Bishop defends O'Connor Woods management

O'Connor Woods is a highly respected retirement facility in our community and provides quality care to its residents.

My predecessor, Bishop Donald Montrose, lives there, as do relatives of many who live in and around Stockton.

O'Connor Woods is also an institution that hires workers who live in our community.

On Oct. 7, 2005, these workers voted to form a union, but there has been little progress toward a contract. The delay in acting on the expressed will of the workers is troubling.

The resulting labor unrest between workers and management at this Catholic-sponsored facility has spread to residents and the wider community.

Without assigning blame or responsibility for this failure to come to an agreement, I reiterate principles of Catholic teaching that should guide this process.

The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael join me in saying:

Workers always have the right to organize.

According to the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, "Among the basic rights of the human person must be counted the right of freely founding labor unions."

It's important to note this doesn't say, "If there are unjust conditions, workers have a right to organize."

There is no such presumption in the statement. Nor is there any such a presumption at O'Connor Woods.

It doesn't matter whether conditions are just or unjust. Workers always have the right to organize.

It's up to workers - not bishops, managers, union business agents or management consultants - to decide freely about how they wish to be represented in the workplace.

Workers are free to decide whether or not to be represented by a union. Catholic teaching guarantees their right to make the best decision for themselves and their families.

Representatives of management and unions need to pursue their legitimate objectives without undermining workers' rights to decide freely or management's responsibility to safeguard the facility's mission.

All must focus on the promotion of a collaborative workplace where mutual respect for the roles of workers and management thrives.

If workers vote to be represented by a union, management and union must be prepared to participate and conclude a reasonable contract within a reasonable time period.

If the workers decide they still want to form a union, a contract should be negotiated without delay.

If they decide otherwise, that decision must be respected. Catholic teaching respects their decision.

As bishop of the Diocese of Stockton, I'm grateful to the Dominican Sisters who have served this community so generously for so long.

Stephen Blaire
bishop, Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton (Stockton, CA)


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