Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Courage of a Priest

This is an open letter to Joseph Martino, Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, which appeared in today's Citizens' Voice. It was written by Reverend Patrick Sullivan, who, according to the information tagged at the end,"teaches sociology and theology at King’s College with an emphasis on labor issues (and) has written two books and is working on two more." The tag fails to mention that he occasionally fills in to say Mass at congregations where forced retirements are creating an artificial priest shortage, such as at my own. It also fails to mention, for some reason, that one of his sermons once once inspired me to write a blog post ("Shepherds and Sheep", February 3, 2007.) His letter concerns an ongoing dispute between the Bishop and the Catholic teachers of the diocese.

(Note: I do not know if a few apparent typos were in the original, or were perhaps introduced when the letter was reset for publication - perhaps by a dim-witted spellchecking program. I have refrained from correcting them.)

Bishop should allow teachers to belong to a real union

Editor: The following is a letter I (Reverend Sullivan) wrote to Bishop Joseph Martino, head of the Diocese of Scranton.

Dear Bishop Martino:

I write you publicly with great reluctance, as a priest of more than fifty years and as a teacher, researcher and activist of the Catholic Church’s ministry in labor-management relations for more than thirty years. However, after four efforts – offering assistance to your education staff, a personal letter to you, a letter to the Papal Nuncio, and a telephone request to chat with you, there has been only silence or refusal. I would have preferred to chat with you privately, person-to-person.

Your public statement reveals the handiwork of the management consultant firm hired to establish an “Employee Relations Program,” which is widely recognized simply as a “company union.” The phenomenon appeared in the early 20th century with the so-called “American Plan,” well articulated by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. Patricia Cayo Sexton’s The War on Labor and the Left said, “Under the labor relations plan advanced by Rockefeller, barriers between employers and employees would dissolve, and the two opposing teams would become one – the company’s. Representing this solidarity would be the company unions.” [p. 209]

I need not rehearse the teaching of Leo XIII, the U.S. Bishops’ 1919 Pastoral, Pius XI and John A. Ryan in support of real unions. However, do recall that the 1971 World Synod of Bishops said those who preach social justice must first be just in their own
eyes, a corollary of which is support of real unions in Catholic institutions. The U.S. Bishops issued a pastoral on health care in the 1970s, which affirmed the right of all hospital workers to form their own union, despite financial challenges to those institutions. When Southeast Bishops (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia) endorsed the J. P. Stevens Boycott in 1980, they did not support a “company union” but a real union, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. In 1981 when Pope John Paul II wrote Laborem Exercens (Human Labor) and said labor unions are indispensable in an industrialized world, he did not mean “company unions.” When the U.S. Catholic Bishops issued their 1986 Pastoral, “Economic Justice for All,” they supported real unions, not “company unions.”

“Company unions” abound in recent experiments in labor-management relations programs with such attractive titles as “Quality Work Circles,” “Human Resource Departments,” etc. Some have been successful when employees have a “bona-fide” grievance procedure, i.e. recourse to independent “outsiders” or to arbitration. Too often, such “company unions” gladly accept employees’ creative ideas but reluctantly their grievances. In your Employee Relations Program not only is the moral right of workers to form their own union taken away, but their moral right as adults to negotiate their wages, benefits, working hours, working conditions, job tenure (hiring and firing) and grievance procedure. Without those rights, the employees’ jobs and livelihood are at stake and they are afraid to speak out, to protest, to strike. Such company unions are referred to as modern day feudalism or worse. This intrinsic human right of workers to organize themselves was derived in no small measure as an antidote to the fear and intimidation which workers suffer in the policies and treatment of unfair, unjust, dictatorial and other oppressive employers.

You insist that the financial status of the Scranton Diocese is so fragile that a real union might bring about the collapse of the entire diocesan educational system. Yes, there is fragility, but why must the teachers have to suffer financially and be denied not only their moral right to unionize, but also their moral right to an adequate living wage – a bedrock of Catholic social teaching? Granted parents have a right to the Catholic education of their children. However, if parents cannot pay more tuition and the wider Catholic population of the diocese is unwilling or unable to contribute more money to the costs of its school system, the teachers still have a right to ample and detailed information, to forego their moral rights to form a union and to receive an adequate living wage. Your action pits the one right of parents against the two rights of the Scranton Diocesan Association of Catholic Teachers (SDACT) members. Furthermore, many teachers are already holding two jobs or living in four or five income families. Thus, a third right is challenged – the practice of Catholic family values.

Consequently, in canon law and justice there is an even greater burden of proof than alleged in the original and subsequent public statements. Records should be available not only to these dedicated teachers seeking a union, but also to the entire community. Otherwise, credibility is at stake. In your original statement you referred to the teachers’ association as selfish (recently revised to “self interested”) and unconcerned about the financial viability of the diocesan educational “ministry” -- the usual “pitch” of management consultants! The proof of such an outlandish charge beggars, unless the records of negotiation sessions and financial details are presented to the public. Otherwise, an unjust accusation is made about the teachers. Thus, what steps has the diocese taken to establish or enhance an endowment for Catholic education, as some dioceses have done? What steps has the diocese taken to enlist the support of interested and competent lay people to contribute and/or elicit donations and to guide diocesan financial and personnel policies, without the bias of a profit-making management consultant firm?

