Thursday, December 29, 2005

UFW Response to Tribunal

December 29, 2005
For “Reflections of the Spirit”

The Complete Tribunal Decision (Nov 10, 2005) regarding the validity of the Holy Spirit union contract follows this posting. Important items have been highlighted.

Also attached is our UFW letter of Dec 12, 2005 to the Promoter of Justice, Rev. Jose Rene Angel, outlining our objections to his defense of the union workers and asking him to remove himself as such because he “did not properly promote justice and competently defend the contract”. Also attached is our subsequent letter to him on December 19, 2005.

Since 2002, lay employees at five (5) parishes in the Diocese of Brownsville have tried to work with dignity and respect at their jobs under a union contract. This union contract provided them with a grievance procedure, job security, and a union pension plan.

Since the contracts became effective, Bishop Peña of the Diocese of Brownsville has fought the workers rights to have union representation at every step of the way. First he laid off the two (2) union employees at Sacred Heart Parish in Hidalgo, claiming that the church had no money; then he threatened to withhold grants from three of the smaller parishes because they had signed union contracts, then in June of 2003, he had the new pastor at Holy Spirit Parish, Fr. Ruben Delgado, attempt to fire all of the union employees there. Only four (4) of the union employees were fired, as all of the other union employees were either out on vacation or on retreat.

Bishop Peñ also wrote a letter to all of the bishops in Texas, announcing that he had hired professional people to develop strategies to deal with unionized employees. Although Bishop Peña has said that he had nothing to do with any of these actions, this is exactly how he operates. As an example, upon his arrival as Bishop at the Diocese in 1995, he requested that all department heads submit their letter of resignation. He then went after the second layer of management and within a short period of time, over 80% of his original diocesan staff was either terminated or resigned.

The workers at the parishes under union contracts have held up even under these retaliatory efforts. On November 10, 2005, a 3-priest tribunal declared that the contract signed by Fr. Jerry Frank was invalid because the local pastor did not have authority to sign a contract for more than $5,000.

Pastor Louis Brum, the current pastor at Holy Spirit Parish, who himself is anti-union, called the Tribunal. He kept secret the petition for the tribunal and the Promoter of Justice, Rev. Jose Rene Angel, did an extremely poor job of defending contracts on behalf of the union workers as is pointed out in the two letters following and in the text of the Tribunal decision, which follows this post.

Rebecca Flores
UFW Texas Director

Initial Letter to Rev. Jose Angel
December 12, 2005

Rev. José René Ángel
Promoter of Justice, Judicial Department fax: 956 542 6751
Diocese of Brownsville fax: 956 546 5162
P.O. Box 2279
Brownsville, TX 78522-2279

re: Validity of union contract (Holy Spirit in McAllen, TX)

Dear Father Ángel:

It has become apparent from the sentence of the tribunal, your December 4th letter to me, and your conduct in the defense of the contract in this action before the tribunal that you did not properly promote justice and competently defend the contract in the following ways:

1. You did not competently work with the church employees who benefited from the union contract at Holy Spirit and their union representatives, to defend the union contract to which Church canon law accorded a presumption of validity.

2. You did not competently advise the tribunal that, under canon law, its obligation was to determine the validity of the union contract by reference to the civil law of the United States and Texas (see Canons 1290, 1286).

3. You did not competently provide the tribunal with authoritative constructions of applicable Texas civil law, which clearly would have construed the union contract as valid under Texas law.

4. You did not competently raise issues of impermissible anti-union animus, most notably by Vicar General Rev. Bob Maher's July 3, 2002, letter to Texas bishops, a letter that on its face violates Texas anti-union law and is contrary to Canon law and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

5. Your failure to pursue an appeal in this action and protect the union contract and those workers who are protected thereby.

6. Your failure to clarify for the tribunal that union dues were not charged to the parish, but were merely deductions from employees' pay checks (the same as 403(b) deductions, FICA deductions, and family health care deductions).

7. Your failure to clarify for the tribunal that Holy Spirit had not undertaken any new obligations with respect to the union workers (that is, their pension), but had rather recasted the same obligations in a different format.

8. Your failure to clarify for the tribunal the facts that:

a. Bishop Peña implicitly approved the union contract by approving parish budgets of 2002, 2003, and 2004 that complied with the terms of the contract;

b. Fr. Heberto Diaz, Chancellor advised me in a letter of April 23, 2002, to address issues of wages and working conditions with the “pastor/employer”. He was responding to my April 6, 2002 to Bishop Peña regarding union negotiations; and,

c. The issue of the $5000 authority of pastors never emerged or was articulated as an issue until near the time the tribunal met.

Therefore, on behalf of the Holy Spirit employees under union contract, whom I represent, I respectfully request that you remove yourself from this case and take steps to have a new Promoter of Justice appointed to represent the union contract and the church workers protected by it.

