In what has become a continuing unhappy subplot of the dispute over the contraceptive mandate, a third Catholic university has now asked the National Labor Relations Board for an exemption from the Wagner Act on the grounds of its religious identity. Adjunct faculty at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University have sought to join the Steelworkers Union, but the school says that as a religious institution it is can refuse to recognize and bargain with them. The Pittsburgh school is echoing a stand taken by New York’s Manhattan College and Chicago’s Saint Xavier University.
But the schools’ case is very different from that of Catholic hospitals in a major respect. Catholic social teaching on the right to organize is explicit and supportive: as Pope Benedict has affirmed, “the repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past.” Where the Catholic hospitals are seeking an exemption from the mandate so they can honor Catholic teaching on contraception, the universities seem to be seeking an exemption from the National Labor Relations Act so that they can violate Catholic teaching on labor.
The episode points up the crying need for a public policy solution that protects the conscience rights of Catholic hospitals while preventing those with more dubious causes from hitching a ride on the fortnight for freedom. It would be helpful if the USCCB would clarify that union-busting was not one of the freedoms the fortnight is intended to preserve.