CATHOLIC HEALTHCARE WEST: Focus Of Unionization Controversy
Catholic Healthcare West, California's second-largest hospital network, is facing a unionization effort by low-level service workers and nursing aides "who claim that CHW is violating its own religious principles by opposing their efforts to organize" (DeBare, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/25). Last Thursday, more than 50 CHW employees from across the state travelled to the company's corporate headquarters in San Francisco. Addressing two CHW vice presidents, the workers told story after story of systematic harassment, intimidation and misinformation directed at employees at hospitals in Sacramento and Los Angeles who are seeking representation by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU release, 8/24).
The Chronicle reports that unions "already represent about one-quarter of CHW's 32,000 employees." SEIU has spent the past year attempting to organize an additional 10,000 "nursing aides, housekeepers and other service workers" at 10 hospitals in Los Angeles and Sacramento, and organizers are decrying CHW's efforts to defeat the unionization drive. Luis Vallejo, a dietary worker, said, "They (managers) have taken almost everyone in my department into their offices on a one-to-one basis and told them lies like they could lose their benefits or their jobs if they join the union." Sal Roselli, president of SEIU Local 250, said, "We were surprised by the atmosphere of terror, and I don't use that phrase lightly. ... The hypocrisy (between Catholic teachings and CHW practices) is outrageous." The employees say that cost cuts have hurt their ability to do their jobs. "They also want better pay and benefits," the Chronicle reports.
Violating Church Teachings?
CHW officials concede that "they fear that a union would be a disruptive 'third party' that would make it harder for employees and managers to work together," but they deny the allegations of intimidation. Cindy Holst, spokesperson for CHW's Sacramento region, said, "We are certainly trying to get our message out, but we have made it clear that intimidation and interrogation are inappropriate." Officials also denied that efforts to resist the union amounted to a violation of church teachings. Brother Richard Hirbe said CHW's mission was "life and 'building up the Kingdom of God. No union can make claim to building God's Kingdom as its Mission.'" But the Chronicle notes a 1986 statement by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops which clearly backs workers' right to unionize. Rev. Charles McDermott, vicar episcopal for theological and canonical affairs for the Sacramento diocese, said, "The diocese would be concerned if an association within the Church were engaging in what is commonly termed 'union-busting' activities. ... I would be astonished if the Sisters of Mercy countenanced intimidation" (8/25).
SEIU At Stanford Too
In a separate story today, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that 2,200 "mostly low-paid employees at Stanford University's two hospitals yesterday filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board as a unit of" Local 715 of SEIU. The unionization drive began when the two Stanford hospitals merged with the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center to form the UCSF-Stanford Health Care System. SEIU said, "The filing signals that an overwhelming majority of the hospital's lowest-paid employees want union representation and greater protection from any possible layoffs caused by the merger." As part of the effort, the SEIU has solicited help from U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), state Assemblyman Lou Papan (D-Millbrae) and state Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) and has "sent letters to Peter Van Etten, UCSF-Stanford Health Care's chief executive officer, urging management not to interfere in the union election" (Workman, 8/25).