3/6/2014 10:48:00 AM He refuses to be 'Judas' Former union steward takes pro-life fight public
Stuckart family photo
Frank Stuckart has remained as a resolute pro-life voice in union negotiations at Norpac Foods.
'We Need to Encourage Pro-life Atmosphere'
This is a statement from Frank Stuckart to Catholics in Oregon:
I am writing this letter to ask the Catholic Community and indeed Christians of all denominations to encourage Norpac Foods Inc. and Teamsters Local 670 (Local 670) in their upcoming contract talks to embrace a culture of life by removing abortion coverage in the medical coverage being provided by OPET. The medical coverage is our RM5 plan as it is defined by OPET (Oregon Processors Employees Trust ) . OPET is a private trust and most of its members work for private companies; and as such, is not subject to government mandates regarding abortion and contraception. Even if Obamacare tries to mandate such provisions, I would hope that the Christian community would encourage Norpac Foods Inc. and Local 670 to resist such a mandate and challenge Obamacare in the courts; together with other private companies who have done just that. Norpac Foods Inc. and Local 670, both are otherwise outstanding organizations who have contributed much to the quality of life in Oregon as well as helping feed the world. However, four shop stewards and one Local 670 president have over the last 12 years attempted to convince both; that respect for the sanctity of life should be included in all contracts by eliminating the abortion coverage in our OPET plan. Both Norpac and Local 670 should be commended for excluding contraception coverage in our medical coverage as part of our collective bargaining agreement. This exclusion of contraception has been the case for as long as I can remember and is admirable given the state of the current culture. It should be noted that much of both Norpac management and the Local 670 hierarchy is Catholic, and thus perhaps some significant community encouragement could persuade them to remove the abortion from our coverage.
Since some people knew that I was writing this letter they have asked me to include a relatively brief history of this fight to get abortion out of our medical plan. So here it is. About 12 years ago a senior shop steward read through the entire medical plan and noticed the abortion coverage. Since we were getting ready to go into contract negotiations with Norpac Foods Inc. he notified all of the other shop stewards that he could, of this violation of the Right to Life. At the time and to this day I feel some guilt over not being as vigilant as I should have been by not reading the entire medical plan. I should point out that at Norpac Foods Inc. the union shop stewards comprise the negotiating committee, although the Secretary – Treasurer of the union has often repeated that she can go it alone in negotiations and dismiss the shop stewards from the process anytime she wants. The Secretary – Treasurer in Local 670 holds the vast majority of the power with the President of the local more or less a figurehead who conducts meetings of the local executive board and heads the local meeting for the members. Also the Secretary – Treasurer in Local 670 has for a number of years been co-chairman of the OPET trustee board, which is the legal body that can make changes to OPET plans or define entirely new ones. Just to quote the offending provisions in our medical plan they are as follows:
Maternity Care Pregnancy care, childbirth, and related conditions for you or your covered spouse are covered under the various parts of this Plan the same as Illness. These services are not covered for any of your children, even if your child is covered under this Plan. Expenses related to Birthing Centers are covered when under the direct supervision of an M.D. Abortions are also covered for you or your spouse only.
Family Planning Services Charges for abortion and sterilizations are covered for the Eligible Employee and spouse only. Artificial insemination is covered so long as the diagnosis is infertility. As I was saying, we then entered into contract talks with Norpac Foods Inc.. This senior shop steward wrote many letters to both the leadership of Norpac and Local 670 asking them to remove the abortion coverage and providing them a letter of support to us shop stewards objecting to the abortion coverage,from the Christus Medicus Foundation. One letter asked for an audience with the OPET trustee board. The letter was signed by 3 of the 4 objecting shop stewards with the 4th shop steward who at the time was also Vice-President of the local trying to get the abortion removed behind the scenes by repeatedly putting pressure on the Secretary-Treasurer. We were never given the audience. I have copies of all of these letter today. At the contract talks, the “nay” votes were made by these shop stewards with the 4th shop steward abstaining since he was trying as Vice-President to force the change behind the scenes. I should point out that frequently Norpac Foods prior to this, usually rewarded a unanimous recommendation by the committee with a bonus upon ratification; that as I remember, approximated up to $400 per regular employee and $150 to $200 per seasonal employee. Since Norpac employs about 800 regular and 2000 seasonal employees; this was a substantial amount of money in what is generally a low paying industry. There are approximately 20 shop stewards total representing the various plants involved. As you can imagine, this caused quite of bit of conflict within the negotiating committee. Negotiations normally are of a 3 year length and usually take from 4 to 25 sessions over a period of potentially months. During the first negotiation where we were voting “nay”; we saw the following reactions by the other shop stewards.