Such statements also reveal the management consultants’ slight-of-hand about unions today as passé, especially in non-profit organizations and/or service industries, such as education and health care. In the early 1970s the U.S. government did not think so when it placed health care under the Wagner Act.

Also, public and non-religious educational institutions are covered by many state laws. The United States Supreme Court decision to exempt religious schools from coverage by the National Labor Relations Board was based not on separation of church and state, but the failure of the Wagner Act to cover religious elementary and secondary education. The court punted! However, immediately after that decision there were weak efforts to seek an amendment to the Wagner Act and to establish diocesan personnel programs which included real unions, not “company unions.” However, such never ensued, because Catholic educational administrators in most dioceses failed to heed the urgings of the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) and the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA).

Now is the time for the Scranton Diocese to be creative. Whatever the arguments and differences, the feelings and memories of the past, let there begin again negotiations with mutual respect and cordiality. Add to the admonition that unions in Catholic institutions should be of a higher caliber than in industry or commerce, that so should the employers! If it means conciliation, meditation or arbitration, let the Scranton Diocese take the steps necessary to recognize and negotiate with the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers.

An effective response would be to implement the creative “gain sharing” model of the respected former President of Scranton University and Catholic University, the distinguished economist and ethicist of “work and management,” Fr. William Byron, S.J., in Labor-Management Relations: A Catholic Perspective, edited several years ago by the present Cardinal of Detroit, Adam Maida.

Otherwise, the Diocese of Scranton will fail to heed the 1976 warning of the U.S. Catholic Church’s labor-management expert, the late Msgr. George G. Higgins.

Namely, in stalling for time in dealing with collective bargaining Catholic school administrators “will be asking for serious trouble and will do irreparable harm to the reputations of the Catholic school system and of the Church as a whole in the United States.”

One year later in 1977, the United States Catholic Conference, Subcommittee on Teacher Organizations’ conclusion, with the Administrative Board’s approval, was that the concept of the “community of faith” – to teach as Jesus teaches — should persuade school administrators to accept and welcome employee initiatives, to establish their own teacher organizations.

The church has already suffered from too many losses and scandals. May we not add more pain and shame!

(Rev.) Patrick J. Sullivan, C.S.C., Ph.D.

(Rev. Sullivan teaches sociology and theology at King’s College with an emphasis on labor issues. He has written two books and is working on two more.)

My own perception of Bishop Martino is that he is a shutdown manager, in the model of "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap. Dunlap was brought in as a crisis manager to companies in distress, whereupon he would make deep cuts, fire large numbers of people, and often leave the companies in worse shape than they were when he came to them. Martino has come to a diocese undergoing a transitional period, as a large proportion of many congregations...well, is old and dying, to put it bluntly, and the younger parishioners are moving out of the area almost as fast as they are leaving the Catholic Church, for reasons related more to a general crisis in the Church than to anything specifically happening locally (though the national scandal of pedophile priests has also struck home here), and at the same time a large number of immigrants - many of them legal, and from New York City - are placing an added burden on diocesan services.

Martino has responded to these crises by cutting back on services to the sick and elderly, closing parishes - again cutting back on services to those too old or infirm to travel to any parish church other than the one they had been attending - and consolidating Catholic schools throughout the Diocese into a centralized location, requiring miles of bus rides for students from outlying areas. (When it was pointed out that the student capacity of the consolidated school was considerably less than the combined attendance at the schools being consolidated, Martino - or his representative, I don't recall - simply noted that they were counting on a lot of students not staying in the Catholic school system after consolidation.)

On a personal note, I attended my cousin's son's Confirmation last year. It was a combined-parish Confirmation, and it was held at the church with the largest seating capacity in the area. But when these churches were built, having a parking lot with spaces to hold all the cars that would be used by all the people in the church was not a consideration - so people wound up having to park up to several blocks away. Elderly and infirm grandparents had to hobble through the rain just to get to the church - only to find that the church was filled beyond capacity, and was now standing room only. (Church pews do not make it easy for anyone not at the ends to give up their seat to someone whose need is greater.) To add insult to insult, the bishop - Martino himself, deigning to grace the boondocks with His Most Excellent Presence rather than sending an assistant bishop - decided to be fashionably late, strolling into the church a good ten or fifteen minutes after the designated start time for the Mass. He then commented on how wonderful it was to see the church so full of people, apparently not bothering to notice all the old folks forced to stand in the back whom he had just made stand even longer.

One criticizes a member of the Church hierarchy only at grave peril to your own standing as a Catholic - for the Bishops have the right to excommunicate those whom they so choose. Criticism is always welcome as a way of presenting yourself for chastisement - the correction of errors on the part of the flock by the priesthood. For a priest to criticize a bishop in so open a manner is almost unheard-of, and will likely lead to grave consequences. I salute his courage.

1 comment:

whimsical brainpan said...

Wow, nobody treats their employees decently anymore.