A Union Busting Bishop?

A Union Busting Bishop? February 2, 2009

Over at Mirror of Justice, Vox Nova alum Rick Garnett takes note of a simmering conflict over whether to unionize Scranton’s Catholic schools:

More than 200 supporters, many from regional union locals, joined a noon rally outside Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino’s residence to mark the one-year anniversary of the fight to unionize local Catholic school teachers. Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers President Michael Milz handed out green and black arm bands.

“Black is the color of mourning, and without a doubt we are here for that sorrowful purpose,” Milz said, repeating the claim that Martino rejected more than a century of Catholic Church support for organized labor when he rejected the request to unionize.

More. Bishop Martino is hardly alone here. Religious organizations (including Catholic schools) are exempt from many labor laws (including the minimum wage and overtime) and many Dioceses have long resisted efforts to unionize Catholic schools.

Writing in semi-defense of Bishop Martino, Rick notes that “unionization comes with more supervision and intrusion by the secular authorities [and] the Bishop could, quite reasonably, not want to be put in a position of submitting questions about teachers’ hiring, firing, promotion, etc., in the hands of others.” This is true, of course. But the same is true for any business.

As a general rule, people tend to be much more supportive of laissez faire when it comes to rules governing their own conduct than they are when it comes to regulations governing others. I wouldn’t support removing the ministerial exception that protects the Church from the reach of many labor regulations. But I do wonder if being insulated from the effects of such regulations makes the Bishops more supportive of such rules than they would be if they had to live according to the same rules as everybody else.

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  • It is amazing that the prophetic social teaching of the Church (on unionization, wages, health care, etc.) always seems to apply to just about everyone except the Church. You are right – in these cases the Church acts like any other corporation. Is it any wonder many Catholics don’t take CST seriously when the Church so often ignores it in its own practices?

    Good post.

  • radicalcatholicmom

    Exactly, Michael. This has been one of my main frustrations with the Church, the expectation that when you work for the Church you will earn starvation wages.

    Excellent post, BA.

  • MD

    What’s the saying?

    Religious take the vow of poveryy; diocesan priests are supposed to point to poverty’s inherent attractiveness; but lay ministers and educators are forced to actually live it.

  • M.Z. Forrest

    As one not sold on the benefits of the professionalization of education, I still look askance at union busting.

  • Thank you for posting about this important issue blackadder.

    We have to be the change we want to see in the world.

  • JH

    I guess I am not seeing the big contradiction here.

    It is sort of like the argument I heard in the immigration reform debate. The Church is against building a Border fence. But look at this huge wall around the Vatican. How many illegal aliens will the Church take in at the Vatican etc etc

    The Church is against sexism but look they don’t have women Priest and they have the ultimate Glass ceiling!!!

    Now of course there are frightening Church/ State issues involved here

    I think you have a point about being insulated from regulations might have them not thinking about the effects in the real world. But is this really a issue in the braod outlines involing Unions in the Compendium?

    But the Church is not a Business and neither is it a corporation. The situation is even more evident here because unlike places in Germany for instance we are not State supported.

    Should Catholic Charities be Unionized? What about the United Way? Should the MDA foundation workers apply for a Union? Of course not

    The Church is not in the business of making “profits” so I am not sure how the Church is being two faced here

    Do Catholic school teachers and others need more money? Sure. But that is something to perhaps to take up with the local “stcokholders” in the Dicoese. That is the people in the pews.

    As to Catholic schools everyone should be looking at Dicoese where Catholic schools are expanding. In the Dioceseof Witchta not only are the Catholic schools expanding Catholics can go to them for free. There has been a much bigger stake between the Catholic schools and the local Catholic community established. It would be interesting to monitor Teacher pay in that Diocese over the next few years and see what happens

  • M.Z. Forrest

    The Church very much has business functions. The CFO at the parish ain’t that much different than the CFO at a small corporation. Such isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for work by stipend or r&b work. The guy who plows the church parking lot is entitled by justice to the same amount he would make plowing the parking lot of the grocery store. From a practical standpoint, conscribed charity is one of the worst forms because it allows functions to persist that should just be eliminated. Charity should be a conscience choice, not a budgetary measure.

  • Kurt

    A clarification. The issue here is not the unionization of these school teachers. (present tense verb). The union has existed for many years. The point of dispute is the bishop’s unilateral termination of union recognition.

    Should Catholic Charities be Unionized? What about the United Way? Should the MDA foundation workers apply for a Union? Of course not

    Why not? And where they currently are unionized, why dissolve the union?

    The Church is not in the business of making “profits” Nor are many employers where the employees have chosen to form a union.

    Do Catholic school teachers and others need more money? Sure. But that is something to perhaps to take up with the local “stockholders” in the Dicoese. That is the people in the pews.

    Workers organizing by a common craft, inudstry or employer is a natural right and affirms the virtue of fraternity among such groups of workers. Higher pay is a subordinate factor. But fine, let as allow the teachers and “stockholder”, each organized collectively, to negotiate.

