M.L. King Day

The Working Catholic
Bill Droel

This month’s celebration of Rev. Martin L. King (1929-1968) is of course about more than King. The civil rights era is about more than the Montgomery boycott that began in December 1955. It certainly includes Rosa Parks (1913-2005), who courageously refused to give up her seat on a bus. And, Parks’ disobedience was not a momentary reaction, but was the outcome of much preparation.
In recent times several scholars have drawn attention to “the longer civil rights movement.” Karen Johnson of Wheaton College is one of those scholars. Her book, One in Christ: Chicago Catholics and the Quest for Interracial Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), details significant civil rights activity as early as 1930—not in the South but in Chicago. Her examples, perhaps surprisingly, are Catholic organizations.
Johnson’s thorough account in eight more-or-less chronological chapters plus 49 pages of valuable footnotes is “primarily a story about laypeople” who in addition to highlighting aspects of Catholic doctrine also challenged the notion that priests are above laypeople, that urban Catholicism is synonymous with intra-parish ministries and that Catholics acting as Catholics should keep their efforts separate from Protestants and Jews.
Arthur Falls (1901-2000), a pioneering black physician involved with Federated Colored Catholics and then with Catholic Worker movement, is prominent in the first four chapters and appears throughout the book. The fifth and sixth chapters feature Friendship House with Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985), Ellen Tarry (1906-2008) and Ann Harrigan Makletzoff (1910-1984); the seventh and eighth feature the Catholic Interracial Council with John McDermott (1926-1996) among others. Msgr. Dan Cantwell (1915-1996) and Ed Marciniak (1917-2004) appear in nearly all the chapters.
These Chicago Catholics were successful to a degree. They “helped enlarge America’s moral imagination,” Johnson explains. They showed that racial justice is more than a political matter. Due to these Chicago activists and also to many religious leaders in the South and around the nation, civil rights became a significant aspect of faith, both for blacks and for whites. Further, the Chicago Catholics—years before Vatican II (1962-1965)—taught others that individual salvation and personal transformation are not enough. They communicated, in words and more so by way of example, that full-time Christians must seek “the common good by reforming the institutions shaping the public sphere.”
A contagious esprit surrounded these dedicated Catholics. They nourished one another in several institutional spaces, Johnson emphasizes. They all knew that liturgical grace was essential to their efforts. They believed that the liturgy of the word continued out the church door as each of them did their part in the Mystical Body of Christ to live a liturgy of the world.
Johnson includes enough detail to dispel any suggestion of hyper-romanticism about these civil rights pioneers. These people were street savvy. They knew how to agitate and at the right moment what to compromise. They avoided getting personally bent out of shape as they necessarily engaged in sharp disagreements with one another over strategy: How to include Chicago’s bishop—if at all. Whether or not to include anti-poverty measures in efforts against racism. Whether or not to maneuver inside the Democratic Party, which in Chicago was the Daley Machine. Are discussion groups a waste of time? Can Catholics be militant?
Remarkably, most of these Catholic civil rights leaders remained Catholic their entire lives. It is remarkable because, as Johnson details in parts of two chapters, more than one bishop, some influential pastors and the Catholic system itself reinforced racial distinctions. For example, Falls once told me that the segregation that hurt him the most was on Saturday afternoons when he went to confession. Blacks had to stand in one line and wait until each person in the white line had received absolution.
Johnson writes a comprehensible story. This is an achievement because all her subjects died before she began. She thus scoured multiple libraries for newspapers, magazine articles, minutes of meetings and more. Johnson, by the way, is not Catholic. Yet the book flawlessly covers Chancery politics and points of theology.

A powerful 2% of young Catholics are once again interested in the social question–in race relations, in living wage campaigns, in the dignity of all life, in socially responsible business, in green technology, in mental health delivery, in criminal justice reform and immigration topics. One In Christ is an inspiring account of visionary Catholics who navigated the push-and-pull of public life, and had some fun along the way. As we rightly celebrate King Day, we can continue to learn from all the efforts in our country toward “liberty and justice for all.”

Droel of Chicago is a board member of National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Mary’s Observations on Social and Economic Justice

In late December, the Washington Post published an interesting column, “Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ in the Bible is revolutionary. Some evangelicals silence her.” The Magnificat is Mary’s joyful reflection on how she, a poor young woman, was bearing the Christ-child. The author, an Evangelical Christian woman, felt that her brothers and sisters persistently overlooked one of the prayer’s most compelling elements – Mary’s pointed observations on social and economic justice. The Gospel of Luke tells us how Mary said:

He [the LORD] has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.

