US Bishops Urge Respect for Worker Rights

Document Outlines Ways to Bring Social Doctrine to Workplace

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 23, 2009 ( The U.S. bishops’ conference released a document offering ideas and guidance on creating a just workplace, especially for health care employees deciding on union membership.

Monday the conference publicized the document titled «Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for Catholic Health Care and Unions.»

A communiqué from the conference reported that this was a product of the cooperative effort of the bishops along with Catholic health care leaders and members of the labor movement.

The statement noted that the document’s principles «reflect a unique and ground-breaking consensus between Catholic health care employers and unions.»

This dialogue, begun over a decade ago, was initiated by the bishops’ conference in order to establish common ground on «alternative approaches for carrying out Catholic social teachings on the rights of workers to freely choose whether or not to be represented by unions.»

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington who chaired the dialogue, reported, «Though they had different perspectives and points of view in many areas, the participants shared the conviction that it is up to workers — not bishops, hospital managers, or union leaders — to decide how they will be represented in the workplace.»

He continued, «This remarkable dialogue produced an unprecedented agreement because of the principles of Catholic social teaching and the quality of the leaders involved.»

The document suggests guidelines for employers and union representatives to follow in order to help the workers make decisions without undue pressure from either side.


It recommends that the unions and employers sign an agreement on the specific ways in which they will: «demonstrate respect for each other’s organization and mission, provide workers with equal access to information from both sides, and adhere to standards for truthfulness and balance in their communications.»

It also proposed reaching an agreement about the means for creating a pressure-free environment, allowing workers to vote through a fair and expeditious process, honoring employees’ decision regardless of the outcome, and creating a system for enforcing these principles during the course of an organizing drive.

Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, stated, «This approach depends on civil dialogue between unions and employers focusing on how the workers’ right to decide will be respected.»

«By placing workers at the center of the process,» he added, «the group affirmed the core of Catholic social doctrine.»

The communiqué affirmed that these guidelines do not bind bishops, hospitals or unions, but are meant as advisory principles and «practical alternatives for leaders of Catholic health care and unions who want to avoid the tension and conflict that often accompanies organizing drives.»

It reported that more than 600,000 employees work in some 600 Catholic hospitals in the country.

Cardinal McCarrick affirmed, «Because Catholic health care is a ministry not an industry, how it treats its workers and how organized labor treats Catholic health care are not simply internal matters, but should reflect Catholic teaching on work and workers, heath care and the common good.»

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Guidance and Options document:

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