Promoting a Living Wage in Music City

When Pope Leo XIII issued his Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum in 1891, he contended that according to the natural law, every worker was entitled to a living wage. In a growing number of communities around the United States, activists have launched living wage certification programs for employers – programs that inform consumers which firms have committed to pay a living wage to their employees. The Catholic Labor Network has helped launch such a program in Nashville TN.

Nashville Living Wage (NLW) is a regional, membership-based organization in Nashville, TN, whose mission is to educate the community on the importance and urgency of a more just minimum wage and raise the wages of workers in Davidson County to a living wage ($17.40/hour, roughly $35,000 per year for a full-time worker) by organizing workers and certifying qualified businesses through a voluntary certification program.  The living wage rate is the “survival wage” for a single adult without dependents, according to the 2020 United Way ALICE Report, which is updated every two years. NLW envisions Nashville as a livable community where all workers can not only survive, but prosper.

Nashville Living Wage grew out of a coalition-based “Nashville Rising Forum” in April 2019, focused on “Work, Wages, and the Future of Nashville”.  The NLW Board and Advisory Committee includes employers, activists, restaurant workers, immigrants, refugees, non-profit leaders, the union/labor community, and those with legal and production/design expertise. Aimee Shelide Mayer, a Nashville Representative of the Catholic Labor Network, chairs the Board and handles much of the day-to-day work until funding is secured for a paid coordinator who will handle outreach to workers, employers, and community partners and process applications for certification.

To date, NLW has certified nearly a dozen employers from both corporate and non-profit sectors, with a goal of certifying 40 employers by Labor Day 2022. Once an employer is certified, they become part of a living wage directory and receive related resources, including a “living wage employer” seal and education materials for their business patrons & employees.  A vibrant social media campaign will bring the voice of workers to the forefront on discussions about living wages, and introduce the community to an online directory of certified businesses who are upholding a “more just minimum wage” by being certified.  NLW benefits the community by strengthening the local economy, challenging employers to increase wages, educating workers on living wage standards, producing a directory of living wage employers, and engaging consumers in their ethical purchasing decisions.

NLW addresses the inadequate minimum wage rate (currently $7.25 in Tennessee, less than $15,000 per year for a full-time worker) and provides an alternative approach to raising wages than local legislation, which has been preempted at the state level in the past.  By creating a living wage certification program, NLW brings the conversation about wages and economic equity into a more prominent place in the public arena.

The Nashville community is known for its philanthropy and friendly hospitality.  Building on the strengths of what makes Nashville “great,” NLW partners with groups centered on social, economic, and worker justice to elevate business standards by raising the wage floor.  NLW mobilizes and advocates for a just economy in which workers are paid equitably, employers are innovative and successful, and the entire community thrives as a result.

Report from the “Moral March on Washington”

Poor People’s Campaign Brings out Faith, Labor Activists for Economic Justice

Have you heard of the Poor People’s Campaign? Back in 1968, Martin Luther King had a vision of poor people organizing across racial lines to transform American society. Fifty years later, that vision was picked up by leaders such as Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, who aspire to mobilize 140 million poor people and low-income workers around an agenda anchored in economic justice. As part of the campaign, on Saturday June 20 thousands rallied near the U.S. Capital to call for a “third reconstruction.” Labor and faith organizations were strongly represented in the effort.

Most of the speakers at the six-hour rally were grassroots leaders and activists, low-income workers and poor people testifying to their personal stories. These ranged from residents of Louisiana’s “cancer alley,” where industrial emissions of toxic waste threaten public health, to workers employed at Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks who were fighting for a union and a living wage.

Among unions, the SEIU had a high profile, with busloads of members traveling from New York, Ohio and Florida to participate in the rally. “We’re here for the workers, for us – for a living wage,” explained SEIU 199 member Tommy Smith (pictured). “We aren’t getting what we deserve. The fat cats are.” Members of the IAM, UNITE HERE, and other unions were also in evidence.

Several Catholic organizations began the day with a short prayer service organized by the Franciscan Action Network in front of St. Patrick’s Church in downtown DC. These included Pax Christi and a large delegation of sisters from the Loretto community, among others. After the prayer service, the groups walked out in formation to join the March.

