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Cemetery Workers Reject Union by Vote of 92 to 43

October 23, 1991|BOB BAKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a victory for Cardinal Roger Mahony, cemetery workers at the Los Angeles Archdiocese's 11 cemeteries voted overwhelmingly Tuesday against union representation.

The Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union's bid to organize the workers lost 92 to 43.

The vote ended one of the most acrimonious chapters in the historically warm relationship between organized labor in the United States and the Catholic Church.

The result was expected because of strong, personal campaigning against the union by Mahony. Still, the loss was a bitter one for union sympathizers because the cemetery workers narrowly voted to join the Textile Workers Union in 1989--the first time that any of the archdiocese's 9,000 employees had expressed pro-union sentiment.

Negotiations toward a contract were stalled after that vote by Mahony's contention that the union won through tactics of intimidation, and that many workers who voted for the union privately opposed it. A second vote, conducted unilaterally by Mahony, resulted in rejection of the union. Tuesday's third and apparently final vote was held to settle a lawsuit filed against Mahony by the union.

Mahony, who had criticized the union as an intrusion into his relationship with the archdiocese's work force, expressed gratitude Tuesday that the workers had voted "loudly and clearly to continue their collaborative effort with me."

Barbara Mejia, the union's assistant Western regional manager, attributed the wide margin of defeat to what she called unfair tactics by the archdiocese.

Union supporters claimed that Mahony and other archdiocese officials had made a series of informal comments to workers warning that if a union represented them, no current wages or benefits would be guaranteed, since contract negotiations would start from scratch.

The bitterness stems from "the expectations we have" of Mahony, said Ernesto Medrano, an International Assn. of Machinists organizer who worked as a volunteer organizer for the Textile Workers Union. "This is a guy who ran around with Cesar Chavez in Fresno, who was chairman of the ALRB (the state's Agricultural Labor Relations Board), and suddenly he sounds like the Carnegies . . . a union buster in the outfit of the church. It seemed something real personal to him."

Mahony had contended throughout the struggle that he supported employees' right to join--or not to join--a union. He said he was convinced that the Textile Workers Union would never have won the first election without intimidating some workers.

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