Interfaith Blood Drive ‘postponed indefinitely’ amid strike concernsWritten by John P. McCartney | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Devorah Shulamit never thought she’d see the day when an event celebrating life would become what she says is just one of many casualties of a workers’ strike.
As founder and chairwoman of the Interfaith Blood Drive, Shulamit has spent the past 12 months preparing for the organization’s 25th anniversary blood drive. The Interfaith board hoped to collect 300 useable units of blood during the two-day event, in preparation for the July 4 holiday weekend. The drive also serves as a spiritual celebration of unity among people of all faiths.
Those preparations were dashed May 29, when the organization’s board of directors voted 8-1 to postpone the blood drive indefinitely, pending the outcome of the management/union conflict at the Western Lake Erie region of the American Red Cross.
The Interfaith board took the vote when the host of the event, Grace Lutheran Church, withdrew its offer to Interfaith for the use of its Monroe Stree building, until after the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 75 union workers’ strike against the American Red Cross was settled.
Grace Lutheran Church Pastor Holli Burkard told Interfaith board member and blood drive co-chairman Phil Meuser and Toledo Free Press that she was opposed to the blood drive for reasons of social justice.
“I recommended that we not host it,” she told Toledo Free Press. “I believe in justice for all people. There are many issues here.”
Among the issues Burkard mentioned were her concerns that employees were working for a business that she believes does not offer reasonable health care coverage, the church members’ possible opposition to not respecting the rights of union workers, and the possibility of picketing outside the church building.
Burkard said the decision not to host the event was made by the church’s governing body.
Concerns about picketing
Robert Haaf, Grace Lutheran Church’s council president, serves as the chairman for the church’s governing body. Haaf said the 18-member governing body, elected to three-year rotating terms, “acted on behalf of the congregation.” He said he could not remember the result of the vote and could not provide that tally “because the minutes of that meeting have not yet been accepted.” He did say the vote was not unanimous.
Haaf echoed some of the same issues his pastor, cited, including concerns that there may be picketing in front of the church, an event he said “no one ever wants to see at their church.” He also expressed concerns about safety of the volunteers and donors because “there have been national media reports in the past where people who picket and people who cross the picket line end up in a physical confrontation, and then there are times when nothing happens at all.”
Haaf said the governing body’s ultimate concern came down to “the unknown” — not knowing what could happen if it permitted a blood drive where striking workers may picket.
Haaf said the governing body had “an awareness that Toledo has the reputation of being a pro-union city and had concerns that some church members may not be comfortable hosting an event that may lead to people being asked to cross a picket line.”
Haaf did not say whether the governing body discussed any of the social justice issues his pastor raised.
Interfaith board members expressed disappointment and sadness over the decision, the timing of the decision and the reasons they were given for the decision. Grace Lutheran Church has hosted the Interfaith Blood Drive for 20 consecutive years, and the Interfaith board had been given a verbal commitment for its continued use in 2012 just 12 months earlier. It was not informed of the withdrawal of that permission until May 15, five weeks before the June 23-24 event.
Despite their frustration with Grace Lutheran’s decision, Interfaith board members Evelyn and Hindol Ghatak stressed their appreciation for the church’s pastor.
“We all agree that Pastor Holli has been very graceful,” Hindol said. “We live in a democracy. And obviously, their congregation, the board, has decided they don’t feel comfortable doing it now. And I think that this is their prerogative. Over the years, they have been very, very nice, and they have been very generous.”
“Grace Lutheran, in the community, is awesome,” she said. “They’re very, very, very open to anything. They’re always very accommodating.”
Not all Interfaith board members were as supportive or understanding of Grace Lutheran’s decision as the Ghataks.
When the blood drive board learned of the loss of Grace Lutheran as its host, Shulamit said she tried to focus on the positive and encouraged members to inquire at other area houses of worship as to the possibility of hosting the June 23-24 event. The reports of those last-minute inquiries at the May 29 meeting proved discouraging to Shulamit. Board members had contacted and had been turned down by five Toledo-area houses of worship: Epworth United Methodist Church, Hope Lutheran Church, Memorial Lutheran Church, Monroe Street United Methodist Church and Temple Shomer.
