Breaking News: An election is to take place at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital (SRMH) on December 17 and 18, 2009 in which the workers will choose between the newly established National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) and SEIU-United Healthcare West. A third option is no union at all. This is a complicated matter because SEIU-UHW—with our support–had originally organized the workers at SRMH but when SEIU Trusteed UHW a new union was formed—NUHW—and the workers signed cards to have NUHW represent them. Although CSWJ does not take sides in struggles between unions, we do support the workers’ choice when they sign cards. Hence, if workers sign new cards for another union we believe this choice must be respected since it is always the workers’ decision to unionize and theirs alone. Employers, or unions, or employers and unions working together never decide which union the workers shall join. In this case, the workers will choose between NUHW and SEIU-UHW and we will support whatever decision the workers make on this matter. Since CSWJ holds there is an a priori presumption for unions in Catholic Social Teaching, we dearly hope the workers choose to be represented by a union of their choosing rather through toothless and powerless individual bargaining that is the status quo at SRMH.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that although SRMH agreed to a meeting with NUHW to discuss ground rules for a fair election, SRMH did not do so. SRMH should have met with NUHW in order to be faithful to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Catholic Health Association (CHA), and AFL-CIO/SEIU joint July 22, 2009 document, Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for Catholic Health Care and Unions. (CSWJ strongly supports this document.) When SEIU reentered the contest, they refused to meet with NUHW and SRMH to negotiate these ground rules. This gave SRMH a wonderful opening to withdraw from the meeting with NUHW on the grounds essentially that they would wait till the unions sorted things out. They then reverted to their old game of providing information to workers through meetings (group and one-on-one and through publications) that are careful not to speak against the union(s) but are quite explicit in warning workers that unions will bring big changes to the way things work at the hospital. This is boilerplate anti-union propaganda. This sophistry is quite legal but also quite in violation of the letter and the spirit of Catholic Social Teaching on workers’ rights to form or join unions. Hence, we express disappointment with both SEIU and SRMH in this matter. In our view, both are placing their corporate interests before that of the workers and this simply should not stand.
The following letters from our local representative and Steering Committee Member, Fr. Ray Decker, and our Chair, Dr. Joseph Fahey to hospital officials reveal our stand–and considerable frustration—on this matter. Neither employers nor unions can hold workers hostage to their own interests. The common good must prevail if we are to be loyal to Catholic Social Teaching.