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With God on Our Side

With God on Our Side: The Struggle for Workers' Rights in a Catholic Hospital

Adam D. Reich
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    With God on Our Side
    Book Description:

    When unions undertake labor organizing campaigns, they often do so from strong moral positions, contrasting workers' rights to decent pay or better working conditions with the more venal financial motives of management. But how does labor confront management when management itself has moral legitimacy? In With God on Our Side, Adam D. Reich tells the story of a five-year campaign to unionize Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, a Catholic hospital in California. Based on his own work as a volunteer organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Reich explores how both union leaders and hospital leaders sought to show they were upholding the Catholic "mission" of the hospital against a market represented by the other. Ultimately, workers and union leaders were able to reinterpret Catholic values in ways that supported their efforts to organize.

    More generally, Reich argues that unions must weave together economic and cultural power in order to ensure their continued relevancy in the postindustrial world. In addition to advocating for workers' economic interests, unions must engage with workers' emotional investments in their work, must contend with the kind of moral authority that Santa Rosa Hospital leaders exerted to dissuade workers from organizing, and must connect labor's project to broader conceptions of the public good.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6418-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  2. Introduction: Work’s Meaning and Labor’s Power
    (pp. 1-22)

    Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital (SRMH) is nestled in a residential neighborhood a few blocks away from downtown Santa Rosa, an exurban community about an hour north of San Francisco. Even with the prominent blue “H” hospital signs leading the way, the hospital can be difficult to find for an out-of-towner. A statue of St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, welcomes visitors at the hospital’s main entrance, and an old convent, long ago converted into administrative offices, sits adjacent to the facility, a buffer between the hospital and the surrounding community.

    Since its founding in 1950, the hospital has been...

  3. 1 The Labor of Love: Vocational Commitments in the Hospital
    (pp. 23-48)

    Fred Ross and Eileen Purcell had known the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, the owners of the St. Joseph Health System, since the heyday of the United Farm Workers movement. In 1973, several of these sisters had gone to jail with striking farmworkers in Fresno. Since then, many had worked alongside Ross and Purcell for justice in El Salvador. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Sisters had supported the Justice for Janitors campaign in Los Angeles, and in 1995 one sister had founded Taller San Jose (St. Joseph’s Workshop), a job-training program for at-risk youth in Santa...

  4. 2 Losing It: The Limits of Economic Interests and Political Power
    (pp. 49-77)

    Jorge is a middle-aged Latino, tall and broad-shouldered, balding on top with a ponytail that stretches halfway down his back. From afar he looks a little intimidating, but his easy smile and childlike laugh belie his tough façade. Jorge had initially trained as a psychiatric technician and found work at a local mental health facility, but because of his size “there was only one thing they wanted me for, and that was takedowns.” He grew sick of being a “manhandler,” and transitioned to work in SRMH’s neurology department as a nursing assistant. When a phlebotomist position opened up at SRMH...

  5. 3 A Struggle over New Things: Contesting Catholic Teaching
    (pp. 78-102)

    When I first met Eileen Purcell at a SEIU United Healthcare Workers West convention in 2005, I mistook her for a nun. Her eyes lit up with clarity and fervor as she talked about the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange. She celebrated these Sisters, who were arrested with the United Farm Workers, who supported the Justice for Janitors campaign, who continued to fight for the poor and access to healthcare, and who worked for peace and an end to war. Yet she was committed to holding these same Sisters accountable for their ongoing opposition to unions. The union convention—...

  6. 4 Winning the Heart Way: Organizing and Cultural Struggle
    (pp. 103-125)

    When SEIU hired Eileen Purcell and Fred Ross Jr. to develop its Catholic strategy, the union gained tremendous credibility within the Catholic community. Ross and Purcell were widely recognized for their social justice work, and they had relationships with Catholic leaders across the state and country. Because of their prior work, Ross and Purcell knew and had worked alongside several of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange. Several Sisters of St. Joseph had been in contact with Ross during the farmworker movement in the 1970s; with Purcell during her tenure at the SHARE Foundation in the 1980s; and with...

  7. 5 Trouble in the House of Labor: Alternative Visions of New Unionism
    (pp. 126-144)

    The union’s cultural strategy in the St. Joseph Health System campaign relied on a rare collaboration between the international office of SEIU and the United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) local. At the national level, union representatives forged a common language and common ideology with Catholic hospital representatives that manifested itself in the publication of the working paper A Fair and Just Workplace in 1999. In 2009 this position was formalized with the publication of Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for Catholic Health Care and Unions. In this national conversation union and Catholic hospital leaders recognized that...

  8. Conclusion: What Should Unions Do?
    (pp. 145-152)

    As this book has shown, the struggle for unionization in the hospital industry—an industry in which workers tend to have a vocational relationship to their work, and that understands itself in terms irreducible to the market—raises fundamental questions about the labor movement in the twenty-first century.

    To paraphrase the well-known study by Richard Freeman and James Medoff, what should unions do?¹ There is a vast scholarly literature exploring the material effects of unionization on its members. Unionization has long been observed to enhance members’ economic well-being, increasing workers’ wages and benefits substantially.² Recent research has suggested that workers...