Sisters of St. Joseph and Hospital Workers

So many of us have a hard time living up to our own values. Here is a story of one example.
The Sisters of St. Joseph have a proud history of fighting for human rights and human dignity and improvement of conditions for working people. But like so many progressives — and people in general — the Sisters of St. Joseph appear to be having trouble living up to these values when they apply to themselves.
A few days ago Julia Rosen wrote a Calitics post titled, Sisters of St. Josephs it’s time to make peace with your workers. I urge readers here to go read that post. Julia writes,

It is a dirty little secret, but often times the more virulently anti-union employers are religious orders that run health systems. Such is the situation with the Sisters of St. Joseph who run the St. Joseph Health System. They have been resisting the efforts of their service employees to join SEIU-UHW for the past three years.

And at Huffington Post Delores Huertes has a post titled, Together We Marched in Solidarity. I also urge readers to click through and read it. She begins,

This week I’m joining St. Joseph Health System workers, Attorney General Jerry Brown, Father Eugene Boyle, actor Ed Begley Jr, and community and religious leaders to call upon the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange to make peace with their workers.

next she makes the important point,

For decades, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange have fought for justice for California’s workers. In the summer of 1973, they marched in solidarity with Cesar Chavez and farm workers during the brutal Grape Strike. I witnessed the Sisters putting their personal safety at risk. They walked picket lines and even went to jail with more than 3500 striking farm workers. I was inspired by the Sisters’ commitment to stand with the farm workers, even in the face of violent provocation.

Yes, it appears that the Sisters of St. Joseph are ready to stand by workers, walk pickets lines, and fight for the rights of workers. But this time they are holding back when it involves their own workers. Huertes continues,

Over the last three years, workers in the St. Joseph Health System (SJHS) who care for the sick and vulnerable in our community, have been working to form a union with S.E.I.U. — United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) so they can have a real say in the decisions that affect their patients, their families and themselves.
But the Sisters, who founded and hold majority control of the Board of SJHS, a $3.5 billion system of hospitals and clinics, sadly are using heavy-handed tactics similar to those used by other major corporations to deny workers a free choice about whether to form a union. SJHS workers have told me directly, that the SJHS management is fighting their efforts and violating federal labor law by threatening union supporters with arrest and job loss – and denying them free speech. Public records show that SJHS has hired some of the most notorious union-busting firms to fight their employees. Meanwhile, government officials have cited SJHS for violating its employees’ basic labor rights, including illegally firing, spying on, and intimidating workers who want to form a union. These heavy-handed tactics leave workers feeling threatened, intimidated and disregarded.

While looking into this I came across a December, 2007 article at the Catholic News Agency, Catholic health workers’ effort to unionize could crowd out Catholics. Please read to article to learn about the subtexts of this unionization battle. From the story,

A political activist in Sacramento [. . .] said the UHW takeover would be a “done deal” if the employees’ demand for a fair election agreement were met.

If you read the story it is clear that the activist mentioned is very much against unionization and supports the Sisters’ efforts to keep the workers from having a unionization vote. But if allowing a vote for a union means that a union is “a done deal” then it means the workers want a union.
Any way you look at it, it is a shame that the Sisters are trying to keep their workers from voting on whether to have a union. The Sisters need to understand that they are role models for their community. They were positive role models standing up for their values when they supported the farmworkers. They can again be positive role models by showing that even when it affects their own interests they are willing to stand by their values and support worker rights and human rights.
It is time that the Sisters of Saint Joseph allow their workers to vote on whether they want a union.