Controversial Contract Causes Catholic School Teachers to Consider Options

Apr 27, 2014

A new employment contract for Catholic school teachers has created controversy and pushed one group to start organizing a labor union.

In a Saturday meeting in Centerville, Ohio you could hear a pin drop. About 50 educators from across 19 counties of Southwestern Ohio listened as the president of the Philadelphia-based National Association of Catholic School Teachers, explained why and how to start a labor union. At issue is the new contract the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is requiring teachers to sign.  A morality clause in the agreement prohibits behaviors and actions such as abortion, artificial insemination and "homosexual lifestyles."

The president of NACST (who I was asked not to name) told the group they had no sense of empowerment and it was time for teachers in the region's Catholic schools to say they've had enough.

Nancy Blatt, an attorney who volunteers at Ascension School in Kettering, ran the SWOCEA meeting .  She said the teachers asked for no pictures of the meeting to be taken and no sound to be recorded.

Blatt: "In all fairness to the teachers, they are all very nervous about meeting in this sense and about talking about a union which is so very unfortunate that they have to be scared of what will happen to them if they even meet like this."

Opposition to the teacher’s contract has been heating up. Last week, more than 100 people gathered on Cincinnati's Fountain Square to protest the contract and to march 20,000 petitions to downtown headquarters of the Cincinnati Archdiocese. Hamilton Attorney Tim Garry Jr. agreed to take the case pro-bono and approach church officials asking them to make changes. The practicing Catholic says the contract is not fair, and there are too many problems with it.

Garry: "It's as if this contract were some how some infallible document and it ought to be the product of some review and discussion and not just sprung out of the heads of the outside counsel for the Archdiocese in a way to protect them from the civil law suits that they've lost."

 On Friday, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization carried 30,000 signatures from around the country to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr. The Human Rights Campaign says the new policy takes anti-LGBT to a new level.  Anna Brown co-chair of the social justice and healthcare committee for HRC says the letter was crafted by the organization's national office in Washington D.C.

Brown: "It's a sensitive subject that requires dialogue and we feel it's our duty with HRC to send a message to the Archdiocese that it's not fair.  It's discrimination on a number of different levels."

Kristin Shrimplin,  board member of the human rights group, says the issue is about protecting students so they're in an effective learning environment. She says it's also an employment issue.

Shrimplin: " People shouldn't have to deny who they are, who they love and they shouldn't have to deny who they care about whether it's in their family structures when they come into the work place. This isn't about a gay agenda. This is really about promoting a safe and welcoming inclusive culture so students can learn."

At the union meeting in Centerville, representatives of 14 archdiocesan schools spoke about their rights as educators and people. One woman said she didn't agree with the words of the contract but is a single parent with two kids and needs the job. Others said they won't sign."

22-year veteran teacher Sherry Smith said she cried when she saw the contract because she has a gay son and the contract lists homosexual lifestyles as one thing teachers could be fired for supporting.

Smith: "We were told by an archdiocese spokesperson we could go to a wedding of a gay person blah blah blah but the thing about public support, if I go out in public with him and he's with his husband, his partner, then am I supporting him, it's the interpretation. I don‚t know how people are going to interpret what that means."

Smith says she was not going to sign the contract but has changed her mind saying she will sign and then fight it.

Contracts need to be signed by end of April or May depending on individual schools agreements with the teachers.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati did not return several calls for comment