A corporate restructuring is pitting the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse against the area's service workers union, with the jobs and livelihoods of six cemetery workers uncertain. Members of SEIU Local 200 rallied outside diocesan headquarters Wednesday, on behalf of the employees of St. Mary's and St. Agnes cemeteries. Our Kat De Maria explains.
DEWITT, N.Y. -- One of the first things you may notice if you drive into St. Mary's Cemetery in DeWitt is that the grounds are well kept. One of six people responsible is Andrew Liszewski.
"Dig graves, all kinds of landscaping at the cemetery, little bit of upkeep at the cemetery, put bodies away in the mausoleum, running heavy equipment, light equipment, fix it, plumbing. Anything that goes on on the grounds of the cemetery, I do it," Liszewski said.
And he has for more than 25 years.
"Great job. It has been a great job up to this point," Liszewski said.
A few weeks ago, he and his colleagues learned the Syracuse Diocese decided to dissolve St. Mary's-St. Agnes Inc. and make the facilities part of Catholic Cemeteries Inc., which runs all of the others that aren't affiliated with specific churches.
"The people who entrust their lives of their loved ones to us do so in perpetuity. And part of this whole decision is to insure the cemeteries are here long beyond I'm here and most of us are here because the cemeteries still need to exist," said Communications Director Danielle Cummings.
A side effect of the transition, Liszewski and the others lose their jobs and their union organization under the SEIU, whose members rallied outside diocesan headquarters Wednesday.
"With a shirt change of a corporation, the Catholic Church has elected to in essence says that they are legally not bound by the collective bargaining agreement any longer and that they have no intentions of hiring the six individuals that have worked for them many of whom for more than 25 years," said SEIU Local 200 President Jerry Dennis.
The workers at St. Agnes and St. Mary's have been encouraged to apply for the positions with the new corporation. But it hasn't been decided yet how many there will be, or if there might be the potential to unionize.
"They're in the process of assessing what needs to be done, what workers will carry on the operation at St. Mary's-St. Agnes," Cummings said.
Union leaders say the bishop himself needs to rehire the six workers and honor their old contract. Liszewski says if that happens, he'll go back.
"With a union and a new contract, yes, absolutely," Liszewski said.
...Back to the scenic grounds of St. Mary's.
Cummings says the salary the six workers at St. Mary's-St. Agnes receive is similar to what they would under Catholic Cemeteries, Inc. and the benefits are the same.