“WASHINGTON - According to a new report by the Catholic Labor Network, about 500 Catholic workplaces in the country are unionized. That number represents a relatively low share of the total number of Catholic institutions in America, since there are some 6,800 schools, 630 hospitals and more than 240 colleges and universities, but it still indicates a significant footprint for organized labor within the Church’s entities.
“The vast majority of unionized workers are in three distinct fields: health care, K-12 education and college education, with a smaller cluster in social services and other service professions. ‘Catholic social teaching endorses the right of workers to form labor unions and calls upon labor and management to establish cooperative relationships to advance their craft and the common good,’ said Clayton Sinyai, the report’s author, in ‘The ‘Gaudium et Spes’ Labor Report,’ issued in mid-August to be available in time for Labor Day, which this year is Sept. 5. ‘When Catholic institutions and trade unions establish mutually rewarding partnerships, they exercise a true magisterium in deed as well as in word,’ Sinyai added...
“Fertile organizing ground has been tilled in recent years with adjunct professors at colleges. Two Catholic colleges in Washington, Georgetown University and Trinity Washington University, are represented by Local 500 of the Service Employees International Union. The local also represents adjunct professors at George Washington University and American University in Washington.
“There are about 600 adjuncts at Georgetown and its continuing education program; they got their first contract in 2012. Adjuncts at the university’s law, medical and nursing schools are not represented. ‘We didn’t have a signed neutrality document, but they agreed not to fight the union. They followed their just employment policy. They sent some informational emails and that was about it,’ said Anne McLeer, director of Local 500’s higher education program.
“‘Negotiations were very cordial, collaborative,’ she said. ‘They wanted to come to an agreement. That doesn’t mean it gives us everything we wanted, but they were very productive.’ McLeer is at the bargaining table at Trinity to negotiate a first contract for the school’s 300 adjunct professors. Adjuncts at Trinity and elsewhere ‘didn’t realize how many adjuncts there were and how the university relied on them, and how much money these universities saved,’ McLeer said.
“She estimated it at 4 to 5 percent of a typical college’s teaching budget, but 30 percent of its academic offerings. ‘The academic job market has really changed since 1970, when 75 percent of the teaching faculty were full-time tenured faculty or tenure-track. In 2000 it had changed to where 50 percent of the faculty were part-time, paid by the course,’ McLeer said. ‘Today, only 20 percent of faculty were on the tenure line.’
“She added, ‘The majority of the people looking for a career in academia are contingent workers. No seniority, no office space, no advancement, their rate of pay is really low. They have no life in the university, no benefits.’ Of the members McLeer represents, she said, ‘They build and build and build and they sort of reach a tipping point’” (Unions at Catholic Workplaces Called “Magisterium in Word and Deed” by Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service, CRUX, Taking the Catholic Pulse, Aug. 21, 2016).