Losing faith in SEIU

On November 3, healthcare workers and supporters in Santa Rosa rallied for a “fair election agreement” with the St. Joseph Health System. The agreement would permit employees to vote on whether to unionize. However the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, founders of the St. Joseph Health System, have refused to agree, insisting that the structure created by the National Labor Relations Board is the only process they will permit for their workers -- a structure that makes joining a union more difficult.

St. Joseph Health System has been accused of violating various labor law violations, including intimidation of employees. The employees, however, have the support of Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) United Healthcare Workers (UHW), a powerful union led by Sal Rosselli.

Rosselli was the president of the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club in 1984-85 and was a Grand Marshal for the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade in 2006. Under Rosselli, UHW member benefits have come to include domestic partner compensation.

A political activist in Sacramento (who requested anonymity) says that Roselli’s union is trying to establish itself as the exclusive bargaining agent for some St. Joseph’s employees. “This is a very contentious union, and if they get what they want, there will be a full homosexualization of everything. Domestic partner benefits and the like will come from worker dues, and the full muscle of the union will be put behind the homosexual agenda.”

St. Joseph Health System represents the Catholic Church, said the activist, and by allowing the UHW in, St. Joseph’s “would be agreeing, in effect, to fire any Catholic who does not agree to support the Culture of Death with his dues. The average nurse pays around $1,000 a year in dues for this, and that money goes to supporting candidates and propositions that support abortion and homosexuality. What kind of Catholic institution would agree to this for their employees? But if the employees get their ‘fair election agreement,’ the UHW takeover is a done deal.”

In support of the UHW is Msgr. John Brenkle, of Saint Helena Catholic Church in St. Helena. Brenkle, a prominent figure in the Santa Rosa diocese, has spoken out in support of the proposed agreement, citing Catholic social teaching on justice in the workplace, including the right of employees to unionize.

In a May 11 editorial for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Msgr. Brenkle wrote, “sadly, I see a real disconnect between the St. Joseph Health System’s written code and its actions. Management has employed legal counsel for the purpose of union-avoidance tactics ... Some of us have urged the system to negotiate ground rules that are mutually agreed upon to ensure a free and fair election process. Such a code has been developed by a panel of Catholic bishops, health care managers and union officials.” Brenkle referred to a working paper, titled “A Fair and Just Workplace: Principles and Practices for Catholic Health Care.” Brenkle said the paper “could be used as a model for any unionizing effort.”

In October, Brenkle spoke with California Catholic Daily about his offer of a dinner with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as part of an auction in support of St. Helena's parish school. Brenkle, however, was not willing to talk to the California Catholic Daily reporter who asked about his support for the unionization for St. Joseph Health System.


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