Teachers at four Catholic high schools, under pressure from the San Francisco archbishop to adhere to church teaching in their personal lives, narrowly voted to accept a union agreement with the archdiocese for the next three years.**
While the contract does not describe the teachers as "ministers," a term that would have allowed the archdiocese to fire teachers for any reason, it includes phrases about "personal conduct" and "teacher conduct on and off the job."
To fire a teacher because of personal conduct, however, the archdiocese will need to prove that the conduct adversely affects the classroom. The contract also includes grievance procedures for teachers if they are in a dispute with their employer.
The teachers* in the Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers, Local 2240 — at Archbishop Riordan and Sacred Heart Cathedral in San Francisco, Junipero Serra in San Mateo, and Marin Catholic in Kentfield — voted 90 to 80 to ratify the contract. They will receive about a 2 percent raise each year along with continued health insurance.
“The negotiations have been an arduous process, testing the resolve of our executive board and membership,” said Gina Jaeger, union president. “But union democracy provided a firm foundation for our discussions. I am very proud of our union for standing tall in support of dignity and fairness. Now it is time to heal after a tumultuous year.”
In a previous version of the contract, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone described teachers as "ministers," labeling that could have given the archdiocese the right, through religious freedom laws, to fire someone deemed to be a minister for any reason. Cordileone later removed the minister designation from the contract.
"The original language the archbishop proposed in the contract seven months ago is gone," said Ted DeSaulnier, a religion teacher at Archbishop Riordan who voted for the contract. "The archbishop compromised. It gives me and my union brothers and sisters more protection while rolling back any contractual language that might give the archbishop any advantage in initiating the concept of the ministerial exemption."
Ish Ruiz, a religious studies teacher at Sacred Heart, said he voted against the contract because he was uncomfortable with the reference to personal conduct. "I'm sorry that this language passed," he said. "But I hope that the contract does serve to protect the teachers' jobs."
Early this year, Cordileone inserted a morality clause into the teacher handbook, which outlines expectations for teacher conduct. (The handbook is under the archbishop's purview and not subject to ratification by the union.) The clause, which described aspects of sexuality and reproduction forbidden by the Catholic church as "gravely evil," set off an uproar among teachers, parents and students.
Cordileone later revised the handbook, backing off from the "evil" label, but still maintaining that teachers should follow the teachings of the church in their private lives. The morality clause listed homosexual acts, birth control, masturbation, reproductive technology and abortion among the acts described as evil.
When the diocese released the revised handbook language in late May, a letter from the archbishop noted that it was not "the exact final version " and Cordileone asked teachers to "take some time (into the next school year) ... to reflect upon it, discuss it, and give some reaction to it."
In a press release about the teacher contracts, Cordileone said, "I want to thank the union and administration negotiating teams for their hard work over the past few months in coming to this agreement. They have negotiated just wages and benefits for our high school teachers, who are among the finest teachers in Northern California.
"I also very much appreciate that the negotiations included a rich discussion about the mission and purpose of Catholic education and the vital role that our high school teachers play in carrying out that mission."
The teacher contract includes a preamble about Catholic education which states that the high schools are "committed to provide education within the framework of Catholic principles."
"Teachers are expected to support the purpose of our Catholic schools in such a way that their personal conduct will not adversely impact their ability to teach in our Catholic High Schools," it continues.
The preamble adds that "disputes about teacher conduct on and off the job are subject to the grievance procedure to determine whether such conduct has adversely impacted the teacher's ability to teach in our Catholic High Schools."
Jaeger, the union president, said that teachers can now turn their attention to educating, “in particular providing our students with a supportive and accepting community where they can thrive.”
*An earlier version of this story listed an inaccurate number of teachers in the Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers.
**This story was updated at 3:15 p.m. CT Aug. 20 adding quotes and clarifying language about the faculty handbook.
[Mandy Erickson is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.]