"A Fair and Just Workplace: Principles and Practices for Catholic Health Care" is an important document that speaks in strong terms of the service provided by workers in Catholic health care. It's release today offers the opportunity to enhance respect for those workers and renew the Church's tradition of support for their freedom to choose an independent voice at work.
Much of what's written is not new, but too seldom heard: the contribution to the general welfare that the Church makes through Catholic health care, the spiritual dimensions of work as an expression of our love of God and participation in the ongoing act of creation, and the possibility of a new workplace paradigm one based on collaboration in service to the common good in place of the us-against-them approach of traditional labor-management relations.
The working family values that the document affirms fair and just wages, healthful working conditions, family-supportive benefits, and respect for workers' freedom to choose a voice at work by organizing unions are set within the contemporary setting of vast changes in health care delivery and financing. The richness of these values is only enhanced by the frank recognition of the difficulties of balancing seemingly conflicting values in today's health care environment.
Health care work is hard, frustrating, fulfilling, and enormously important work. The nurses, aides, techs and support staff on the frontlines of health care a workforce of nearly ten million people all told are all too often "invisible" providers of care. And many still toil at substandard wages and without health benefits while health care executives are paid handsomely.
Their increasing attempts to unite and form for themselves a voice at work are regularly met with aggressive, well-financed, and extremely intimidating anti-union campaigns. It is a sad fact that, all too often, little difference exists between Catholic health facilities and their secular counterparts in this regard.
The Catholic Social Teaching tradition of support for "the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively" (The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services) does not equate to a mandate for unions in Catholic health care, or anywhere else. But in reaffirming the tradition, the document being released today challenges people from all quarters in the Church to come to grips with how to respect and protect that right in Catholic health care even when it is disregarded in society as a whole.
The working men and women of the AFL-CIO look forward to continuing the dialogue that led to this document in recognition of the contributions of Catholic health care and the dignity of its workforce.