Labor-state diocese disregards teachers union

The Diocese of Scranton (PA) will not recognize the teachers union as a collective bargaining unit, the diocese announced Thursday.

Instead of recognizing the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers, the diocese will implement an employee relations program comprised of employee councils and wage and benefit, health care and grievance committees.

The plan drew harsh criticism from union officials, who learned of the news Thursday by reading The Catholic Light, the diocesan newspaper.

In a press release, the union claimed the viability of Catholic education in the region is in “extreme jeopardy” and by taking a position contrary to church pronouncements on the rights of working people, the Diocese is risking its “moral standard” and “credibility to continue to teach the children in its schools.”

William Genello, diocesan spokesman, would not comment on the union’s claims.

“All the information we’re providing is already in the (Catholic Light) article,” he said.

Teachers association President Michael Milz said he spoke with many teachers on Thursday, who said they would continue to push to unionize.

“This is union-busting of the absolute worst sort,” Mr. Milz said.

The union office received a two-sentence letter about the rejection in the mail on Thursday, hours after reading The Catholic Light, Mr. Milz said.

“It was kind of par for the course,” he said.

Teachers were sent letters Wednesday explaining the new system, and the union was also sent a letter on Wednesday, Mr. Genello said. He declined further comment.

When Mr. Milz met with teachers Thursday afternoon, he said one of the biggest concerns was how to explain the news to students. Educators have taught students that the Catholic Church has consistently supported unionized workers.

“What do we tell the kids tomorrow about this?” Mr. Milz asked. “Is this church part of the Roman Catholic Church, or is it breaking away?”

The Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers held a meeting Thursday night in South Wilkes-Barre to consider its options. As they plotted their next move, members of the association voiced strong reactions to the news.

“I feel saddened, betrayed, deceived and lied to,” Holy Redeemer teacher Jim Lynch said.

“I’ve had many meetings with Diocesan officials who have told me exactly the opposite would happen,” Mr. Lynch added. “They’re throwing years of social teaching out the window.”

Whether or not it’s at odds with church teaching, rejection of the union is lawful, and a possible next step for the union is to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a representational election, said Cara Fies-Keller, acting assistant to the regional director of the Philadelphia office. There may be jurisdictional issues, because the employer is a Catholic diocese, but any such issues would be addressed when a petition is filed, she said.

Union officials had been waiting for a response from the diocese for many months.

In June, workers were told to wait until a new board of directors took control of school operations.

In November, the association petitioned the newly formed boards for the Holy Cross System for Lackawanna, Wayne and Bradford counties; the Holy Redeemer System for Luzerne County; and the St. John Neumann System for Lycoming County for formal recognition. The three boards were formed in the restructuring of diocese schools.

The union did not request recognition from the Notre Dame System for Monroe County, and the system has yet to vote on the new employee program.

Last year, the diocese closed schools in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties in hopes of fixing a school system in debt and plagued by plummeting enrollment. Under the new system, the diocese took over all the finances of the remaining schools.

In the old system, employee relations were handled on a school-by-school basis. The diocese will now hire a human resources consulting firm to address compensation. The new program will cover all school employees.

“This program will continue our commitment to provide fair and just employment for teachers and everyone else who works in our Catholic schools,” Bishop Joseph F. Martino was quoted as saying in The Catholic Light article.

Teachers weren’t so sure.

“Once they start cherry-picking the doctrine, what else are they going to pay lip service to? The Virgin Birth? The Resurrection,” Mr. Lynch asked.

“Are they going to pick and choose like cafeteria Catholics? They’re the leaders, we’re the flock, and they’ve abandoned us.”

Holy Cross teacher Gerry Skwish was equally blunt, if more terse in his assessment.

“We have the same rights as a McDonald’s employee: Here today, gone tomorrow,” Mr. Skwish said.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If that union's busted, who's next? Your union?

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