This week I'm joining St. Joseph Health System workers, Attorney General Jerry Brown, Father Eugene Boyle, actor Ed Begley Jr, and community and religious leaders to call upon the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange to make peace with their workers.
For decades, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange have fought for justice for California's workers. In the summer of 1973, they marched in solidarity with Cesar Chavez and farm workers during the brutal Grape Strike. I witnessed the Sisters putting their personal safety at risk. They walked picket lines and even went to jail with more than 3500 striking farm workers. I was inspired by the Sisters' commitment to stand with the farm workers, even in the face of violent provocation.
But now, these same sisters are refusing to show their own workers the same justice they once fought for.
Over the last three years, workers in the St. Joseph Health System (SJHS) who care for the sick and vulnerable in our community, have been working to form a union with S.E.I.U. -- United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) so they can have a real say in the decisions that affect their patients, their families and themselves.
But the Sisters, who founded and hold majority control of the Board of SJHS, a $3.5 billion system of hospitals and clinics, sadly are using heavy-handed tactics similar to those used by other major corporations to deny workers a free choice about whether to form a union. SJHS workers have told me directly, that the SJHS management is fighting their efforts and violating federal labor law by threatening union supporters with arrest and job loss - and denying them free speech. Public records show that SJHS has hired some of the most notorious union-busting firms to fight their employees. Meanwhile, government officials have cited SJHS for violating its employees' basic labor rights, including illegally firing, spying on, and intimidating workers who want to form a union. These heavy-handed tactics leave workers feeling threatened, intimidated and disregarded.
How can the Sisters support farm workers' efforts to form a union, but fight their own employees for seeking this same basic right? Is there such a big difference between the people who feed us and the people who heal us? Clearly, there is not.
It is time for the Sisters to address this moral crisis and reclaim their proud legacy by once again living up to the ideals of St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers.
This week we are gathering outside the gates of the Sisters of St. Joseph Mother House in the non-violent tradition of Gandhi, King, and Chavez. We will appeal to the heart and conscience of the Sisters to make peace with their workers.
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