While we as Catholics have a great reverence for Mary and frequently invoke the Magnificat, I’m not so sure we do that much better. I certainly read and prayed the Magnificat for many years before taking note of what Mary was saying about God’s “preferential option for the poor.” Ms. Mayfield, the author, notes that Archbishop Oscar Romero favored this text, but I can’t recall ever hearing a priest or deacon preaching on this text explore what it means to have a God who fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away with nothing.

And hats off to Ms. Mayfield for introducing me to Ben Wildflower’s amazing woodcut print inspired by the prayer!

Providence Hospital in DC Curtails Services

As we reported in October, Catholic hospital chain Ascension Health was moving to close the financially stressed Providence Hospital, located in an underserved, largely African-American DC neighborhood. The action prompted outcries from hospital employees – especially nurses represented by National Nurses United – as well as the community and DC government.

Ascension was created by the 1999 merger of the Daughters of Charity National Health System and the Sisters of St. Joseph Health System, but it’s evolved a long way from its roots in those religious orders.  The dispute has also drawn attention to the enormous salary commanded by Ascension CEO Anthony Tersigni: the Wall Street Journal listed him as the highest paid nonprofit CEO in the nation in 2014, pulling down $17.6 million that year. (His current salary information is not available.)

Under pressure from the City Council, Providence moved ever so slightly, agreeing to keep the ER open through April and keep 10 or 15 beds. DC Attorney General Karl Racine filed suit, arguing that Providence was violating the terms of its DC operating license with the abrupt reduction in care, but the DC Superior Court rejected the city’s argument.

Government Shutdown Penalizes Public Servants, Poor

2019 opened with a partial government shutdown underway as the president and Congress failed to reach agreement on a budget. Congress wanted to continue funding the government under current program funding levels, while the president said he will keep the government shut unless Congress adds a $5 billion budget item to pay for a wall on the Mexican border to prevent illegal border crossings. Some 800,000 federal employees are now facing dire straits. Many, such as law enforcement personnel and Coast Guard sailors are working without pay; many at the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes for Health, and Food and Drug Administration have been sent home. In past shutdowns, Congress made whole employees who missed paychecks due to such political gamesmanship, but there’s no guarantee that these workers will ever see their money.

Like many Americans, a lot of these workers are only a paycheck away from missing mortgage, rent and bill payments. The Office of Personnel Management has advised them to “consult with their personal attorney” (!) to fend off creditors, or to offer landlords a hand with painting and small repairs in exchange for missed rent payments (!!). It’s no wonder that the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is filing suit on behalf of prison guards and others forced into unpaid labor, which certainly sounds illegal.

The effects are rippling well beyond the federal employees themselves, and not only in the ugly pictures of overflowing trash piling up in our national parks. Government buildings run on the labors of security guards, custodians and food service workers employed by contractors – many of these employees have been laid off and will almost certainly not get back pay. And now comes news that the food stamps and WIC programs that feed the poor are being disrupted.

Please keep in your prayers all those who have had their lives turned upside down by the shutdown, and urge our elected leaders to stop holding our public services and public servants hostage for their political agenda.

Five million low wage workers just got a raise

The federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour, giving a full-time worker an annual salary of less than $15,000. That’s hardly a living wage anywhere in the country, and many states and cities, prodded by community organizations, faith groups, and labor unions, have moved to boost their minimum wage to a more reasonable level. CBS reports that five million workers in 20 states will receive a raise January 2019 thanks to those actions. Some highlights from the past year:

  • The Massachusetts legislature voted to bump the state minimum wage from $11 to $12 Jan. 1 2019, followed by annual increases that will bring it to $15 per hour by 2023.
  • Voters in Missouri voted 62-38 for Proposition B, which increased the state minimum wage from $7.85 to $8.60 in 2019, and schedules subsequent increases to reach $12/hour in 2023.
  • Arkansas voters approved an increase from $8 in 2018 to $8.50 per hour today, and to $11 per hour by 2021.
  • In New York City fast-food workers and employees of businesses with 11 or more people saw their minimum hourly pay jump from $13 to $15 with the new year. That will have New York City joining Seattle and San Francisco as the major American cities where the “fight for $15” has won the day.