    I think the bishop is more likely to reverse himself and give his approval to the school teachers organizing before he will ever consent to the lay faithful “stockholders” doing the same!

  • JH

    Kurt there is all this a sense of service aspect too. That does not mean the Church does not have a responsibilty to its people.

    But I really wonder if this being a sign to people is going to mean much if the Church has to spend more money on Lawyers and everything else. Something will have to be cut.

    How does this help the Mission of Catholic schools or other aspects of the Church? We have a crisis in Catholic schools and I am not sure Unions are going to be help it.

    In the end the Church might be able to be more of a sign I suppose to this particular facet of Catholic Social Justice . Sadly its work in other areas might be greatly diminished. It is like not seeing the Forest for the trees.

    I would also suggest that such a move puts Catholics Schools at a unfair disadvantage versus their State counterparts. How is that fair or just?

    Perhaps the Dicocese of Scratnon can handle this but where I am at in a Dicoese that has significant fewer Catholics I am not sure we could at all.

  • JH

    Hereis the Diocese and what appears to the Be the Vatican’s point of view on this issue

    http://www.dioceseofscranton.org/News/HouseBill26January23,2009.asp

  • Nate Wildermuth

    Wheat and weeds, is what I’m seeing.

  • Kurt

    But I really wonder if this being a sign to people is going to mean much if the Church has to spend more money on Lawyers and everything else. Something will have to be cut.

    The first think the bishop did after he busted the union was to go out and hire a consulting firm, Parente/HR Services. So here you have a new expense that was nevered needed in the past under the union.

    How does this help the Mission of Catholic schools or other aspects of the Church? We have a crisis in Catholic schools and I am not sure Unions are going to be help it.

    The teachers should be part of responding to that crisis, and taking away their right to freely organize is contradictory to that.

  • Kurt,

    If you read the article JH linked to, the issue is that the entire Catholic school system had set up a teacher/staff/parent/administrator governence mechanism in which teachers and staff selected representatives to discuss and negotiate these issues. The union only represented a minority of the teachers, and it was putting pressure on teachers not to participate in the group governence organization which the diocese had put in place. (Color me unsurprised as the union harassing people who tried to participate in a real representative governance system.)

    Given that the diocese had gone to lengths to set up a system for employers, administrators and parents to discuss vital issues, and that the union was only seeking to disrupt this system, it seems entirely productive and appropriate to shut down the union.

  • Driver

    Why is it a prophetic part of Catholic social teaching to support the monopolization of labor?

    Unions are just another inward-looking, selfish, greedy interest group.

  • Driver

    Don’t they still retain the right to organize?

    But why do they have the right to divorce themselves of the consequence of that organization?

  • Kurt

    DC —

    You are defending what is known as a “company union” – something that would be illegal in the private sector. Workers have the natural law right to organize and in free and autonmous manner rather than to have their input limited in a management created, management controlled operation.

    The Holy Father issued a statement today of the importance of trade unions. It would be wise to extend these principles to the Diocese of Scranton schools.

  • Kurt,

    But it seems to me that especially when dealing with religious schools it would be appropriate to get outside the mode of thinking in terms of “management” and “employees”. Staff, administration and faculty at Catholic schools (along with parents and diocesan officials) should clearly all have the same goals of providing an excellent education at a cost that makes it available to many, while providing those working at the schools with a pleasant and fulfilling environment and renumeration. Wouldn’t it be most to the common good of all to work on these in a common forum rather than moving towards an adversarial union vs. management model?

    It also strikes me, frankly, as telling that the union only ever had a minority membership. Come to that, if you think its just for a majority of workers to vote in a closed shop — would you be equally open to a majority of workers voting to allow now workers in their workplace? Now there’s an initiative I could get behind!

  • Kurt

    Wouldn’t it be most to the common good of all to work on these in a common forum…

    Not if the common forum is wholely created and under the control of one party.

    … rather than moving towards an adversarial union vs. management model?

    Union rights do not require adversarial relations. It seems it was the bishop’s actions that were the initial adversarial act.

    It also strikes me, frankly, as telling that the union only ever had a minority membership.

    It is telling, as to the bishop.

    The union was present at several of the schools (most of the elementary schools) but not at some others. It is a general perogative of employers to determine the “bargaining unit”. The diocese, at some point in the past, determined each school to be a unit (maybe to keep the union out of the other schools).

    The bishop might have decided under his re-organization that there would be a single unit for all schools. He would have then had the right to demand a “clarification” election where the teachers would vote for the union or no union (diocese-wide). Given the bishop did not do this, it suggests he thinks such an election would not have gone the way he would like.

  • Union rights do not require adversarial relations. It seems it was the bishop’s actions that were the initial adversarial act.

    Sure the do. The whole union modus operandi is one of, “Give us what we want, or we’ll refuse to work and shut you down.”

