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Union hopes to change proposed ‘ministerial exception’ clause

February 13, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

At the heart of contract negotiations between the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Catholic archdiocesan teachers union is a clause proposed by the archdiocese that would define teachers as ministers.

Negotiations with the Catholic high school teachers union for a new contract to begin Aug. 1 continue, with the latest session Feb. 9. During his exchange with teachers Feb. 6, Archbishop Cordileone specifically praised the union negotiating team. Likewise, union president Lisa Dole told Catholic San Francisco Feb. 9, “The union leadership remains hopeful that the differences can be worked out with the archbishop.”

Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers Local 2240, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, is concerned about a contract clause proposed by the archdiocese which defines teachers as ministers because of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said Paul Hance, a Junipero Serra High School social studies teacher who is a member of the negotiating team. That unanimous high court decision recognized a “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws, saying that churches and other religious groups must be free to choose and dismiss without government making judgments about what constitutes particular doctrines of a faith.

“We are teachers, not ministers,” he said. “We are uniformly afraid that if we are defined as ministers” the union will lose some of its negotiated bargaining rights.

In his exchange with the teachers on Feb. 6, the archbishop said those rights would not be abrogated by the new language but also said he was open to different wording. The contract would remain in force, including the grievance procedure and the Supreme Court decision does not grant a right to engage in unfair labor practices to religious institutions, said Jesuit Father John Piderit, vicar for administration/moderator of the curia for the archdiocese.

“The current contract language is very strong,” said Father Piderit, referring to the existing contract which began in 2011. “It requires that teachers support Catholic doctrine and act in accordance with Catholic teachings.”

Unfair labor practices, such as firing someone, for example an older person, for an action such as serving on a Planned Parenthood board and not firing another younger employee for the same action, would still be an unfair labor practice, Father Piderit said.

“I agree that Catholic schools are not simply private schools, and that we are held to a different standard, specifically the tenets of the church,” said Jim Conolly, a member of the negotiating team from Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory.

“I agree that the archbishop is the leader of the Catholic Church” in the archdiocese, he said. “I disagree with the inclusion of the term ‘minister’ in our collective bargaining agreement.”

The 10 Catholic high schools in the archdiocese owned by religious communities are not part of the ongoing contract negotiations, which only affect the four high schools owned and operated by the archdiocese.

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