Wednesday, March 25, 2009

CHRISTUS Health Supports a Fair and Just Workplace

Several months ago, a special joint meeting of the Mission and Ethics and Human Resource committees of CHRISTUS Health was held regarding the approach to labor unions in our ministries. A representative from Catholic Healthcare Partners presented their journey over several years, as well as a detailed summary of a more collaborative approach they have agreed to in recent months.

While the two committees continue to reflect on these discussions and articulate the best “next steps,” it is important that the board and the Members become more familiar with this issue which most likely will increase in health care in the future.

On Feb. 19, Sister Carol Keehan, the CEO of the Catholic Health Association (CHA) made a presentation to a group of COOs from large Catholic health systems. This presentation regarding a significant labor dialogue which is now in progress, and includes the formation of a task force whose goal is to create a document, that is now in draft, that contains the principles that express Catholic social teaching about labor in a manner consistent with church teaching but not manipulated against unions or management and that would invite reflection and discussion. We see it as the “rules of engagement” when and if labor and management come together. In addition to Sister Carol, this task force’s members include a cardinal, two bishops and four high-level labor organization representatives.

We are hopeful that this document will serve as an important tool to guide future behaviors and discussions regarding this important issue, particularly as it relates to Catholic health care and Catholic social teachings.

Following on the heels of the presentation detailed above, an editorial was published in the New York Times on Sunday, Feb. 20, entitled, “Does America Still Need Labor Unions?” Stimulated by the possibility of the Obama-backed Employee Free Choice Act or “Card Check” being considered by Congress this year, the editors include both voices of support and opposition. The text of this short, but informative editorial is presented for you as follows:

Does America Still Need Labor Unions?

The Employee Free Choice Act, or “Card Check” for short, is one of the most controversial measures Congress faces this year. The bill – first introduced in the Senate in 2007 by Ted Kennedy and co-sponsored by then-Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden – would make it easier for workers to join unions and would tighten penalties for employers who try to stop them. Supporters such as Human Rights Watch and the NAACP say the bill provides important protections for the middle class. Opponents like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association say it increases labor costs and hurts the bottom line. Both sides have spent millions on lobbyists and advertising to make their case.

With only 12 percent of American workers in unions, why should the rest of us care? Professor Clete Daniel, a labor expert at Cornell University, says a revived labor movement could benefit workers both in and out of unions. “There is definitely a need for forces that promote a fairer sharing of wealth,” he says, noting that the gap between America’s rich and poor is the largest it’s been since 1928. Over the last 75 years, unions helped secure benefits like unemployment insurance, social Security and the 40-hour workweek.

Others contend that unions have outlived their usefulness. “The workplace is much better today,” says Michael Eastman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Employers know they need to offer certain benefits and good wages to keep good workers.”

Professor Daniel says Card Check likely would not increase union membership until the economy improves, since workers are currently more concerned about job security than wages and benefits. “Today, most workers are too fearful to take a risk for unions,” he adds.

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