By Mark Guydish email@example.comEducation Reporter SCRANTON – Insisting it will “provide fair and just employment for teachers,” the Diocese of announced a uniform employee relations program that rejects efforts at unionization.
The union that hoped to represent teachers fired back with a stinging salvo accusing the diocese of placing Catholic education in “jeopardy” and ignoring long-held church precepts regarding organized labor. The diocese detailed the plan in Thursday’s edition of The Catholic Light, the diocesan newspaper. Each school will have faculty and staff representatives chosen by secret ballot elections to serve on “employee councils.” The Catholic Light article quoted Bishop Joseph Martino as saying those councils “will give everyone in our Catholic schools not only an occasion to identify challenges, but more importantly an opportunity to resolve these challenges and to work together to strengthen our schools.” The new system was approved by three of the four regional boards set up last summer to oversee Catholic schools, and in doing so the boards also “voted to decline a request by the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers” to represent teachers in contract talks. The Association is the union that previously represented many local teachers since 1981. It has been seeking recognition as sole bargaining agent for teachers under the new system. But union President Michael Milz insisted the regional boards had no say in rejecting the union. “We talked to board members from every region; they wanted us to know that this was not a decision of theirs. It came from the top,” Milz said. “This is union busting at its worst.” The union has sought recognition since the November, 2006, unveiling of a diocesan-wide school restructuring that wiped out all former school boards and organizations that had negotiated contracts. The union first asked the diocese, but was told such recognition had to come from the four regional school boards. When those boards were announced in October, 2007, the union asked three of them for recognition, but all three responded that they needed time to organize. On Dec. 10 the union sought a firm answer by Jan. 10, and the board overseeing Luzerne County schools promised one by the end of the month. “We never got an answer,” Milz said. “This was our answer. It was a shock.” Along with the school-level employee councils, the new program forms three other groups: “Wage and Benefit Committees” working with the diocesan human resource director as ex officio member to “promote a constructive dialogue” on wage issues and benefits; a “health care sub-committee;” and “grievance committees” to develop a system of due process to resolve disagreements between workers and administrators. All four will work with the Regional system board that oversees each of four school regions set up under the new school structure last year. The diocese has also retained Parente/HR Services to help “address the compensation inequities that have developed in the schools over the years” and Elite Brokerage Services – a company also used by several local school districts – to help with health care coverage. The article in the Catholic Light notes that, under the old system, some teachers were represented by the union but “in the majority of schools, there was no collective bargaining,” which led to pay and personnel policies “often determined by the resources of a given school community and past practices there.” The new program “will bring a consistent format to the entire school system,” covering teachers, aides, administrators, office workers, food service and maintenance employees. “We are entrusting the faith and academic formation of our young people to the teachers and others who work in our schools,” Martino is quoted as saying. “That provides all the motivation we need to treat those employees as fairly as we can.” But the union responded quickly with a lengthy posting on their own Web site that insists the new program “is contrary to every church pronouncement of the rights of working people that has ever been issued.” The union cites an article in the June 7, 2007 Catholic Light that said any union should seek recognition through “a secret ballot election” by employees overseen by a neutral third party. Milz has repeatedly said he would welcome such an election and that he is confident the union has overwhelming support among teachers in three of the four regions. The union contends the church has supported workers’ right to organize since the 1891 encyclical – a papal document usually addressing doctrinal matters – from Pope Leo XIII called “Rerum Novarum,” or “rights and duties of capital and labor.” The union cites more recent pronouncements by bishop conferences and the Diocese of Scranton’s own “School Policy 417,” which, according to the union press release, says “Catholic social teaching strongly supports the rights of lay teachers to organize and to bargain collectively.” The union urges teachers, parents and students to contact the bishop and “ask him to rescind this unjust policy and return the Church in Scranton to the Catholic mainstream.” ON THE WEB Read documents mentioned in this article at www.timesleader.com
Mark Guydish, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7161.