The President and Board of Trustees at St. Xavier University (3700 W 103rd St, Chicago, IL 60655) have busted the teachers’ union. It was founded in November 1979 and currently has 140 full-time faculty members.
Our Catholic doctrine on labor relations has been revealed by God and elucidated through theology, science/reason and years of Christian experience. It is based in the dogma of the Trinity and especially the dogma of the Incarnation. Catholic doctrine on labor relations is not optional to our faith; not something that can be waived in certain circumstances. The doctrine was applicable to the pre-New Deal era of grinding industrial jobs and to low-wage occupations like migrant farming, janitorial or retail. It still applies to today’s health care providers, office personnel, technology engineers, civil servants and educators.
“Stop it,” the St. Xavier trustees might reply. “We are trying to keep a university afloat in difficult times.” That’s accurate and each trustee is generously serving the community. However, the end is contained in the means. A good outcome cannot be obtained through immoral tactics.
“Please,” the trustees retort. “You have never run a major institution.” That’s also accurate, but our sophisticated Catholic doctrine on labor is refined by years of experience and is practiced in many Catholic institutions in our country and around the world.
“We are doing nothing illegal,” the trustees can point out. That is perhaps technically accurate by a hair. In recent years the National Labor Relations Board has considered full professors to be like managers of the institution. Full-time faculty at any college can form a union and can conduct a job action, including a strike, but the NLRB will likely not get involved. No matter. There are many things in our society that are legally OK, or at least not legally prohibited, that are morally deficient.
Legal rights and commutative contracts are valuable components of our democratic society. They necessarily come into play as administrators and trustees manage a college, a Catholic one or any other type. While holding our country’s legal system with high regard, Catholic doctrine also draws upon an additional tradition with different premises. In this case it means that even if the NLRB tolerates a practice, administrators and boards of Catholic institutions are not free to take a shortcut and violate Catholic doctrine. Those administrators and boards are expected to use their intelligence and their creative capacity to manage their institutions in exemplary ways.
What can be done? First, the trustees must get rid of the union-busting firm that they hired and stay away from any of the over 200 firms that specialize in immoral tactics. Continuing with the current firm will cost the school more money and more credibility than the trustees now imagine.
Then hire a reputable, tenacious, hard-hitting labor relations firm. Get references from colleagues at other Catholic institutions. (Catholic Labor Network, www.catholiclabor.org, provides a long list of Catholic institutions that have a harmonious relationship with unions.) By the way, the partners in this reputable firm do not have to be Catholic. Likewise, the school’s board is better for having some non-Catholic members.
Labor relations are not for the inexperienced; not for the faint of heart. Ethical labor relations thrive in an environment of respect, knowing full well that arguments occur. As loud as those arguments may be, at an ethical institution they are always aimed at the common good, at the long-term viability of the school, the hospital or the agency.
Next, the trustees and the teachers’ union need to converse and bargain, perhaps using a skilled mediator.
The teachers and the trustees should not overly concentrate on personalities. Public life is about competing interests and about mutual interests. Let’s face it: Everyone on campus is imperfect. The institution is imperfect. But Catholicism teaches that people and their creations are basically good and that the defects from sin are overcome through our participation in redemption.
Although matters are tense at the moment, the teachers and trustees should go easy on sloganeering.
The teachers ought to forego quotations from papal encyclicals and bishops’ statements. Something is true and beautiful not because a pope proclaims it. A pope proclaims it because it is true and beautiful.
The teachers rightly need to get the public’s attention. But the message is more profound when it comes from the heart, using the language of each person’s deposit of faith. This applies to non-Catholics among the teachers. In fact, their heart-felt stories are powerful in this circumstance. A teacher might answer the question: In what way is the Catholic identity of St. Xavier’s important to me? Trustees should also be able to answer the question. This advice is not foolish or ethereal.
Democracy is hard. Our country’s experiment in democracy is for the long haul. Managing a non-profit is hard. In these days it is not an exercise for the idle. Catholicism is hard. Taking shortcuts is relatively easy. Our bishops, for example, dealt with deviant personnel in an expedient way, though not without discomfort. What happened? Catholicism lost moral credibility, big time. Taking shortcuts is a major reason why young adults find Catholicism unattractive.
Everyone on campus is a teacher. The entire institution is a teacher. A college retains a Catholic identity for only one purpose: To teach students (Catholic students, Muslim students, Orthodox Christian students, secular students) about the character that is carried through history by the best in Catholicism so that those students become excellent parents, physicians, executives, scholars, lawyers, police officers, nurses, electricians and citizens. If in their hearts the leaders at St. Xavier’s (teachers, trustees, administrators and sponsors) do not believe in the Catholic identity, eliminate the hypocrisy. Change the school’s name to Mr. Xavier University.
Droel, a resident in St. Xavier’s southwest side, is associated with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629). It distributes Catholic Administrators and Labor Unions (free) and Pope John Paul II’s Gospel of Work ($8).