The Buffalo AFL-CIO Council threatens in a letter to Bishop Edward D. Head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo to boycott future fund-raising efforts of Kenmore Mercy Hospital because of what labor officials claim are anti-union moves by the hospital administration.
The letter, signed by George L. Wessel, AFL-CIO Council president says: "If this problem isn't resolved in the near future, a boycott may be held against the hospital's fund-raising activities."
The hospital is currently the target of organizing efforts by the United Food & Commercial Workers, which wants the right to bargain over working conditions and wages for the approximately 500 non-professional employees, including licensed practical nurses.
In letters and other written communications to the employees signed by Sister Mary Joel, chief executive officer at the hospital, the hospital administration accuses the union of being interested in recruiting employees because it wants their union dues.
One letter also contends the union has no experience in representing hospital workers. "They want you to pay for their learning experience," it says in capital letters. The letter also tells employees that signing a union membership card "is like signing a blank check."
In response, the union says it represents 100,000 workers in hospitals and nursing homes. Six weeks ago, it sent a letter to Bishop Head citing papal letters and statements from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops stressing the unhindered right and, in some instances, the obligation of workers to form honest unions.
"It appears that the good sisters have not seen copies of the pastoral letter, or if they have, perhaps they think you were speaking of other workers, not Americans," states the letter signed by Daniel R. Glathar, area coordinator of the UFCW's organizing department.
Sister Joel could not be reached for comment, but a hospital spokeswoman denied the administration is anti-union. "It's pro-Kenmore Mercy Hospital," she said. "Our employees don't need a union because the hospital and the employees work together."
Wessel said the local labor federation hasn't made a public issue of the controversy before this week because it didn't want to hurt last Sunday's diocesan collections for the care of retired nuns.
Msgr. David M. Lee, official spokesman for the diocese, said Bishop Head is aware of Glathar's letter and of the situation at Kenmore Mercy. He said that the union official's request for a response "is under present active consideration."
The bishop had not yet received Wessel's letter.