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.
SEIU-UHW is organizing a series of events this week in support of their organizing efforts. Today Delores Huerta of the United Farm Workers wrote a HuffPost piece on the struggle.
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.
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.
But now, these same sisters are refusing to show their own workers the same justice they once fought for.
When I write that the nuns are resisting the organizing, I mean it. They have been using heavy-handed and it appears illegal tactics to stop their employees from forming a union. Workers have been threatened that they will lose their jobs is they continue to push for a union. Delores Huerta writes:
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.
How can the Sisters support farm workers' efforts to form a union, but fight their own employees for seeking this same basic right? Is there such a big difference between the people who feed us and the people who heal us? Clearly, there is not.
It is great to see a community coming together to support the workers, including Huerta nad Jerry Brown. More importantly at least IMHO, 20 former members of the Sisters of St. Joseph's wrote a letter to the current members, urging them to find peace with their service employees. Here is a video of the delivery of that letter to the nuns. No, they did not come receive the letter personally.