WASHINGTON, DC. (August 26, 1999) -- "Catholic health care is a gift of the Church and a service to society" said a working paper developed by representatives of the Catholic bishops' Conference, Catholic health care, women religious, and the labor movement.
The working paper, "A Fair and Just Workplace: Principles and Practices for Catholic Health Care," is the product of almost two years of dialogue.
Though the working paper is not a formal statement of the bishops' Conference, the Domestic Policy Committee of the United States Catholic Conference is releasing the paper today. It is being shared with bishops, leaders of Catholic Health Care, and organized labor for their "reflection and discussion, information and input, and action."
As the preface makes clear, "The working paper is a statement of principles from Catholic social teaching about the dignity of work and the rights of workers, not a response to a particular situation. It is an attempt to find common ground, not an opportunity to advance the agenda of either side."
"The leaders who produced this working paper recognize:
- the gap between general principles and practices at the local level;
- the pressures on leaders of Catholic Health Care and workers in the local situation;
- the wounds, anger, and misunderstandings arising from particular local conflicts and controversies.
In the face of the tension existing between "the mission and the market" in the current health care environment, the paper insists that "Catholic health care is not just another economic activity or product, it is a demonstration of our faith and a commitment to human life and human dignity."
"Despite controversies and conflicts involving labor management issues, Catholic social teaching sets forth some basic values that are shared by Catholic health care and the organized labor movement in this country. Both share a commitment to serving the poor and providing access to services that are essential to caring for human needs. Both are called to respect the needs of workers and their right to safe working conditions, a fair wage, and a voice in the workplace decisions that affect them."
The paper expresses hope that because of these common values, "it ought to be possible to create a new paradigm for how labor and management can work together in Catholic health care when workers chose to unionize."
The "principles and practices" insist that the mission of Catholic health care must remain central to the workplace. The goal of both workers and management "should be to build an economically successful organization devoted to quality service and the advancement of the well being of individuals and society."
The paper gives priority to workers' choice. "The core of Catholic teaching in this area is that it is up to workers—not bishops, managers, union business agents, or management consultants—to exercise the right to decide through a fair and free process how they wish to be represented in the workplace. Workers may decide to be represented by a union or not to be represented. Catholic teaching respects their decision," the paper states.
The dialogue did not resolve all the differences between the participants. However, in their search for common ground they agreed on at least four points: 1) workers have the right to decide if and how they will be represented in the workplace; 2) both management and labor can be guided by Catholic social teaching in their response to the workers' choice; 3) certain types of behavior should be avoided; and, 4) there need to be new ways for labor and management to relate to each other.
"The Catholic tradition should not be expressed in sound bites or footnotes to defend union or management tactics or positions in a particular setting." The working paper goes on to say: "Our tradition is much richer than that. It offers principles for reflection, provides criteria for judgement, and suggests guidelines for action for management, unions, and workers as they seek to pursue their own legitimate objectives and to build the common good."
The working paper refers to The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services issued earlier by National Conference of Catholic Bishops that required Catholic health care institutions to treat their employees justly and respect their rights.
Finding consensus on some issues proved difficult, the paper admits. The example cited is the appropriate roles for management and union representatives in an organizing campaign. "Often in these situations, management feels under attack from those who seek to organize the workers. Management may view unions as using misleading or false promises to ‘sell' the idea of organizing. Union organizers see an inherently unbalanced situation, where management has unparalleled influence, access, and power with workers."
"When an organizing campaign is initiated, all parties should address the concerns of workers and their right to participate in the decisions that affect them without impugning the motives of others. Consistent with the requirements of labor law and according to the principles of Catholic teaching, all parties should agree on ground rules for how the union and management will meet with workers, distribute materials, make public statements, and ultimately what process will be used for workers to make their final decision. Care should be taken to be fair and accurate in all communications and to avoid attacks on the institution and its leadership, the organizing process, the union involved or the organizers."
The paper concludes with the challenge: "A just and fair workplace is important not only as an expression of Catholic principles, but because it affects people, their livelihoods, and their families. Together we need to shape workplaces that not only follow the law, but reflect our values. We believe that fair wages, decent working conditions, and a real sense of participation—however they are realized—are not burdens for Catholic health care, but signs of a community which is serious about its Catholic identity and mission."
In releasing the paper Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles and Chairman of the USCC Domestic Policy Committee, said: "I wish to thank Bishop Skylstad, who began this process nearly two years ago as Chair of the Domestic Policy Committee, Mercy Sister Mary Roch Rocklage, who initiated the process, and all those who have labored to clarify difficult issues and find common ground where possible.
"I also wish to emphasize that these reflections arise out of a sustained national dialogue, and do not attempt to address current disputes or controversies. However, I know from my own experience that this working paper could be helpful since it challenges all of us—bishops, health care leaders, labor representatives—to think more deeply about our responsibility to workers and to the common good."
NOTE: The full text of "A Fair and Just Workplace: Principles and Practices for Catholic Health Care" is available on the web at www.nccbuscc/sdwp.