None of the clergy who rejected the Interfaith Blood Drive’s last-minute request raised the issue of socially unjust treatment of Red Cross employees. All rejections were based on logistical issues, including scheduling conflicts, the possibility of interrupting religious services, traffic issues, parking issues, room size issues and the lack of air conditioning.
Not being fair
Dale Parker, UFCW Local 75 union representative, said he was pleased to hear that the Grace Lutheran governing body rescinded its offer to host the blood drive.
“I applaud Grace Lutheran Church for standing up for what is right and just in the world,” Parker said. “The Red Cross is not being fair. They are proposing an increase by a large amount in the employees’ contribution to health care costs.”
Parker said the employee contribution is currently 15 percent, but the Red Cross is proposing a 10 percent contribution for single employees and a 20 percent contribution for a single employee plus one and/or a family going into the 2013-2014 year and beyond. Parker said employees are being asked to accept a contract that does not spell out health costs beyond just one year.
“We don’t consider it fair or just either,” he said. “We can’t sign a contract without knowing what the terms of the contract will be, and this contract is forever. We are being asked to sign a contract where we give up our right to bargain for health coverage forever. This is not just for one or two years. It’s forever.”
Bill Dudley, Director of Strategic Campaign for UFCW Local 75, said, “It doesn’t surprise me at all that faith leaders and people of faith would stand with the workers because this is a social issue. It’s an issue of economic justice and fairness.”
Dudley said the striking workers are willing to pay a little more than they have paid in the past, but are not willing to give up the right to bargain. Dudley said Red Cross management is asking its workers to give up all rights to collective bargaining forever.
“We’ve already decided that issue in Ohio,” Dudley said. “Ohio Senate Bill 5 appeared on the Ohio ballot as Issue 2 last year. It was defeated by 62 percent. Ohioans have spoken clearly that they don’t expect public sector employees to give up the right to collective bargaining.
“But that’s exactly what the Red Cross expects union workers to do.”
Ian Thigpen, communications program manager for the Western Lake Erie Region of the American Red Cross, the region that provides blood to 18 hospitals in 10 Northwest Ohio counties and Monroe County, Mich., said the Red Cross wants the striking employees to return to work “as soon as possible” but cannot “compromise what we offer all Red Cross employees.
“We cannot offer Western Lake Erie employees something that we don’t offer Red Cross employees in other parts of the country.”
Thigpen said the American Red Cross has signed 21 union contacts across the United States since July 2011, three since the Toledo-area strike started four months ago. He said that only three unions remain on strike: those that represent workers in Cleveland, Lansing, Mich., and Toledo.
Parker disputed Thigpen’s claim that 21 unions across the nation have accepted the contract Toledo-area workers have rejected.
“They have not responded to us in good faith,” Parker said. “They say that 21 other unions across the country have accepted the same offer we won’t accept. We have asked for a list of those 21 other unions they say have accepted the offer. Although we have asked for that list, they have failed to provide it.”
Parker said the union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, contending that Red Cross management does not provide the union with the information it requests. Dudley said a hearing to investigate the union’s accusation is tentatively scheduled for August.
Thigpen said he is personally troubled with the predicament that the Interfaith Blood Drive faces.
“I have met some of the people involved in the Interfaith Blood Drive, and they are good people,” he said. “And I am sad — and I’m confident that this is the official opinion of the Red Cross — I am sad that we could not celebrate the 25th anniversary of their blood drive with them.”
The Interfaith board issued a statement concerning the Red Cross labor/management dispute after it decided to postpone the blood drive until after the strike.
“The Interfaith board takes no sides with the management/labor dispute between the American Red Cross and its union employees. The Interfaith board’s sole goal
in life is to generate as many units of blood as possible. To do so, we need the support of the community, and, because of the strike, we do not currently have the support of the community.”