Workers, elected officials and religious leaders are urging St. Joseph Health Systems to stop appealing the vote by Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital workers last December to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). An administrative law judge dismissed all of the hospital’s objections to the election on May 28, but St. Joseph’s can appeal that decision by June 11 to the NLRB in Washington, DC. Congressmember Lynn Woolsey wrote a June 3 letter to St. Joseph’s urging “no further delay in honoring workers choices,” and workers are urging St. Joseph’s to fulfill its “core values” of “Dignity, Excellence, Service and Justice” by ending further appeals. St. Joseph’s will either join the long list of employers that use delaying tactics to deny workers rights, or set a national example for promoting workplace fairness.

In a year when corporate wrongdoing dominates the news, St. Joseph Health Systems has a chance to send a different message. After workers organized for six years to win unionization, a growing chorus is urging Sister Katherine Gray, General Superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, to ensure that St. Joseph’s accepts the workers majority support for NUHW, and puts collaboration ahead of further conflict at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

Catholic Values v. Unfair Delay

In a June 5 letter to Sister Gray, Joseph Fahey, Chair of the Catholic Scholars for Social Justice stated, “any effort to delay collective bargaining by legal maneuvering or further appeals would, in our view, be a travesty of justice and a violation of Catholic Social Teaching.” Fahey’s point was also emphasized by workers backing unionization, who noted in a June 7 letter to the community that the values that their employer had tried to instill in the workplace mandated that it end delays and promote collaboration with its workers.

Buddy Bosanco has worked as a tele tech at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for ten years and is among the workers who signed that letter. Bosanco told me, “after six years of struggle, we think management should accept the fact that a majority of its workers voted for the union. It is not fair to create further delays.”

If St. Joseph’s had strong and valid objections to the election, it could rightfully argue that its values required it to continue its appeals to obtain a just result. But the 29-page administrative law judge ruling found none of the objections even remotely colorable; to the contrary, some appear to have been raised as if it were a law school assignment where students had to find every conceivable claim within a fact situation, no matter how unmeritorious.

For example, one objection was to the ballot design, with St. Joseph’s claiming that the NLRB-created “font and fonts styles” confused votes and disadvantaged the employer. But the law judge noted that standard NLRB headers and fonts were used, and that St. Joseph’s had reviewed the ballot prior to the election and expressed no objection.

Another challenged the insignias worn by NUHW supporters on election day. This too was rejected.

Even more outlandish was the objection that Father Raymond Decker and JoAnn Consiglieri were “agents” of NUHW who engaged in illegal surveillance of workers. Decker is a retired Catholic priest and a local member of Catholic Scholars for Social Justice. Consiglieri is a former Sister of St. Joseph’s of Orange, the entity that runs the hospital.

The ALJ understandably concluded, “No evidence shows that they have ever been employed by the NUHW or the SEIU-UHW…Nor is there any conduct by the NUHW that could have given employees reason to believe that these individuals acted on the union’s behalf so as to support a finding of apparent authority.”

These are the type of baseless charges that employers often use to frustrate workers who have chosen to unionize in fair elections. But such delay tactics are not consistent with Catholic teachings on labor, and appear inconsistent with St. Joseph’s stated mission.

As Monsignor John Brenkle puts it, “St. Joseph Health System's aggressive anti-union campaign violates both the spirit and the letter of Catholic Social Teaching .If they appeal the NLRB judge's ruling they will also be violating the U.S. Catholic Conference of
Bishops principle of not " Using the law as a weapon or a means of delay, rather than as a protector of rights."

Monsignor Brenkle, pastor of St. Helena Catholic Church, part of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, joined other local religious leaders in sending a June 8 letter to St. Joseph's reminding management that "on several occasions you pledged that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) protocol was the standard for union elections by which you would abide." The letter concludes by urging St. Joseph's to "stop the delays and appeals and sit down to bargain in good faith with NUHW, of which your workers are now a part."

St. Joseph’s as National Model

St. Joseph Health Systems has a rare opportunity to create one of the great “man bites dog” stories of 2010.

All year corporations have made news by ripping off taxpayers, cheating consumers, raising health care premiums and wrecking the environment. Imagine if reporters could actually cover a story of a corporation doing the right thing by its workers, and living up to, rather than violating, its own values.

St. Joseph’s can achieve this stature by ending its appeals and recognizing the workers majority vote for a union at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. It will be one of the great feel good stories of 2010, and is sorely needed in these difficult times.