With God on Our Side
The Struggle For Workers’ Rights in a Catholic Hospital
Adam D. Reich
Cornell University Press, $26, 208 pp.
After the recent conflicts between the Catholic bishops and the Obama administration, one might be forgiven for thinking that the only thing the Catholic Church believes about employees is that they should not have employer-provided contraception. In fact, the church has elaborated a rich and admirable body of social teaching on labor, particularly on the right of workers to earn a living wage and to organize in trade unions. It’s also true that Catholic institutions, including hospitals, employ upward of a million Americans. The intersection of church-as-teacher with church-as-employer is the site of many arguments over who has the right-of-way and there have been more than a few collisions. With God on Our Side reports on one such collision, which occurred when health-care workers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, sought to form a union. As Adam Reich tells the story, the sisters decided to fight the effort, leading to a labor conflict that would last nearly a decade.
The background to the drama typifies institutional changes at Catholic hospitals generally. Though at one time the sisters had performed most of the work at Santa Rosa themselves, by the turn of this century they had delegated most of it to hired laypeople. In 2003, employees contacted the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represented employees throughout California’s two largest...