The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, jointly with leaders of American labor, and the leadership of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, released a set of guiding principles for creating a fair process for workers in Catholic health care institutions to decide whether or not to form a union.
Fordham Law School’s Feerick Center for Social Justice and Dispute Resolution facilitated the dialogue process among these groups over a period of two years and substantially participated in the drafting of the resulting document.
Released at a press conference on June 22, and titled “Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for Catholic Health Care and Unions,” the document reflects a unique and groundbreaking consensus between leaders of Catholic health care and the labor movement.
The new “Guidance and Options” document offers recommendations on how employer and union representatives can ensure that employees are able to make an informed decision without undue influence or pressure from either side. Specifically, the document recommends that unions and employers agree, in writing at a local level, to:
• demonstrate respect for each other’s organization and mission
• provide workers with equal access to information from both sides
• adhere to standards for truthfulness and balance in their communications
• create a pressure-free environment
• allow workers to vote through a fair and expeditious process
• honor employees’ decision regardless of the outcome
• create a system for enforcing these principles during the course of an organizing drive
“This is a historic workers rights document—one that we hope will advance the important dialogue among these groups,” said John D. Feerick, director of the center. “Assistant Dean Robert J. Reilly, Professor Elizabeth B. Cooper, our student interns and I dedicated much of our time and energy to this document, and we are very pleased with the result.”
Leaders of the bishops’ conference, Catholic health care, and the labor movement hailed the newly reached consensus as one that could create new opportunities for workers and employers to work together to achieve their shared goal of securing affordable, quality health care for all.
“[The recommendations] make a wonderful contribution to Catholic health care leaders, who will continue to establish and refine their labor policies in the tradition and values of Catholic social teachings,” said Sr. Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association. “Catholic health care has a long history of recognizing that quality patient care is the fruit of a quality employment environment.”
“The foundation for reaching this agreement was mutual respect for the histories of both Catholic health care and the labor movement,” added John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO. “Because of their willingness to engage in dialogue, the bishops and the leaders of Catholic health care displayed real courage and leadership and have set an example for all to follow.”
The “Guidance and Options” document is intended to serve as a practical guide for leaders of Catholic health care and unions who want to avoid the tension and conflict that can accompany organizing drives. The Catholic health care system makes up one of the nation’s largest non-profit employers, comprising more than 600,000 workers in nearly 600 Catholic hospitals across the country.
The Feerick Center became involved in the dialogue in December 2006, when it was asked to act as a facilitator to help “explore alternatives and develop processes for behavior” and to develop “mutually agree[d]upon options for engagement that allow workers in Catholic health care institutions to make free and informed choices about representation.”
The Feerick Center is directed by Prof. John D. Feerick, a former dean of Fordham Law School (1982-2002), who is one of the nation’s leading figures in the field of alternative dispute resolution. He has arbitrated and mediated some of the most notable legal matters in recent decades. Fordham Law School’s dispute resolution program was recently ranked no. 10 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
The Feerick Center was created in 2006 to sponsor educational and professional activities that advance social justice issues, with particular focus on poverty-related concerns. Center activities include classes and clinical seminars for students, workshops, lectures, policy and legal research projects, and fact-finding.