1. One shop steward who was on an expensive drug (potentially life saving) asked us to remove our objection to abortion since she could die if her drug was no longer paid for. While we sympathized for her plight, we replied that unborn babies were already dying from the abortion provision.
2. Another shop steward tried to make an agreement with us that if we agreed to remove our objection to abortion that he would promise to talk to the Secretary-Treasurer and ask her to remove the abortion coverage. We declined his offer ! We were even at one point between contract sessions challenged briefly on our “Right of Conscience”.
The senior shop steward of this group retired due to age, leaving just 2 of us with a “nay” vote. In a little while I will specify all of the reasons that we objected to the abortion coverage, but principally it was because as Catholics, God expects us to respect the dignity of all human life and since abortion is murder there was no way that we were going to agree to any contract proposal that included abortion coverage as part of the medical plan; regardless of any unanimous recommendation bonus money amount being offered. Needless to say, despite our opposition; the contract proposal was recommended ( just not unanimously ), and ratified at the membership voting.
Subsequent negotiations over the last 12 years have produced the same result, recommended proposals by the committee ( not unanimously however ) that got ratified by the membership. At this point, I should mention that about 6 years ago one of the 2 remaining shop stewards voting “nay” because of the abortion, resigned in protest over the abortion coverage. Another shop steward and now President of Local 670 who tried to remove the abortion from within the hierarchy of Local 670, grew frustrated with the Secretary-Treasurer’s lack of cooperation in trying to remove the abortion coverage and so he resigned in protest as both the President of Local 670 and as a shop steward. The Secretary-Treasurer during one of our many short meetings told me in a frustrated rant that this issue (abortion) cost her a Local president.
This left myself as the only remaining shop steward the last 6 years in which we have had 2 separate contracts (1-3yr,1-1yr.,1-2yr.) which the last is about to expire. During those contract negotiations I was told as earlier in the 12 year fight that I was out of line for putting my personal opinion into the proceedings; this I was repeatedly told in union meetings and in the plant. However, I was also bolstered by the support of a significant amount of people in the plant who told me to keep up the good fight. I would also add that during the last 3 negotiations that pressure applied to me during union meetings and especially negotiations intensified. I guess since they thought that I was the only one remaining they could get me to capitulate.
Apparently, they forgot about the Holy Spirit, as I frequently asked God to give me strength to hold firm in trying to serve Him. The hostility displayed by some of the shop stewards included one asking me not to sit by her at the negotiation table, while other times I would hear remarks like someone should follow me home.
During one particularly hostile contract session when the union was caucusing, I was interrogated by my fellow shop stewards and the union hierarchy for about 45 minutes. One interesting technique by one shop steward was that since we have all sinned against God’s commandments one way or another, myself included, why worry about sinning against them any further. At this point as, I reminded him that as a Catholic; God wants us to repent when we fall, get back up and ask for His grace so that we can continue to try and do His will. Rather than go through all of the questions they drilled me with, I’ll just summarize what I told them. I would again like to thank the Holy Spirit for guiding me in my answers and giving me a calm demeanor during this time; a shop steward friend of mine even commented to me later that he could not believe how mostly calm and professional that I was during that interrogation. Little did he know how often I was praying for strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit.
In summary, I told the committee that when I evaluate a contract that I look not only what is good for the union workers and responsible to the company, but I also look at the proposal in regards to the United States Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and other relevant documents. Given that the Declaration of Independence specifies the Right to Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the Right to Life is pre-eminent over all other rights since no other right can exist without the Right to Life; that therefore the abortion provision violates this most basic tenant of human rights. I also said that since medical coverage is part of my contracted compensation, it violates my Right of Conscience to having medical insurance monies paid on behalf into the OPET trust, used for the intentional killing of the innocent unborn. I also told them I have every right to my Right of Conscience and to vote by it, as well as letting my Catholic faith guide my actions.
In addition, I told them that neither government nor man can give rights; but rather God is the author of all rights. In fact, I’ve told people that if you think about it the very notion of man or governments defining rights is a recipe for anarchy since it will eventually produce a “might makes right mentality”. Additionally, I’ve told people in the plant concerning the Right to Life, that our form of government is suppose to be a republic first and a democracy second so that the will of the majority cannot transgress the rights of the minority or of the individual.
Since some of their questions concerning the “nay” votes of all of us in the past and present was directed at the lost money bonus because of our “nay” votes with some slight irritation, I referenced the Bible when I replied that as long as the abortion coverage remained in our OPET medical plan in our contract proposal, that I would not agree to any such proposal; not for 30 pieces of silver nor any amount of money ! Its doubtful that many of the Catholics or other Christians in the room even got the reference. It was frustrating how so many of them put so little importance into the value of innocent human life. It seems to many that as long as its not their life or the life of someone they love being threatened then all they care about is how much money is in it for them. I heard other shop stewards say that there’s no use in fighting the establishment, but this is a non-argument, since God commands us to try and live His will, not necessarily that we will succeed. Many of them even wanted the Secretary – Treasurer to remove me from the negotiating committee. One of the worst arguments I heard was “going with the flow” in that people would say that they are personally against abortion; but they don’t think they or society have a right to force their values on others. This statement is like saying that they are personally against rape, however they don’t think either they or society have a right to pass a law against it. In fact, most of our laws are based on Judeo-Christian values; as can you imagine the chaos and even greater injustices that would be prevalent if this were not so. Well this is the substance of my responses to the committee.
