April 26, 2023
(SANTIAGO, Chile)— Francisco Torres is a high school literature teacher at San Ignacio El Bosque, a traditional and upper-class Jesuit private school in Santiago, Chile. He is also the president of the school’s union and has an idea or two about organizing within religious institutions.
He spoke to The Click about the unique challenges he faces in this dual role. The interview was conducted in Spanish and translated for publication.
The Click: What distinguishes your school union from others?
Torres: It is strongly marked with the Jesuit stamp. There is a very strong relationship between the identity of the union and the school’s, which does not always work in our favor, because there is a very strong sense of community and workers often don’t want to “go against the bosses,” because they feel that we are all like one big family.
The first period that I was the president was the first time that we really did union work… Initially, this generated a certain reluctance in a group of workers because they saw that we were a much more belligerent union than the previous ones, where there was no collective bargaining… The school has a single union, where all the workers are represented: teachers, paraeducators, administratives, janitors, etc… Out of a universe of 288 workers, 250 are unionized. That number is key, I will later tell you an anecdote that we had with that magic number.
How have you achieved such a high unionization rate?
First of all, it has to do with the history of the union. It’s more than 40 years old… and we have also done a lot of work….Part of educating our colleagues is telling new members, [and] explaining what the benefits of belonging to the union are. We maintain high rates, although the school has been very reticent, in fact, it has had very harsh union-busting tactics.
To explain the union-busting tactics employed by the school, Torres explains that, within the Chilean legal system, once a union has achieved 250 members, it has the right to employ more organizers who are protected against being fired and paid for their union work.
We had 243 affiliates at the beginning of last year, and we began to track all those who weren’t unionized and invited them to participate…
The day we reached 250, we received simultaneous emails from five school workers who were historically unionized, 20 years unionized, telling us they were resigning… Later, one of them confessed that it had been a direct order from the school administration, that we could not reach 250 because that meant having more organizers and having more organizers means having fewer teachers, less time in the classrooms… It was money. Since it involved an expense for the school, they were told “we strongly recommend that you disenroll.”
[The Click contacted the school for comment on these allegations and has yet to receive a response.]
Is there any awareness within the school board that the history of the Jesuits, particularly in Chile, especially due to the figure of Father Hurtado [a Chilean Jesuit saint], is pro-union?
There is a highly established narrative in the Jesuit mentality [of social justice], but it remains only a rhetoric that is not carried out in practice. (…) But today we are faced with a foundation [the school] that seems more like a company than a foundation… that is, today they are very concerned about the issue of income, school expenses, more than the ethical values that are linked to unionism. When we have sat at the collective bargaining tables we have used phrases from Father Hurtado, and the truth is that they are not interested… That is my opinion.