You probably know that 125 years ago Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (1891), in which he praised “workingmen’s unions” and fervently wished that they become “more numerous and more efficient.” Did you know that hundreds of Catholic institutions are putting that call into practice right now?
Catholic institutions employ roughly one million Americans, so the church is in a good position to evangelize the world through our labor relations practices. Just in time for Labor Day, the Catholic Labor Network has compiled a list of roughly 500 hospitals, nursing homes, parochial schools, colleges, social service providers and other institutions with union workers.
The Gaudium et Spes Catholic Employer Report (2016) is sorted by state and diocese. Among the interesting findings:
- More than 50,000 people working at Catholic institutions belong to a labor union.
- Catholic hospitals account for a majority of Catholic employees enrolled in unions. The West coast has the largest concentration of unionized Catholic hospitals, although they are found throughout the nation—from Hawaii to Washington, D.C.
- In NLRB vs. Catholic Bishops of Chicago (1979), the Supreme Court ruled that the National Labor Relations Act did not cover Catholic elementary and secondary schools, but that doesn’t mean they cannot have unions! In fact, many Catholic school districts have unions and collective bargaining agreements: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are two of the largest.
- With more than 150 Catholic schools employing union teachers, and the huge Archcare continuing care system employing union health care workers, the Archdiocese of New York represents the largest single concentration of Catholic institutions on the list.
- In many Catholic colleges, union janitors clean the classrooms and union cafeteria workers serve the food, even when those services are provided by vendors—often because the university has intervened with the service provider to help secure fair treatment for the workers.
When Catholic institutions form collaborative, mutually rewarding collective bargaining relationships with their workers, Catholic business leaders (and workers) take note. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. When Catholic institutions put obstacles in the way of workers trying to form a union, rationalizing why the right to organize defended in “Rerum Novarum,” “Gaudium et Spes” and “Caritas in Veritate” doesn’t apply to their situation, Catholics from Wall Street to Main Street see and learn from that behavior as well.
On this Labor Day, may every employer of labor, whether non-profit charity or for-profit corporation, look for ways to model the love of Christ and our church’s social teaching.