Updates on Unions at Catholic Institutions

More than one million American workers are employed by Catholic hospitals, schools and other institutions. The Bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter Economic Justice for All reminded those managing these institutions that the Church’s social teaching on labor and workers’ rights applies to workers employed by the Church. “On the parish and diocesan level, through its agencies and institutions, the Church employs many people; it has investments; it has extensive properties for worship and mission. All the moral principles that govern the just operation of any economic endeavor apply to the Church and its agencies and institutions; indeed the Church should be exemplary [347].”

If we have a Catholic institution that is “exemplary” in its fidelity to Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work it is perhaps Georgetown University, which has adopted a Just Employment Policy ensuring that its workers enjoy a living wage and the right to organize in labor unions – and insisting that its service contractors do the same. In some good news, the Resident Assistants who staff Georgetown dormitories voted 79-3 in favor of joining OPEIU Local 153, without the acrimony and retaliation that too often accompany organizing efforts.

OPEIU Local 153 also represents Catholic school teachers in the Archdiocese of New York and office and clerical employees at Fordham University. Fordham saw a breakthrough in labor relations under former university president Fr. Joseph McShane, when adjunct and other contingent faculty organized to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) even as other Catholic colleges and universities (such as Manhattan and Duquesne) abused their First Amendment freedom of religion protections to fight faculty organizing.

However, labor relations have taken a turn for the worse at Fordham under current president Tania Tetlow. Graduate research and teaching assistants organized with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) two years ago and have yet to obtain a first contract. Worse, when they attempted to leaflet the campus about their issues, the university called security to have them removed, leading the union to file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. (The Catholic Labor Network has sent a letter to President Tetlow reminding her of Catholic teaching on the right to organize and urging the university to refrain from additional labor law violations.) The graduate students have authorized a strike.

Meanwhile, contingent (non-tenured) faculty at the University of San Diego announced plans to organize with the SEIU. And Marquette contingent faculty and other campus employees are trying to form a union with the CWA.

The Catholic Labor Network is pleased to report progress in bargaining at three of four Ascension hospitals where nurses joined National Nurses United in recent years. Nurses at Ascension Seton in Austin, Texas ratified a contract in March and those at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis and Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph in Wichita Nebraska did so in April. Still waiting for a new contract? The nurses of Ascension St. Agnes in Baltimore, Maryland.

Have more news regarding labor union organizing or bargaining at a Catholic institution? Email [email protected]