A 2017 survey of Catholic Conference Directors and State AFL-CIO presidents by the Catholic Labor Network and Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative found that raising the minimum wage was a high policy priority for both groups. Want to see what’s happening in your state and region? Visit the Employment Policy Institute’s Minimum Wage Tracker.

In Praise of Cash

The Working Catholic:
Bill Droel

It says “legal tender for all debts private and public.” But cash is out. Indeed, some businesses now refuse cash, including a hair salon in Los Angeles, a few pretentious chain restaurants and several small shops. Visa has declared “a war on cash,” reports New York Times (12/6/18). Other credit companies are implicit allies in that war. Only 30% of transactions by one survey currently involve cash, says Wall St. Journal (12/30/18). Most cash transactions are in small amounts; 55% of them are for less than $10. The popular alternative to cash is called a credit card. However, cards are also out. Nowadays a purchaser obtains ready credit through an app on a mobile device. It is not swiped; it is tapped.
We crusty old-timers prefer cash. This is not only because a cashless economy further impoverishes those without access to credit. There are other troubling consequences of going cashless, ones that threaten middle-class families.
Number One. Cash is or was a nearly universal societal benefit. The trend these days is to allow private companies to own public life. The outcome of this trend is generally no good. Prime evidence here in Chicago is the expensive parking facilities in the Loop and elsewhere. Citizens do not benefit from the revenue; a private entity does. Likewise, the ubiquitous cameras that catch any and all minor traffic miscues would be annoying enough if the tickets’ revenue went to our city. But a private company has the contract. Prohibiting cash in favor of private currency is another destruction of the public realm.
Number Two. A cashless private economy is premised on automation. Working-class jobs at what were once called cash registers are disappearing. It is entirely possible to stock one’s grocery cart and put the produce, meat and bread in one’s car without dealing with a grocery clerk. The same impersonal approach is taking over in restaurants. Banks don’t have tellers.
Number Three. Another result of cyber-automation is increased violation of privacy. The private company that extends credit and the retailer join forces to develop one’s consumer profile. This is used by the retailer to pitch more products or it is sold to other private companies. Also, cyber-banking and cyber-transactions expose one’s cyber-wallet to thieves. The best robbers these days eschew cash; they prefer hacking.
Number Four. It is true that credit, wisely obtained and carefully managed, can be a form of wealth. A home mortgage obtained from a neighborhood bank or credit union is an investment. Credit perhaps leads to wealth in sophisticated margin trading in 90-day stock options. Right? Most credit obtained by working families, however, is basically usury. There is no credit app (formerly called a credit card) that comes without a line of credit and interest fees. The singular factor that hampers the financial standing of working class families is credit app/card debt.

Is it possible to manage a household without credit? It is possible, but it requires resistance to the new capitalism—a capital economy in which products are not that important but in which investment rules. How to manage without credit? Get a checking account from a neighborhood bank or credit union. Don’t deal with Wells Fargo or other national entities. Do not accept any line of credit on the account. Don’t cyber-shop too much. Use the currency that comes with a picture of President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), President Ulysses Grant (1822-1885) or other notables. If you already have a credit card/app and you made only a partial payment last month, see a reputable, neighborhood-based finance advisor immediately.

Droel edits a free printed newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Hotel Workers Win “One Job Should Be Enough” Strike

Merry Christmas ahead for Marriott Workers

In November, the Network reported on a hotel workers’ strike that had rippled across the nation. Hotel and motel industry workers in the United States earn an average wage of about $11 per hour, hardly enough to live on in a major US metro area – and many face intermittent employment with frequent interruptions in their employer-based medical coverage. Eight thousand hotel housekeepers, clerks and banquet waiters in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Hawai’i had walked off the job at Marriott – the world’s largest hotel chain – calling for major contract changes under the slogan “one job should be enough.” And city by city, the hotel chain agreed to workers’ wage and benefit demands, culminating in a Dec. 3 settlement in San Francisco, home of the last holdouts.

Read more

Join the Catholic Labor Network at Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG)!

Each February, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops invites Catholic social ministry leaders and social justice activists from across the country to Washington DC for several days of fellowship, learning, prayer, and activism – and the Catholic Labor Network, as a partner in the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG), holds its annual meeting and luncheon. I hope you will join us for one or both of these events in February 2019 at the UNION Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC!