Other Catholic activists were already at the rally site, including Fr. Ty Hullinger of the Maryland Catholic Labor Network, who took a bus with the United Workers Association of Baltimore. “It is important for us as Catholics to show up and be part of these movements,” Hullinger explained.

In addition to grassroots activists, the rally also heard from a few labor leaders, including SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond. “Poverty is a failure of the system, not poor people,” Redmond observed.

Catholic Labor Network testimony on DC Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Legislation

Dear Chairperson Silverman and members of the Committee,

My name is Clayton Sinyai and I am here today to testify today in support of B24-712, the Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022.

I testify as Executive Director of the Catholic Labor Network. My organization brings together Catholic union activists with Catholic clergy, religious and lay social ministry leaders to promote worker justice. We are a national organization but are based here in Washington DC at Georgetown University and have many members in the District of Columbia.

We understand that there are more than 9,000 domestic workers in the District of Columbia – maids, nannies and home health care workers who serve in the homes of District residents. Many are recent immigrants. Unlike most workers, domestic workers do not have the right to organize in labor unions to fight for better wages and working conditions. Their workplace safety is not protected by OSHA. They frequently face sexual harassment and wage theft.

This bill would begin to address the challenges domestic workers face in the workplace. This bill would ensure that domestic workers are protected from discrimination and sexual harassment under DC’s human rights law and that they are protected from unsafe working conditions under the District’s occupational safety and health laws. It would also guarantee domestic workers a written employment contract, reducing the incidence of wage theft and exploitation.

Scripture tells us in Matthew 25 that we will be judged according to how we have treated the least privileged of our brothers and sisters. Consequently the Catholic Labor Network urges the DC Council to adopt the Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022.

CLN, faith leaders testify for DC Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

On June 16, the Catholic Labor Network joined DC domestic workers and other faith leaders testifying in support of a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights bill in hearings before the Labor Committee of the Washington DC City Council. While Catholic Social Teaching holds that all workers have dignity and deserve protection of their rights, historically domestic workers – nannies, housekeepers, and many home-based health care workers – have been excluded from the protection of our labor laws. Consequently, pressed by the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, a growing number of cities and states have passed legislation to extend workplace protections to those whose workplace is a private home.

The DC Human Rights Act, which protects workers from discrimination and from sexual harassment, currently excludes domestic workers from its protection. The proposed legislation, the Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022, would amend the act to include domestic workers. It would also extend the protection of Washington DC’s occupational safety and health law to cover domestic workers, and guarantee these workers a written contract of their terms of employment, which should reduce the frequency of wage theft in this sector.

In February, the Catholic Labor Network hosted a “listening session” for faith-based activists in the District of Columbia, where domestic worker Antonia Surco related her experience as a domestic worker. Surco, an immigrant from Peru (many domestic workers in DC today are recent immigrants), also testified before the Council. She explained,

It was a great surprise to me, after years of work, to learn that we, domestic workers, are EXCLUDED from the Washington, DC, Bill of Human Rights. We know from history since eras of slavery, that this is an inhuman legacy left for us. It is unbelievable that this beautiful and important work of caring for human lives does not have the protection that it deserves by the laws of Washington, DC. That is why today the echo of our voice asks to be INCLUDED in the Washington, DC, Bill of Human Rights.

Michele Dunne of the Franciscan Action Network, who attended the listening session, also testified in support of the legislation. She noted,

As people of faith, we are called to care about the common good and to respect the dignity of work as well as the rights of workers; both are core principles of Catholic social teaching. We are called to be in solidarity with our sisters and brothers, particularly when their rights are not respected as they should be. This is certainly the case with the more than 9,000 domestic workers in DC, who have been excluded from the normal protections extended to other workers for far too long.

Matthew 25 warns us that we will be judged by how we have treated the least advantaged of our brothers and sisters. It’s time for DC to join the 10 states that have already passed legislation to extend the protections of our employment law to domestic workers.

Half Moon Bay Ritz Workers Form Union

Supportive Pastor Instructed them in Catholic Social Teaching

When hotel workers at the Ritz-Carlton in California’s Half Moon Bay, many of them recent immigrants, decided they wanted to form a union, the company hit back – hard. Several of the workers were parishioners at nearby Our Lady of the Pillar Parish, and they turned to their Pastor, Fr. Jose Corral.

