UCC Team Reports Findings in Connecticut Labor Dispute

HARTFORD, Conn., Feb. 15, 2001 (PRIMEZONE) -- A team of ministers from churches of the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC) and from the national setting of the UCC has released a report today concerning the lengthy labor dispute at Avery Heights, a retirement living and nursing facility in Hartford.

A group of concerned UCC pastors from Hartford and surrounding communities has been meeting regularly since November 1999 -- before the workers of Local 1199 voted to strike -- to help affect a solution in the labor dispute. They have been in communication with Avery Heights residents, workers, labor officials, management and elected city officials to facilitate a resolution.

In November 2000, a second panel of Connecticut UCC ministers and clergy from the national setting of the UCC (including immediate past national UCC President the Reverend Dr. Paul Sherry) also held a series of meetings with management, union officials and workers to get a clearer idea of the situation.

"This report calls Avery Heights and its parent company, Church Homes, Inc., back to their roots and asks them to live up to a higher standard," said Bates.

The key recommendations of the report calls upon Church Homes, Inc. to: consider ethical implications of their actions and to initiate good-faith negotiations with the union; end the practice of hiring permanent replacement workers; rehire all replaced workers; reflect upon and prayerfully discern the founding, history and name of the organization; and to honor the responsibilities that are typical of church-related institutions.

The report also calls upon the union leadership to continue to bargain in good faith and it requests the Connecticut Conference of the UCC to inform potential residents that Church Homes, Inc. does not abide by ethical business practices.

According to the Reverend J. Bennett Guess, the UCC's Minister for Labor Relations and Economic Development, "Our panel's recommendations underscore the UCC's commitment to justice for the union workers of Avery Heights."

The findings also echo the November 29, 2000 recommendation by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that all union workers be reinstated.

In 1995, a UCC General Synod resolution voted by representatives from churches across the nation stated that in regard to church-related organizations, it opposes union-busting tactics. The actions mentioned in the resolution include the hiring of permanent replacement workers, a tactic that has been used by the management of Church Homes, Inc.

"The General Synod of the United Church of Christ has spoken clearly and consistently on behalf of working people and their right to organize collectively for better wages and improved working conditions without fear of retaliation, including the hiring of permanent replacement workers," commented Guess.

Avery Heights is owned and operated by Church Homes, Inc., which has no institutional relationship to the United Church of Christ. No UCC ministers serve on CHI's board of directors, and of 70 persons on the board of corporators only two are UCC clergy -- both of whom served on the panel that wrote the report. There is, however, an historic linkage with the UCC, as Avery Heights was founded in the 1950s by a consortium of five Congregational Churches and the UCC-related Christian Activities Council of Hartford.

"Avery Heights was founded as a faith-based institution and markets itself as such," said the Reverend Gordon Bates, Associate Conference Minister of the Connecticut Conference, UCC. "We pray that this difficult and protracted dispute will be ended quickly and justly for the well-being of the workers, the institution and the residents of Avery."

It is important to note that the report does not speak for the local churches of the United Church of Christ, but rather expresses the views of the panel and speaks to its churches and to the public.

The UCC is the largest Protestant denomination in Connecticut, with more than 103,000 members in 258 local churches. The oldest churches in Connecticut are members of the UCC, dating back to 1630; its newest congregation joined the UCC last year. The hierarchy of the UCC is different from most denominations: the local church is the primary setting of the church, and members vote democratically to call or dismiss their pastors.

There are no bishops, and so episcopal oversight is carried out by laity and clergy in the 15 regional associations across the Connecticut Conference. Nationally, the UCC has 1.4 million members in 6,000 local churches. The denomination's headquarters is in Cleveland, Ohio.

CONTACT: United Church of Christ
         Hal Chorpening, Associate Conference Minister
         (860) 233-5564