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 (Updated: August 2, 2009)

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WASHINGTON—The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), along with leaders from Catholic health care and the labor movement, released “guidance and options”  for creating a fair process for health care workers to decide whether or not to form a union. Outlined in a new document entitled Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for Catholic Health Care and Unions, the principles reflect a unique and ground-breaking consensus between Catholic health care employers and unions and are the result of a dialogue that began more than a decade ago. The document can be found on the USCCB Web site at:

The three-way dialogue was initiated by the USCCB in an effort to find common ground on alternative approaches for carrying out Catholic social teachings on the rights of workers to freely choose whether or not to be represented by unions.
“Though they had different perspectives and points of view in many areas, the participants shared the conviction that it is up to workers—not bishops, hospital managers, or union leaders—to decide how they will be represented in the workplace,” said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who chaired the dialogue. “This remarkable dialogue produced an unprecedented agreement because of the principles of Catholic social teaching and the quality of the leaders involved.”

The new Guidance and Options document offers seven key principles for appropriate conduct by both employer and union representatives that will help ensure that employees are able to make an informed decision without undue influence or pressure from either side. The document suggests that unions and employers agree, in writing, on the specific ways they will:

  • demonstrate respect for each other’s organization and mission,
  • provide workers with equal access to information from both sides,
  • adhere to standards for truthfulness and balance in their communications,
  • create a pressure-free environment,
  • allow workers to vote through a fair and expeditious process,
  • honor employees’ decision regardless of the outcome, and
  • create a system for enforcing these principles during the course of an organizing drive.

“This approach depends on civil dialogue between unions and employers focusing on how the workers’ right to decide will be respected,” said Bishop William Murphy, Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and a dialogue participant. “By placing workers at the center of the process, the group affirmed the core of Catholic Social Doctrine.”

Guidance and Options does not bind individual bishops, hospitals or unions.  Rather it offers principles and practical alternatives for leaders of Catholic health care and unions who want to avoid the tension and conflict that often accompanies organizing drives. More than 600,000 employees work in nearly 600 Catholic hospitals nationwide.

It took more than two years to reach agreement on the new principles, which build on the recommendations of an initial working paper issued in 1999 by the USCCB Subcommittee on Catholic Health Care and Work. In December 2006, the USCCB reconvened leaders of Catholic health care and unions to develop additional, practical guidance for achieving the recommendations in the original “A Fair and Just Workplace” paper.

“Because Catholic Health Care is a ministry not an industry, how it treats its workers and how organized labor treats Catholic Health Care are not simply internal matters, but  should reflect Catholic teaching on work and workers, heath care and the common good,” said Cardinal McCarrick..

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