Number of Catholic institutions with union representation is growing

WASHINGTON, DC — The number of Catholic institutions where at least some of their employees are unionized has grown to more than 600, according to the annual Gaudium et Spes Labor Report released Aug. 24 by the Catholic Labor Network.

The number could be even larger as most unionized Catholic factories have self-registered with the Catholic Labor Network, according to executive director Clayton Sinyai.

According to the report, most of these jobs are concentrated in healthcare and education.

“There are more than 600 Catholic institutions in the United States that model Catholic social teaching through cooperative, mutually beneficial collective bargaining relationships with their direct and indirect (contract) associates,” Sinyai said in the report’s foreword.

The report takes its name from Gaudium et spes, Vatican II’s pastoral constitution on the Church and the modern world. “Gaudium et spes” was approved in 1965 and is Latin for “joy and hope”.

A passage in “Gaudium et Spes” proclaims: “Among the fundamental rights of the human person is the right to freely organize trade unions for working people. They should really represent them and be able to contribute in the right way to shaping economic life. Included is the right to freely participate in the activities of these unions without risk of reprisal.”

“More than half of unionized workers are employed in Catholic hospitals and nursing homes. The Catholic Health Association reports that there are more than 600 Catholic hospitals and nearly 1,600 nursing homes,” the report said.

“The hospitals alone employ more than 500,000 full-time staff and a further 200,000 part-time staff. Tens of thousands of nurses, certified nursing assistants, technical staff and other employees.”

It added, “There are nearly 300 Catholic hospitals and health care facilities in the United States whose employees enjoy the benefits of union representation.”

While consolidation within the hospital industry has in some cases resulted in Catholic hospital groups buying non-Catholic hospitals, it doesn’t necessarily make them Catholic hospitals, Sinyai told CNS.

Sinyai said in a phone interview with the Catholic News Service on Aug. 30 that the hospital must be listed as a Catholic hospital in the Catholic Health Association’s directory to be included in the report. A hospital is considered “Catholic” when it commits to following the 72 points of the US Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Guidelines for Catholic Health Services.

In education, there are more unionized teachers at the primary and secondary levels than in higher education. However, Sinyai pointed to a greater interest in organizing by associate professors at Catholic colleges and universities. One of the most recent of these organizing campaigns resulted in faculty representation at Santa Clara University in California.

The report found that four Catholic colleges are fighting their associate professors’ efforts to organize: St. Xavier University in Chicago, Manhattan College in New York City, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and Seattle University in Seattle.

On the other hand, at the college level, “staff faculty members are considered management staff; although they can and sometimes do form unions, the (National) Labor (Relations) Board will not protect them from retaliation if they do so,” the report said.

Educators in Catholic elementary and high schools face similar challenges. “Because they are operated directly by the Church and charged with teaching religious doctrine to Catholic youth, the courts have exempted these schools from the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Act, citing the First Amendment’s absolute protection of religious liberty.” , says the report.

“This exemption does NOT mean that teachers lack the right to form unions and bargain collectively, but that the National Labor Relations Board does not protect them from those who may violate their rights,” she added.

“The absence of the NLRB does not relieve the pastor, school board, or principal of the bishop’s injunction that “all moral principles governing the just operation of economic enterprise apply to the church and its agencies and institutions; indeed the church should be exemplary,’” says the report, which cites the US bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter entitled “Economic Justice for All”.

The report estimates that 300 K-12 Catholic schools in the United States are unionized and “have developed mutually rewarding collective bargaining relationships with individual Catholic schools or entire diocesan school systems.”

Among the remaining unionized workers found in the report, a large proportion belong to Catholic charities or affiliated Catholic social services and Catholic cemetery workers, while catering workers or security guards from other institutions are unionized.

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For the full report see

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