Wednesday, July 29, 2015
San Francisco Catholic school teachers close to deal, but 'morality' fight goes on
Jill Tucker San Francisco Chronicle July 29, 2015 Teachers at four Catholic high schools emerged from an emotional and drawn-out contract battle this week with a tentative agreement that limits the ability of San Francisco’s archdiocese to link their private lives to their job description. Yet amid the gains at the bargaining table, critics feared a morality war ignited by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone was not over. He has asserted that Catholic school teachers should never “contradict, undermine or deny” church doctrine — which opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception — in or out of the classroom. The archbishop’s push prompted protests in San Francisco. It raised the question of whether a gay teacher could be fired in one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. And it played a central role in the labor negotiations. With the current teacher contract set to expire Friday, teachers learned of the tentative contract late Tuesday, though final language is pending and a teacher vote has not been scheduled. The deal would give teachers at the four high schools under the archdiocese a raise and some assurance of job protection, even if their private lives don’t line up with church teachings. Cordileone had sparked outrage among hundreds of teachers, students and parents earlier this year when he proposed adding morality clauses to the contract and an employee handbook. It said sex outside marriage, homosexual relations, the viewing of pornography and masturbation are “gravely evil,” and that administrators, faculty and staff should “affirm and believe” the statements. In a letter early this year to teachers at the four high schools, Cordileone wrote that the schools must buck the “tremendous pressure the contemporary culture places on everyone to conform to a certain agenda.” Cordileone also sought in the contract to redesignate teachers, calling them ministers, a label that teachers said could give the archdiocese greater power in punishing or firing those whose words or actions contradicted Catholic doctrine. But Cordileone backed off on both counts. The handbook has been put on a back burner pending community discussion in the upcoming school year, and any reference to teachers as ministers was removed from the contract. More than 300 union members are under the archdiocese contract, teaching at Sacred Heart Cathedral and Riordan in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield and Serra in San Mateo. “We are grateful that the (archbishop) recognized the damage caused by the proposed changes and he decided on a different approach,” said Lisa Dole, union president and a social studies teacher at Marin Catholic. “We urge that he keeps listening to the men and women, union and nonunion, who work at our four high schools.” Both sides, however, agreed to include language clearly stating that “the purpose of Catholic schools is to affirm Catholic values,” and that “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.” But disputes over teacher conduct on and off the job would be subject to grievance procedures, offering teachers increased protection should their personal or professional actions be questioned, according to the tentative agreement. The new contract would also give teachers up to a 2 percent raise each year of the three-year contract, the amount varying a bit among the schools. “We strongly believe there are no remaining issues between the negotiating teams to be dealt with,” said Mike Brown, spokesman for archdiocese. “The ball is in the union's court. We're optimistic and unaware of any further negotiating points that must be discussed.” It might not be a done deal, though. The agreement heading toward a teacher vote has not assuaged the concerns of vocal critics who say Cordileone has shown the community his cards and could still play them in the future — firing or punishing teachers for being gay, for example, or having a child through artificial insemination. While the contract doesn’t say teachers are ministers, federal law and legal precedent offer religious institutions “ministerial exemption” from anti-discrimination laws, giving them wide berth in who they hire and fire. Cordileone could claim that exemption. “We celebrate the fact that we've been able to stop him to date,” said Kathy Curran, a parent at Sacred Heart and one of the founders of teacheracceptance.org, a group formed to oppose the archbishop’s proposals. Still, behind it all is a “homophobic and anti-union agenda” that remains, she said. “We hold onto the fact that we've been able to stave this off to date.” Dole called on union members to consider the new contract language carefully. “The reality of the situation is that teachers are considered role models whether they are in a public, private, or religious school,” she said in a letter to teachers. “As such if personal conduct becomes public and is viewed as adversely impacting the school, the teacher can be disciplined or terminated. That is established case law.” There is no 100 percent protection from the ministerial exemption, no matter what’s in the contract, she said. What the union won at the bargaining table, however, was a guarantee that the archbishop would have to prove that any action by a teacher adversely impacted the classroom. The action itself, Dole emphasized, couldn’t be grounds for discipline or dismissal. “While we still have to work ahead in order to get our tentative agreement ratified by our members, I am confident that we will,” she said. “And I am proud of the work that we have done to reach an agreement.