leaders nationwide. We fervently hope and pray that this begins a new chapter in labor relations at the university, one of mutual respect and cooperation for the common good.
In other news: The NLRB has announced that Manhattan University adjunct faculty voted 59-46 for union representation! Well, it may not be “news” news – the faculty voted in 2011, but the Manhattan administration’s legal arguments kept the ballots impounded for six years. Now that Manhattan knows that its adjunct instructors want union representation, will they honor their employees’ choice? Perhaps the vote results, and events at Fordham, will provide the Manhattan administration aids to discernment as well.