In an election sponsored by the Catholic Church and condemned as a "sham" by organized labor, workers at 10 Catholic cemeteries in the Los Angeles area voted overwhelmingly Friday against unionization, reversing a close pro-union vote a year ago.
Friday's vote--which may eventually be nullified by a lawsuit filed against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union--further embittered relations between organized labor and Archbishop Roger M. Mahony.
Mahony announced last week that he was breaking off negotiations with the textile workers union, which assumed it had won bargaining rights on behalf of 150 cemetery workers through November.
Mahony called a new election after saying he had received petitions from scores of workers saying they no longer wanted union representation.
Twenty-four voted in favor of maintaining unionization and 92 against in the Friday election. Twenty-five other workers deposited blank ballots.
"From our viewpoint, the issue is settled," said Bill Rivera, archdiocese spokesman.
Barbara Mejia, manager of the union's California board, which refused the archdiocese's request to co-sponsor the second election, said she was not surprised by the results. She maintained that the church "controlled" the results by forbidding workers to talk about the issue, keeping union representatives off cemetery grounds and firing several pro-union workers during the last year.
Cemetery workers began organizing in 1988, saying they wanted higher pay, better medical benefits and an end to oppressive treatment from supervisors.
The church agreed to hold an election in February, 1989, after the National Labor Relations Board declined to sponsor a vote, saying it did not have jurisdiction over religious organizations. After a campaign marked by frequent threats of violence between pro- and anti-union workers, the union narrowly won the election, 66 to 62. A three-member panel, with members approved by both sides, examined allegations of misconduct and concluded last November that the union had won fairly.
Negotiations on a labor contract between the union and the church did not begin until last month. Two weeks after they began, Mahony declared them over. He said the two sides had agreed that the union's representation would last for only a year, and that he considered the year over.
In response, angry union leaders on Tuesday sued Mahony in Superior Court, saying the archdiocese is obligated to negotiate with them for a year that began with last November's arbitration panel decision, not last February's election.
Church spokesman Rivera said he believed Friday's anti-union vote came because the election was held without a long campaign and because of improvements in wages and working conditions. The union acknowledges that those changes resulted since the original organizing drive.
Rivera said Mahony, in an effort to mend fences after the episode, plans to hold a "Mass of reconciliation" for workers and probably a subsequent Mass for organized labor.
Mahony is scheduled to return this weekend from a weeklong visit with the archbishops of three Central American countries.
Mejia said the only way Mahony can diminish the bitterness of labor leaders toward him "is possibly to say he was wrong."