The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date: August 29, 2003
Diocese, union settlement reinstates parish workers
By TERESA MALCOLM
After two months of upheaval following the firing of four unionized parish workers in McAllen, Texas, an agreement reached in mediation between the union and the Brownsville diocese has fully reinstated the four women who had lost their jobs. The terms also include the development of a diocesan-wide grievance procedure for terminated workers.
Other issues remain unresolved: The diocese said it would seek advice from the higher church authorities on the legitimacy of the union contracts at Holy Spirit Parish and four other parishes in the diocese.
And while parish council president Dora Saavedra said Holy Spirit parishioners are happy with the settlement, she said it takes them just two-thirds of the way to restoring our parish. Were concerned because we still need a permanent pastor named.
The dispute began June 18, when new pastor Fr. Ruben Delgado arrived on his first day accompanied by diocesan officials, who dismissed pastoral associate Anne Cass, sacristan Rosario Chayo Vaello, coordinator of family ministry/director of religious education Martha Sanchez, and secretary Edna Cantú (NCR, Aug. 1). All four women are members of the United Farm Workers union under a contract signed by the previous pastor, Fr. Jerry Frank. While many Catholics believed that Brownsville Bishop Raymundo Peña ordered the firings, Peña said that Delgado -- who resigned within a week, never having said Mass at Holy Spirit -- made the decisions on his own.
The UFW filed a breach of contract suit on the womens behalf, charging that they were fired without due process. Meanwhile, many Holy Spirit parishioners rose up in protest, including holding separate Communion services for several weeks until the diocese agreed to mediation.
The terms of the settlement, signed Aug. 18, include:
We feel satisfied with what we got, Cass told NCR. In particular, she said, the establishment of a grievance process will make sure no other diocesan employees will have to go through what weve gone through.
Cass praised the support she and her fellow workers received from Holy Spirit parishioners. The community has just been tireless, she said. Its been amazing. If wed just get a new pastor in here who is pastoral, well just come back even stronger.
Peña has appointed Jesuit Fr. Brian Van Hove as temporary parish administrator.
Saavedra told NCR that the parish council is still waiting for a response from Peña to a request to meet with him, so that the healing process can proceed. So far I think the diocese has complied with the letter of the agreement, but we would like them to comply with the spirit of the agreement.
Teresa Malcolm is an NCR staff writer/reporter. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
National Catholic Reporter, August 29, 2003
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