With God on Our Side: The Struggle for Workers' Rights in a Catholic Hospital

Overview

When unions undertake labor organizing campaigns, they often do so from strong moral positions, contrasting workers' rights to decent pay or better working conditions with the more venal financial motives of management. But how does labor confront management when management itself has moral legitimacy? In With God on Our Side, Adam D. Reich tells the story of a five-year campaign to unionize Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, a Catholic hospital in California. Based on his own work as a volunteer organizer with the ...

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With God on Our Side: The Struggle for Workers' Rights in a Catholic Hospital

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Overview

When unions undertake labor organizing campaigns, they often do so from strong moral positions, contrasting workers' rights to decent pay or better working conditions with the more venal financial motives of management. But how does labor confront management when management itself has moral legitimacy? In With God on Our Side, Adam D. Reich tells the story of a five-year campaign to unionize Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, a Catholic hospital in California. Based on his own work as a volunteer organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Reich explores how both union leaders and hospital leaders sought to show they were upholding the Catholic "mission" of the hospital against a market represented by the other. Ultimately, workers and union leaders were able to reinterpret Catholic values in ways that supported their efforts to organize.

More generally, Reich argues that unions must weave together economic and cultural power in order to ensure their continued relevancy in the postindustrial world. In addition to advocating for workers' economic interests, unions must engage with workers' emotional investments in their work, must contend with the kind of moral authority that Santa Rosa Hospital leaders exerted to dissuade workers from organizing, and must connect labor’s project to broader conceptions of the public good.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Reich chronicles the successful drive for recognition of a healthcare workers union at a Catholic hospital in this articulate and conceptually interesting sociological account . . . a case study that holds implications for the wider context of unionization today. As private sector unionization enters its fifth decade of decline, the us-versus-them frame that guided pro-union efforts in the past must give way, the author argues, to greater attention to the meaning of vocation and worker solidarity, especially for employees in public services and those with vocational moral commitments like health care."—Choice (October 2012)

"Reich uses his experience as a volunteer organizer with the Service Employees International Union to explain how a Catholic hospital administration at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital reacted to unionizers employing a Catholic strategy. The book suggests some of the new opportunities and challenges presented by unionizers confronting an employer with a strong moral and cultural identity."—Conscience (Summer 2012)

"Reich's central thesis is that unions and workers will increase their workplace voice and power if they add a strong ideological and emotional component to their time-honored strategies of exerting economic and political leverage and of forging strong community alliances. This is a timely and compelling affirmation. It gives Reich’s work a pathfinding quality which makes the book an invaluable resource for workers, labor leaders and activists, labor students and scholars, and anyone attempting to improve labor-management relationships."—Kimball Baker, American Catholic Studies (Winter 2012)

"This is an engaging book written by a former doctoral student and one-time volunteer organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). . . . With God on Our Side makes a significant contribution to labour history and labour studies by reminding us of the cultural dimensions of labour struggles"—Linda Kealey, Labour/Le Travail (April 2014)

"Adam D. Reich's deeply engaging book should be required reading for organizers and scholars alike. In this finely textured account of the twenty-first-century struggle of health care workers to unionize, he reminds us that workers and managers are moral creatures to whom values matter. They are not the simple-minded economic utility functions imagined by far too many social scientists and, alas, organizers, politicians, and policymakers. We learn from his portrayal of the people who drive the conflict and as well as his analysis of conditions that shape it. And . . . it's a great read!"—Marshall Ganz, Harvard Kennedy School, author of Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement

"Adam D. Reich's With God on Our Side is a powerful and inspiring account of the historic struggle of workers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital to form a union. Anyone looking for a road map for how workers can achieve greater justice should read this book."—Randy Shaw, author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century

"With God on Our Side is an engaging read that will appeal to those interested in labor, religion, social justice, and health care. Adam D. Reich examines the tensions both within hospital management, pulled one way by Catholic religious teaching and another by trying to hold down labor costs, and within the union, facing internal divisions and struggles. "—Dan Clawson, UMass Amherst, author of The Next Upsurge

"This richly textured case study of the expanding arena of health care organizing brilliantly exposes the emotional, cultural, and moral dimensions of struggles between workers and their employers—dimensions far too often ignored by union organizers and labor scholars alike. Adam D. Reich brings an insider's perspective to this vivid account—he worked for more than a year on the lengthy union campaign that his book chronicles— along with a nuanced and sophisticated sociological analysis. With God on Our Side is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of the U.S. labor movement."—Ruth Milkman, CUNY Graduate Center and the Murphy Labor Institute, coeditor of Working for Justice: The L.A. Model of Organizing and Advocacy

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Adam D. Reich is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Hidden Truth: Young Men Navigating Lives In and Out of Juvenile Prison.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledments xiii

A Note on Names xvii

List of Abbreviations xix

Introduction: Work's Meaning and Labor's Power 1

1 The Labor of Love: Vocational Commitments in the Hospital 23

2 Losing It: The Limits of Economic Interests and Political Power 49

3 A Struggle over New Things: Contesting Catholic Teaching 78

4 Winning the Heart Way: Organizing and Cultural Struggle 103

5 Trouble in the House of Labor: Alternative Visions of New Unionism 126

Conclusion: What Should Unions Do? 145

Notes 153

Bibliography 167

Index 175

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