The Catholic Labor Network annual meeting opens at 8am on Saturday, February 2. In the morning, we’ll hear Catholic labor leaders, clergy and lay social justice activists share how their faith has informed their witness for the working poor and struggles to change society. Our special guest speakers will include United Airlines food service employees who waged a successful organizing campaign this fall to join the union UNITE HERE, and are bargaining with the airline for living wage jobs with health care coverage. We will also hear farmworker activists from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers tell us how they won a workplace code of conduct in Florida’s tomato fields. Afterward, at the luncheon, CLN will announce a major new initiative to connect labor leaders and Church leaders in order to promote worker justice and defend our immigrant neighbors.

CSMG 2019 will open that afternoon and continue through Tuesday, February 5. This year’s theme is Let Justice Flow (cf. Amos 5:24): A Call to Restore and Reconcile. Speakers and workshops will cover major topics in Catholic Social Teaching, from global peace to environmental protection to economic justice. (Our good friend Brian Corbin from Catholic Charities will be discussing Just Wages: Living Well from the Fruits of One’s Labor!) In a special conference highlight, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Chair of the Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, will lead a panel discussion on Open Wide our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love (the bishops’ new pastoral letter against racism) and its implications for Church and society.

To register for either or both of these important events,

 

CLICK HERE

Supervisor to Pregnant Warehouse Worker: If You Can’t Handle the Lifting, Get an Abortion

A disturbing New York Times investigative story offers illustrates happens when the demands of the market conflict with the needs of families.

If you are a Verizon customer on the East Coast, odds are good that your cellphone or tablet arrived by way of a beige, windowless warehouse near Tennessee’s border with Mississippi. Inside, hundreds of workers, many of them women, lift and drag boxes weighing up to 45 pounds, filled with iPhones and other gadgets. There is no air-conditioning on the floor of the warehouse, which is owned and operated by a contractor. Temperatures there can rise past 100 degrees. Workers often faint, according to interviews with 20 current and former employees. One evening in January 2014, after eight hours of lifting, Erica Hayes ran to the bathroom. Blood drenched her jeans….

In Miscarrying at Work: The Physical Toll of Pregnancy Discrimination reporters Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Natalie Kitroeff tell the stories of several women working in physically demanding jobs who requested reassignment or accommodation during pregnancy, even with doctor’s notes, only to be ignored. Although they span different employers and industries, the Verizon warehouse operated by XPO logistics in Memphis was a repeat offender. Erica Hayes, Ceeadria Walker, and Tasha Murrell each lost children there.

Ms. Murrell said that she told her boss she was pregnant and asked to leave work early one day that spring because the lifting had become painful. Her supervisor told her to get an abortion, according to a discrimination complaint she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in April 2018. Ms. Murrell woke up the next morning to find her mattress stained with blood. Her husband drove her to the emergency room, where doctors told her she had miscarried.

The reporters note that every year lawmakers introduce a bill that would give pregnant women the same right to reasonable accommodation that the disabled receive  under the Americans with Disabilities Act – and that the proposal has never received so much as a hearing.

The story also reminds us why workers need unions, even in this day and age. The market doesn’t care one way or another about families. If the law will not shield families from the market’s harshest edges, workers must come together and bargain collectively to fight for themselves. This fact was not lost on the women of XPO logistics. As the story continues, “Ms. Murrell left the job last year and is now an organizer with the Teamsters, which is trying to organize a union at the warehouse.”

CLICK HERE to read Miscarrying at Work: The Physical Toll of Pregnancy Discrimination.

TPS Holders: The Forgotten Immigrants in our Midst

While the national media focus on disorder at the border, 300,000+ immigrants are slated to lose their legal status in 2019 with the elimination of their Temporary Protected Status. Immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras and elsewhere were granted “temporary” haven in the United States after war or natural disasters displaced them from their homes, but as the years went on many have put down roots and raised families here. Now the Department of Homeland Security has announced that most will lose that status and face deportation, separating them from their American spouses and US-born children.

A friend of the CLN at Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor (KI) tells the story of TPS in a recent article. In Beyond the Caravan: Why We Must Protect Workers Covered by TPS, KI Program Manager Juan L. Belman Guerrero of tells the story of TPS and how recipients have contributed to the American economy and become part of our community. I know this all too well: many members of my local union, Laborers Local 11, are TPS holders threatened by the DHS action.

Belman Guerrero, by the way, identifies himself as a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, born in Mexico. DACA protects undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children and grew up in the United States from deportation. In DACA and TPS, we together as a nation put into practice Christ’s call to welcome the stranger — and both are endangered by today’s ill political winds.

Want to take action to defend TPS Holders? Visit the National TPS Alliance to learn how you can help.