Leaders of the Roman Catholic church, Catholic healthcare and organized labor have reached a pact that's intended to govern labor relations in Catholic healthcare organizations.
After two years of laborious discussions, the parties have produced a paper called A Fair and Just Workplace: Principles and Practices for Catholic Health Care. It has been distributed to unions, Catholic hospitals and churches across the country.
The guidelines come at a time when the Service Employees International Union, the nation's largest union for healthcare workers, is trying to organize more than half a dozen Catholic Healthcare West-owned hospitals in Los Angeles and Sacramento, Calif.
In fact, the SEIU sued CHW in May, alleging the system misused Medicare money to pay for union-busting activities at 414-bed St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, Calif. (May 24, p. 4).
The dispute has grown so ugly that it has embarrassed the church hierarchy, which has tried to resolve it. Catholic doctrine supports the rights of working people to organize into unions.
Some high-powered leaders were members of the working group that developed the paper. The 12 included Mary Kay Henry, lead organizer at the SEIU; the Rev. Michael Place, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association; Gerry Shea, assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO; and Bishop William Skylstad of the Diocese of Spokane, Wash.
Sister Mary Roch Rocklage, president and CEO of Sisters of Mercy Health System, St. Louis, initiated the effort two years ago. Since then, nurses at one of the hospitals in her system, 898-bed St. John's Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis, have successfully formed a collective bargaining unit.
The task force met from January 1998 to last May. The discussions were difficult, and not all issues were resolved, the 12-page paper says.
The document seeks to reconcile the human right to healthcare and workers' rights to organize while market conditions pressure the mission of Catholic hospitals.
The paper calls for management and unions to use "restraint" in pursuing their aims. It includes a list of unacceptable behaviors and tactics during organizing drives, including using threats, intimidation or coercion; making false claims; and using the law to delay action.
The paper also encourages the use of a mediator to resolve organizing issues. When management consultants are hired, their work should be based on Catholic social teaching.