Hundreds sign worker justice petition to Episcopal Presiding Bishop

By staff writers
October 18, 2014

Within a few hours over 550 people have already signed a petition to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, calling for reinstatement of eight fired seminary professors.

The move follows the intransigence of the Board of Trustees of General Theological Seminary in New York, a flagship Episcopal institution, over their sacking of most of the GTS faculty for a protest and work stoppage concerning allegations of abuse and a hostile work environment against the Dean and President.

The Board has dismissed the allegations against the Dean through a private investigation involving an outside lawyer, but have ignored or bypassed due process and the procedures set out in the Seminary's own handbook, say supporters of the dismissed professors.

A letter from the faculty setting out demands for a fair handling of the dispute was used by the Board to claim that they had 'resigned', though that was never the intent, wording or reasonable implication of their communication.

Now backers of "the GTS Eight", as they have become known, are petitioning the Most Rev Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, seeking full reinstatement. Over 550 people had signed the plea within a few hours of a meeting at the Seminary from which the Board issued a statement refusing to do so.

The petition on MoveOn.org has been established by Aina Gutierrez, Deputy Director of Interfaith Worker Justice, a national organisation in the US that engages the faith community in worker rights issues.

In commending the appeal to Bishop Jefferts Schori, who is technically a member of the GTS Board herself, Ms Gutirrez has declared: "I’ve encountered my fair share of unscrupulous corporate bosses who strip workers of their rights and dignity on the job.

"As a faithful Episcopalian and divinity school graduate, whose experience of church and seminary led me to my vocation, I never imagined the day when I’d find myself rallying against leaders of the Church’s oldest seminary, General Theological Seminary (GTS).

"Today, October 17, the GTS Board of Trustees ruled against pleas – from students, clergy, worker advocates and concerned people of faith – to fully reinstate the eight GTS professors (GTS8) who were recently let go for exercising their legal right to demand fair treatment and a healthy work environment.

"As custodians and overseers of an institution charged with nurturing the next generation of faith leaders, the Board of Trustees’ decision jeopardises not just the lives and livelihoods of the GTS8, but also the integrity of an institution founded on Episcopalian values that includes the just and fair treatment of workers.

"The seminary has failed to live out its religious values, so it's time to look to the national church for leadership and accountability. What the board of trustees has done is wrong. The Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, can make this right. Episcopalians, seminarians, clergy, people of faith and worker rights advocates all over the country are waiting for her to act. The GTS8 deserve nothing less than full reinstatement."

People both in the US and internationally are being encouraged to sign the petition to the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop.

Interfaith Worker Justice (http://www.iwj.org) organisers work to mobilise people of faith and work advocates in support of economic justice and worker rights at the local, state and national levels. Today there are more than 70 affiliated organisations in the IWJ network, including a variety of interfaith groups and more than two dozen worker centers. More groups form every year.

* The petition: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/bishop-jefferts-schori

* General Theological Seminary board refuses to rescind faculty sackings: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20960

* More about the situation at GTS on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/GTS

* The sacked faculty's site, Safe Seminary: http://www.safeseminary.org/

* Twitter: @safeseminary and @Reinst8GTS8

* Interfaith Worker Justice: http://www.iwj.org

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