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Archbishop Is Asked to Let Catholic Cemetery Workers Vote on Union

Times Staff Writers

A union attempting to organize cemetery workers employed by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on Wednesday asked Archbishop Roger M. Mahony to agree to hold a vote on whether the workers want a union, supervised “by a mutually agreeable third party or parties.”

Barbara Mejia, California director of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, sent a letter requesting the election one day after the National Labor Relations Board in Los Angeles said it would not conduct a representation election for the cemetery workers. The board said that holding such an election could lead to “excessive entanglement” of a government agency in church affairs and thus violate the First Amendment.

Third Party Involvement

Mejia’s letter to Mahony asserted that the board’s decision “does not mean the cemetery workers do not have the right to organize a union and have an election conducted by some other third party.”

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Her letter said that the election could be conducted by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the American Arbitration Assn. or a variety of elected officials or prominent Catholic priests.

In July, the union said that 120 of the 140 cemetery workers had signed cards saying they wanted to be represented by a union. But Archbishop Mahony, long known as a champion of workers’ rights, declined to grant recognition to the union on the basis of the cards alone. He said an election was preferable. In an interview Wednesday, he reiterated that position.

“I’ve been around unions long enough to know how you get people to sign cards,” Mahony said. “You have a big rally, serve a lot of food and drink and get people . . . to sign cards.” He also said “peer pressure” is often exerted on people to get them to sign.

Mahony said he favored a “secret ballot,” but he did not elaborate on how such a vote would be conducted.

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Later Wednesday, Benjamin Goldman, an attorney for the archdiocese said, “My feeling is there probably will not be an election and that support for the union has diminished considerably.”

He said that in recent months the wages of the cemetery workers had been elevated to a point where they are now “the highest in Los Angeles” for such employment.

Goldman said wages range from $6 to $7.85 per hour. He also said health benefits had been improved and an insurance plan instituted.

Mejia asserted that the changes had been made in response to the organizing campaign and added, “we’re not going away. I want these workers to have an opportunity to vote.”

Mejia stressed that she is a Catholic and that the union is not running an “anti-church campaign.”

But she said she was disturbed at Mahony’s response to the campaign. “It’s easy for people to say they’re in favor of unions and in favor of their workers having a voice. It becomes a different picture when it’s in your own back yard.”

The archdiocese employs about 9,000 people. None are represented by a union, according to a spokesman for the archdiocese.


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