Since today is the last day on which you can give notice to appeal of the sentence (Canon 202, para. 1), we respectfully insist that you do so immediately and thereby not fail to properly promote justice in this case.


Rebecca Flores

Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo
Papal Nuncio Fax: 202-337-4036

Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Fax: 713-759-9151

James C. HarringtonTexas
Civil Rights Project Fax: 512-474-0726

Subsequent Letter to Rev. Jose Angel
December 19, 2005

Rev. José Rene Ángel, JCL
Promoter of Justice fax: 956 546 5162
Diocese of Brownsville fax: 956 542 6751
700 N. Virgen de San Juan Blvd
San Juan, TX 78589

re: Validity of union contract (Holy Spirit in McAllen, TX)

Dear Rev. Ángel:

In your letter of December 13, 2005, you state “my responsibilities, as promoter of justice in the above-mentioned case, were entirely fulfilled in accordance with Church law … [and] “the judgment… was on the manner in which the contract was executed.”

Among your responsibilities as Promoter of Justice, wasn’t there a responsibility to look at the effect invalidating the contract would have on workers? This contract has already provided one employee with a pension plan until he passes away and then ½ of his monthly pension check to his spouse until her death. It has also protected four workers from being fired when Fr. Ruben Delgado tried to do so on his first day at work, back in June 2003.

Our Union has requested to sit down with Fr. Louis Brum and with Bishop Peña countless times to go over the contract, but we have never been given that opportunity. On Saturday, December 10, 2005, I spoke with Fr. Carlos Villarreal, and he said, since we were in litigation, Bishop Peña could not meet with us. That is a mistaken idea. We can meet anytime to come to a solution to this problem.

Further, I noticed on page 3 of the tribunal decision the Promoter of Justice and the Procurator-Advocate for the Petitioner submitted their animadversions on June 23, 2005: ”The Court met in collegiate session on the afternoon of June 22 to hear the opinion of the Promoter of Justice and that of the Procurator-Advocate of the Petitioner. Following their oral arguments, each was directed to prepare a written brief.” So, on June 23, the next day after you gave your oral arguments, you submitted the brief because “all Acts already being known to the Petitioner through his Procurator-Advocate.” Now, how could you do all that analysis and writing without having prepared the brief in advance? So what was all the testimony about? Why waste so much time if you already had the answers?

Moreover, I am puzzled how you could effectively serve as Promoter of Justice without interviewing anyone affected by the contract or any of those involved in the making of the contract. Had you done so, you would have learned about our written request to negotiate a union contract directly with the bishop and that he then referred me to negotiate directly with the pastors on that issue and that, subsequent to negotiating the union contracts, the bishop three times, in consecutive years, approved the budgets, incorporating provisions of the union contracts. You simply did not do your job effectively. Indeed, since you work for the bishop, it would be impossible for you to actually work to attain a result other than what he clearly wanted in this case.

We continue to extend a request to meet with Bishop Pena to resolve this issue, and would prefer doing so rather than continue our vigils and our appeals in civil court, and now through the church process.

In the meantime, however, we continue to insist that you remove yourself as Promoter of Justice or, if unwilling to do so, that you refer this to an adjudicator outside the Diocese of Brownsville to make a decision as to whether you should do so. For purposes of this demand, I reiterate and re-incorporate my December 12 letter for all the reasons stated therein.

I trust that you honored our request and appealed the decision of the tribunal when we asked you to do so, within the time period prescribed.

If you have any questions, please contact me on my cell phone: 210 842 xxxx.


Rebecca Flores
UFW Texas Director

Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo
Papal Nuncio fax: 202 337 4036

Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston fax: 713 759 9151

Arturo Rodriguez
UFW President fax: 661 823 6174

James C. Harrington
Texas Civil Rights Project fax: 512 474 0726

1 comment:

Kanickers said...

To Rebecca Flores:
Let me understand this..

During the time you were trying to get the union contracts signed by the Bishop, he elected not to meet with you and in response to your request, Fr Heberto Diaz, his Chancellor, sent you a letter (April 23, 2002) instructing you to work things out with the local "pastor/employer(s)".

Doesn't that mean that they did INDEED have the authority to sign the union contracts?

There is also the question about creating an obligation over $5,000.

It is my understanding that when the monies from the "over-funded" Employee Pension Fund were disbursed, a small portion of the proceeds were given back to each parish, to be used in any manner they saw fit.

In Holy Spirit's case, wasn't those funds voted to be used to fund the new pension fund created by the union agreement? So, in reality, there was really no new obligation created at the time, either. Right?

It also seems that the Tribunal considered the union dues to be an EXPENSE on the part of the Diocese. Are not all union dues paid from the employee's wages?

Was any of this presented by the Promoter of Justice at the Tribunal?