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Sunday rally to protest archbishop’s decision to disband Catholic Spirit union

Catholic SpiritIn what appears to be one of those “Do what I say, not what I do” moves, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is giving the boot to a union that has been negotiating contracts with the church for nearly  half a century.

The union, the Newspaper Guild, has represented editorial and advertising employees of the Catholic Spirit, a bimonthly publication of the archdiocese, since 1965. But that relationship is to end next week, when the Spirit’s current contract expires.

The 13 union employees have been told the Spirit and most of its employees are being folded into the archdiocesan Office of Communications “to create a more integrated communications function.’’

The archbishop’s office has denied the union’s request that it continue to represent the workers when the transfer occurs.

Mike Bucsko, administrative director of the Twin Cities office of the guild, which also represents workers at both the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, has a term for what’s going on with the Spirit workers.

“Union busting,” he says.

(Before proceeding, a disclaimer: In many of my years of working at the Star Tribune, I was a union officer.)

Because the Spirit is an entity of the church, the union can’t fight this decision through normal National Labor Relations Board channels.

According to Bucsko, precedence shows that the NLRB would duck taking on the issue, saying the church has First Amendment rights to deal with religious issues.

That leaves few options for the union in its fight for survival.

One effort will be a rally (PDF) on Sunday morning from 9:30 to 11:30 outside the Cathedral in St. Paul, urging the archdiocese to reconsider its decision. The union is seeking support from members of the more than 200 parishes in the archdiocese.

I've asked the archdiocese to respond to Sunday's rally and the general situation and will update with its comments.

The union also has tried using the church’s long history of supporting the union movement in pleading with Archbishop John Neinstedt to reconsider this unilateral change in working conditions.

In a letter (PDF) to Nienstedt earlier this month, Bucsko cited that history. In his letter, Bucsko included the words of the late Pope John Paul II, a union supporter.

In writing about labor issues, John Paul II had this to say: “All these rights, together with the need for the workers themselves to secure them,  gives rise to yet another right: The right of association, that is to form associations for the purpose of defending the vital interest of those employed in the various professions.”

Bucsko also told Nienstedt that the Spirit and the guild traditionally had the support of archbishops.

“The union was formed at the request of its then-editor, the late Bernard Casserly … That representation has continued with Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn and you.’’

Archbishop John NienstedtArchbishop John Nienstedt

Nienstedt responded to Bucsko’s letter, with a letter of his own (PDF).

He said that changing needs and changing economics dictated the move of the Spirit into the communications office.

Nienstedt assured Bucsko that the church still stands solidly behind working people.

“In alignment with the Catholic Church’s longstanding advocacy for the dignity of work and workers rights, the Archdiocese provides a thorough employment agreement called Justice in Employment that provides a number of features that provide extensive protections for employees.’’

Chris Pierskalla, chairman of the Spirit’s guild unit, says he’s frequently asked about how the church, which speaks so fervently about worker dignity and rights, can simply toss the union.

“There’s always a qualification,’’ said Pierskalla. “The union is needed when there’s an unjust employer. They [the archdiocese] consider themselves as benevolent employers.”

 The Justice in Employment document was written in 1999. It’s unclear whether the document ever included negotiation with church workers.

Certainly, at this point, the 13 union members don’t feel very protected.

The archdiocese, for example, has informed the union workers that “three or four” of them likely will lose their jobs in the new arrangement.

Pierskalla said that workers have been left hanging as to who will be retained, and who won’t. Workers also have not yet been told what their jobs and compensation will be when the move is made. There’s no word yet whether seniority will be a factor in that decision.

The union members are to discover their fate — and their new working arrangements — at a meeting with archdiocese officials Monday morning.

It is believed that the church plans to pay severance packages, covered by the expiring contract, to those who won’t keep their jobs.

But Bucsko believes that all of the workers deserve a severance package, given that they all are essentially losing their current jobs.

Meantime, Pierskalla says, there’s understandable anxiety and frustration among the 13 workers, many of whom have worked for the Spirit for more than 20 years.

In recent years, those workers have made “sacrifices” to keep the Spirit viable, Pierskalla said.  Workers have accepted pension freezes and reductions in hours as the Spirit, with a circulation of about 80,000, has faced some of the same issues faced by other print publications in balancing its books. (The publication always has received some subsidy from the parishes it serves.)

In addition to the print publication, the Spirit employees also have developed an online site.

Historically, the Spirit has received numerous national honors from the Catholic News Association.

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Comments (6)

I am shocked, shocked I say....

to find hypocrisy in a church.

If you needed an example outragous union demands....

"Bucsko believes that all of the workers deserve a severance package, given that they all are essentially losing their current jobs."

---Even though they are not.

Do you really wonder why the public has turned against unions?

Just imagine the response

Just imagine the response Lech Walesa and Solidarity would have gotten from the current Catholic leadership.

Clear As Mud

Thomas, Based on the vague statements and "assurances" by the Archbishop it is unclear which employees will be offered jobs and what the terms of employment may be.

I'm glad the vague assurances are sufficient for you if not for the affected workers.

St. Paul - Catholic Church - organized labor

The action of the Catholic Church management to "dissolve" this union and its fifty year collective bargaining agreement is one important side of this story, and Doug Grow has told it well. But we ought to give more thought to the significance of the Newspaper Guild and the Minnesota AFL-CIO's decision to picket the Cathedral during Sunday morning services. In her book CLAIMING THE CITY, historian Mary Wingerd makes a compelling case for her argument that it was the Catholic Church, more than any other organization, which shaped a relatively peaceful labor-management climate in the capital city, in contrast to the ferocious conflicts which typified our "twin" city, Minneapolis. The Catholic Church tempered employers' drive for profits, gave workers, unorganized as well as organized, a voice in the city's economic direction, and it advocated a community of mutual respect across class lines. It is quite significant -- in this era of the Wisconsin-led attack on public employees' rights, in the actions of employer after employer to disrespect workers' loyalty and hard work in the pursuit of "the bottom line," that, now, the Catholic Church itself has fallen in line. Bravo! to the labor movement for rising to the challenge and putting the Archbishop and his minions on notice. Economic fairness can only be constructed based on a well-organized working class willing to act in its own (our) interests and willing to stand up for itself.


The Church's support of labor and "longstanding advocacy for the dignity of work and workers rights" is also shown in the pay scale and benefit packages made available to those that teach in Catholic schools.