    And in this particular case, it certainly sounds like the union is the side which started out being adversarial when the article says, “From the beginning SDACT has attempted to sabotage this program by discouraging, and in some cases intimidating, teachers and staff who want to participate. SDACT has also disrupted the educational process by staging sick outs at several schools and a walk out by students, and has fomented much disrespectful criticism of Bishop Martino through the media and the general public.”

  • Kurt

    The whole union modus operandi is one of, “Give us what we want, or we’ll refuse to work and shut you down.”

    I would respectfully disagree. 99% of collective bargaining agreements are signed without a strike or a strike threat. My own union does not ever authorize strikes. Nevertheless, if the above is your basic understanding of trade unionism, it certain seems unreconcilable with CST.

    And in this particular case, it certainly sounds like the union is the side which started out being adversarial when the article says, “From the beginning SDACT has attempted to sabotage this program…

    First, let’s be clear the “article” you cite is not a newsarticle but a statement by the Bishop.

    Second, the program in question was a decertification of the union and its replacement with a forum under the control of the bishop. Whatever actions were taken in opposition to the Bishop’s program of “company unionism”, it seems self evident that the reaction against it had to follow, and not come before, the bishop’s decision to liquidate the union.

    Again, the bishop could have called for a clarifiction of unit election if he truly believed the union did not represent a majority of the teachers. He did not.

  • Rick Garnett

    For what it’s worth, and in response to Michael and radicalcatholicmom, I also said, in my post (to which Blackadder linked) that “[o]bviously, [a bishop] should do all he can — and all Catholics in the diocese should support him, financially, in this effort — to pay hard-working Catholic teachers a good, just wage.” My concern — and, I must confess, I’m surprised to learn that, on this site, my concern does not appear to be unanimously shared — was a general one (one that need not be tied to the particulars of the Scranton situation), namely, that the hiring and firing of teachers in Catholic schools is a matter that is intimately connected to the freedom, and the mission, of the Church, and is therefore one that a responsible, faithful bishop could reasonably want to retain control over. With all due respect to Blackadder, the nature of the bishop’s concern is not, it seems to me, the same as the nature of a business’s desire to avoid employment regulation.

  • JC

    Which “union” are they planning to join?
    The pro-abortion National Education Association, or the pro-life, “non-union”, teacher-oriented Association of American Educators?

  • Kurt

    Properly understood, that concern and respecting the natural law right of workers to self-organize are not essentially in conflict.

    Recognition of a union by itself gives workers no rights. It does not mean they cannot be fired or get paid more or obtain any other benefit.

    What is does is given them fraternity and organization among members of their craft and trade and an autonomous forum to put forward what they believe would be best for the members of their craft and trade. Nothing becomes contractual unless both labor and management have agreed.

    The bishop’s interests in maintaining episcopal control over the hiring and firing of teachers is legitimate. Other than the particular situation of the building trades, unions usually do not have much of a role, nor ask for one, in hiring. At most, the SDACT might ask that teachers on a lay off list be called back before new hires. It would seem that a teacher hired and then laid off (rather than dismissed for cause) has already had episcopal approval and therefore I do not see how this is in conflict with Rick’s description of episcopal interests.

    As for firing, again I would assume the bishop would protect the freedom and the mission of the Church in any contract agreement. I would also expect that the union would seek to protect its members’ legitimate interest.

    If you want two examples I would expect, I would offer the following:

    In the very sad situation where, let’s say, a religion teacher had a loss of faith mid-semester, certainly that person could no longer be retained. However, I would expect the union would seek some contractual protection at this very troubling crisis time in the person’s life some continuity of health insurance and maybe even some income maintenance, trading off the later for the former, if need be.

    I would also expect the union would propose some stated criteria for dismissal. The union should seek a contract that protects a teacher who clarified at the time of hiring that his support for (let’s say) Obama was not disqualifying, should not have his job snapped away from him four months later because their is a change in policy.

  • Kurt

    JC —

    They are not seeking to join a union. They are seeking to maintain the independent union they already belong to.

  • Zak

    It seems to me that there’s a difference between unions in the private sector (where they balance the interests of capital with those of labor) and in the public sector, where there is already (supposed to be) a joint pursuit of the common good. And certainly the church, even if it has finances to manage, is very different from a profit-seeking corporation. Are these not distinctions that have some relevance?

  • Kurt

    These distinctions are of relevance. While not denying any of the parties their natural law right to exist, they are called to model themselves differently than their private sector counter-part.

    The Church is different from a profit seeking corporation and a union of Catholic schoolteachers is different than a union of bricklayers. Government worker unions are vastly different than private sector unions. Most unions and most church employers understand this (Catholic hospitials being a frequent exception).

    The Church of Scranton would be well served by having a bishop who did not behave like Jack Welch in regard to his employee relations but as a pastor of souls, a teacher of truth and a good steward of that committed to him.