From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutheran Services in America Board Discusses Unions, Church

From News News <NEWS@ELCA.ORG>
Date 14 Apr 2000 15:25:56


April 14, 2000


     CLEVELAND (ELCA) -- A canceled conference workshop on unions and a
Lutheran church's statement on economic life set the stage for an in-depth 
discussion by the board of Lutheran Services in America (LSA) here
March 29, preceding the LSA annual conference.
     "We think the conversations ought to occur in an appropriate
environment," said the Rev. Nelson C. Meyer, LSA board chair.  "A
national conference is not the place where you discuss or try to resolve
issues between parties."
     LSA is one of the largest human service networks in the United
States and Caribbean.  Its 296 social ministry organizations, in
alliance with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, form a national network of social
service and long-term care programs providing more than $3 billion in
services in 3,000 communities each year.
     Advance materials for the conference offered 26 workshops,
including one called "Unions -- A Help or a Hindrance in Lutheran
Services?"  The workshop was described:  "This participatory workshop
begins by exploring the common values shared by social ministry
organization [SMO] leaders and union leaders.  Then discussion will
consider how unions help and/or hinder the institution's mission.  Panel
members will represent SMO leaders as well as Service Employee
International Union."
     That workshop was canceled.  "LSA staff decided wisely," said
Meyer, "that a national conference isn't really the appropriate
environment to settle differences constructively, because there were
some differences between a union perspective and some of our members'
     The LSA Disability Network raised objections to the workshop,
David A. Jacox, executive director, Bethphage Mission, Omaha, Neb., told
the board.  Advance material about the workshop was the focus of a
"passionate" discussion at the network's January meeting, he said.
     The workshop description implied there was a problem -- that
directors of social ministry organizations don't care about their
workers, said Jacox.  To offer unions as a remedy would have put
directors on the defense at the annual conference, he said.  "The
workshop would have looked like 'The Jerry Springer Show,'" he said,
referring to a confrontational daily, one-hour television talk show
syndicated through Studios USA.
     The 18-member board represented a wide range of positions -- from
those who worked closely as allies of union leaders to those who
considered unions as threats to the missions of their organizations.
Many board members considered labor organizers as sharing similar values
as church directors but their methods often conflict.
     "I was very pleased," Meyer said afterward.  Board members spent
more than an hour to look in depth at several facets of the issues, he
     "They exercised the self-discipline necessary not to get
emotionally involved, but really to look at it from a policy
perspective," said Meyer.  Board members were able to see the issues
from the perspectives of LSA, its member organizations, the employees
and the people their ministries serve, he said.
     "LSA is indeed a forum where discussions on these issues need to
take place, and we see ourselves as a forum which inspires that
discussion," Meyer said.
     The ELCA's 1999 Churchwide Assembly adopted a social statement on
economic life, "Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All," which
committed the church to "honor the right of employees to organize for
the sake of better working conditions" among other management practices.
     "It is a statement that some of our social ministry organizations
take exception to -- all or in part," Meyer told the board.
     "That statement from one church body is binding on all of our
social ministry organization members who are affiliated with that church
body.  It is not binding, however, on the second church-body member --
the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod," said Meyer.  He called the board's
discussion "an opportunity to deal with the issue of how we react when
one church body holds one position that is not necessarily held by the
other church body."
     "We do not see ourselves as a judicial body which would decide
which church statement is right," said Meyer.  "That would be clearly
inappropriate.  We need to respect the polity and theology of all of our
members, and we need to do that in an open, discussing environment --
not in one that takes sides."
     Meyer said the discussion will continue on several levels.  "One
level that's very important to LSA is that we look at worker justice and
the workplace environment," he said.  "We think it's desirable to be as
proactive as possible and to do everything we can to help educate,
train, nurture our organizations to provide as much worker justice and
as enriched and just working environment as possible."
     LSA will continue "to lift up the competing values which we are
responsible for holding together in tension," said Meyer.  LSA staff
will be available to consult with members and to put members in contact
with "peers within LSA who have exemplary models of workplace
environments," he said.
     The desired outcome is to "resolve the issue so that, instead of
deciding pro or con union, we can put all our energies into having an
environment where people want to work, where people feel they are paid
justly, where people feel they have a legitimate voice in determining
the direction and, when there are complaints and things to correct,
management listens to them," Meyer said.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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