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One of the Fiercest Labor Battles in Catholic Healthcare is Coming to a Crashing Conclusion.
Mr. William Bole
Our Sunday Visitor
February 1, 2000
Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) in California, and indications are that the huge hospital chain will prevail in its drive to ward off widespread unionization. The conflict has caused considerable heartburn in a Church that wants to both survive in a cutthroat healthcare environment and respect the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively.
A push by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles to mediate between
CHW and the Service Employees International Union recently ended in failure.
And, a set of principles released in August by the U.S. Catholic Conference,
The union-hospital fight is winding down as
acrimoniously as it began over two years ago. On Jan. 27, the Service Employees
lost key elections at
"Obviously, we're pleased," said Jill Dryer, spokeswoman for Mercy Healthcare Sacramento, regional branch of CHW. She said the hospital system respected the right to organize, but made clear its preference that the workers maintain a "direct relationship" with management, with no union.
The union did win, decisively on that same
day, an election at three CHW hospitals in the San Francisco area. But
that election involved only a few hundred employees. In San Francisco,
where organized labor is strong, the hospital system agreed to refrain
from resisting unionization. The Sacramento
Msgr. George G. Higgins, who is considered
the Church's leading authority on labor questions, said the Sacramento
elections delivered a "clear defeat" to the Service Employees, the nation's
largest union of hospital workers. The 84-year-old priest, who lives on
the campus of Catholic
The Fair Election Oversight Commission, made up of 15 religious, political,
and community leaders, also charges that hospital supervisors gave workers
the impression that they would lose benefits and time off if they voted
The Mercy sisters operate four of the Sacramento hospitals that fought off the union; the fifth is Methodist Hospital, one of many CHW acquisitions in recent years. The union won a small election at an assisted care facility in Sacramento.
While confirming the one-on-one meetings, Dryer said she was "not aware" of any threats made by supervisors. "We believe we have acted appropriately, all through this campaign," she said.
In the past month, 3,500 workers have voted
in union elections at CHW, and another 1,500 are expected to do so by mid-March.
The elections won by the union will net about 1,000 members, including
500 nurses at two facilities in Ventura County who voted to affiliate with
The union is challenging the results of the
largest election in
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