This brings us to the present. I no longer am a shop steward as I failed to get re-elected in our recent shop steward elections, despite significant support from many in the workforce. I no longer have a direct say at the contract negotiations; and this is why I ask the Catholic and indeed Christian community, to please encourage Norpac Foods and Local 670 to rescind the abortion coverage in the medical part of the contracts with Norpac Foods. I do this realizing Obamacare may impose a legal mandate but that is why we all have a Right of Conscience and a Right to Life so that we can fight injustices like Obamacare. I feel blessed to serve God by standing up for the rights of the unborn. God Bless!
(Disclaimer- Shop stewards are not paid; they just don’t have to pay the approximate $32 /month union dues while they are shop stewards. They do have to pay their own gas money running paper work into the union hall as well as all time commitments outside of normal work hours spent at the union hall and the plants are not compensated. It is a position of service to ones fellow employees for bettering their working conditions.)
A Catholic worker is urging his Mid-Willamette Valley employer and union to drop abortion from medical coverage offered to employees.
"We need to encourage a pro-life atmosphere," says Frank Stuckart, who has worked for Norpac Foods and been a member of Teamsters Local 670 for 37 years. Contract talks are coming up.
Stuckart, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Salem and a former union shop steward, is asking Catholics and all Christians to help in the campaign to nix the controversial coverage, which he says is extended to a worker corps that is mostly pro-life.
Norpac employs about 800 regular and 2,000 seasonal employees. Stuckart says his employer and union are "outstanding organizations who have contributed much to the quality of life in Oregon as well as helping feed the world." At the same time, he is part of a long effort to get officials to make changes in line with what he says are the values of most workers.
A dozen years ago, a senior union shop steward, Roy Basl, read through the company's entire medical plan and noticed the abortion coverage. He notified other shop stewards, including Stuckart, who made up the union's negotiating committee.
When the health plan came up for a review periodically, Stuckart and two other stewards voted against it, citing the abortion provision. But several dozen other stewards voted in favor, so the contract passed each time.
But Stuckart and the other dissenting stewards were under furious pressure to relent, even from others who were pro-life. That's because Norpac promised to pay bonuses to all employees if the contract was approved unanimously.
"As Catholics, God expects us to respect the dignity of all human life," Stuckart says. "There was no way that we were going to agree to any contract proposal that included abortion coverage as part of the medical plan, regardless of any unanimous recommendation bonus money amount being offered."
Norpac benefits are provided by Oregon Processors Employees Trust, a private entity Stuckart believes is not subject to abortion and contraceptive mandates of the Affordable Care Act. "Even if Obamacare tries to mandate such provisions, I would hope that the Christian community would encourage Norpac Foods Inc. and Local 670 to resist such a mandate and challenge Obamacare in the courts together with other private companies who have done just that," says Stuckart.
Diana Franken, secretary-treasurer of Local 670, has opposed dropping the abortion coverage and also serves as co-chair of the board of the trust. For a dozen years, the trust has refused requests to hear presentations about cutting coverage. Franken did not respond to an interview request.
One of Stuckart's allies, his brother Bernie, resigned in protest as shop steward and union president. Another, his brother Ed, also resigned from the shop steward job in protest, leaving Frank as the sole pro-life voice left on the committee.
Superiors told him he should keep his faith out of the proceedings. Pressure intensified, with some people noting the lost bonus money.
"I guess since they thought that I was the only one remaining they could get me to capitulate," Stuckart says. "Apparently, they forgot about the Holy Spirit."
Stuckart says selling out for a bonus would make him no better than Judas, giving up Jesus for a bag of silver.
Meanwhile, many fellow workers urged Stuckart to keep up the fight. He says that, plus prayer, has allowed him to remain steadfast and calm.
But recently, Stuckart lost his bid for re-election as a shop steward and no longer is part of the negotiating committee. That is the reason he has gone public.
Stuckart argues that the coverage violates his own rights of conscience, sending monies into the trust on his behalf that could be "used for the intentional killing of the innocent unborn."
He says unabashedly that he allows his Catholic faith guide his actions.
"In fact, to be Christian is to follow Christ in all our actions," he concludes, "regardless of whether the world agrees."