After meeting with the workers and hearing their stories, Fr. Corral reflected on Catholic Social Teaching and then penned a remarkable letter to the group, explaining…

To all my concerned Parishioners regarding protecting your family by promoting a more secure and prosperous common life: The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of supporting workers and workers’ rights dating back two centuries to Pope Leo XIII. The Church’s teachings tell us we are to support the dignity of every human including those that provide us with our basic needs whether it be providing our tables with fruits & vegetables or providing a myriad of services from hospitality, cooking and serving food at our restaurants… I feel obliged to communicate to you, your right to organize and ask for workplace protections through representatives. Unions are a way for workers to negotiate for just wages, benefits and better working conditions, and to look after the rights of vulnerable workers…

The letter was exactly what the workers needed to take courage and exercise their rights. The workers voted 110 to 103 to form a union and join UNITE HERE Local 2. Congratulations to the Ritz-Carlton workers, and please pray for their speedy success in winning a just contract!

To read Fr. Corral’s letter in its entirety, CLICK HERE.

Catholic Labor Network holds synod listening sessions for workers, allies

As you may know, Pope Francis has put the Church in “listening mode” in preparation for a worldwide gathering or “synod” of Bishops in 2023. Perhaps your parish has held a “listening session” about the challenges facing the Church and about how the Spirit is moving among us today. At the invitation of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, national Catholic organizations like the Catholic Labor Network were also invited to participate in this process.

We answered the call by organizing five synod listening sessions conducted via zoom – including one special listening session exclusively for Catholic union members, and another specifically for priests and religious active in ministering to workers. Facilitated by Jeff Korgen of Korgen Associates, the listening sessions sought to discern how the Church is responding to workers in the current day.

A number of common themes emerged from the discussions Read more

Bishops to close Catholic News Service at Years’ End

No single newspaper can afford to have reporters stationed in every nation and on every beat. For that reason, much of what we read in our newspapers and web sites originates with a wire service such as the Associated Press. Reporters employed by such wire services write up the news, and copy from their stories is sold to media outlets across the country.

For more than a century the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has operated its own wire service, known as Catholic News Service. The reporters there – union members represented by TNG-CWA (The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America) – provide professional coverage of events in the Catholic Church, stories that regularly appear in your Diocesan newspaper or website.

Unfortunately, after 2022 this will no longer the case. In early May, the USCCB announced that Catholic News Service would cease operations, at least in the United States, at the end of the year. (There seem to be plans to keep a Vatican office open).

The Catholic Labor Network is saddened to see this important institution closed. Most secular reporters employed by for-profit newspapers and magazines lack the in-depth knowledge of the Catholic Church that informs the coverage of Catholic News Service. Reporters like Mark Pattison and Dennis Sadowski, for example, have brought their sound understanding of Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work to their coverage of Catholic Labor Network activities.

Without the important work of Catholic News Service reporters, American Catholics will know less about their Church. And that’s a tragedy.

Shareholder Showdown at Wendy’s, Part II

Peltz fends off “vote no” effort

Despite a vigorous “vote no” campaign, Wendy’s Chair Nelson Peltz and his Trian Partners colleagues held on to their seats at Wendy’s late-May annual shareholder meeting.

Wendy’s has been under public scrutiny for some time as the lone fast-food chain to spurn the Fair Food Program, a third-party certification program monitored by workers to enforce basic labor standards in farms supplying produce.

The Fair Food Program was created by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farm labor organization based in the tomato fields of Immokalee, Florida, who recently visited Trian Partners’ headquarters in New York City, calling on shareholders to vote no on Peltz and his team (pictured).

The origins of this year’s “vote no” campaign can be traced to a 2021 shareholder resolution submitted by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, New York. Sister Margaret Magee, OSF explained how the sisters “met with members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers on zoom calls, learning about labor conditions in the fields.”

“We often hear the expression that we are the voice of the voiceless,” Magee continued. “But these people have voices; it’s that our institutions and corporations and government are socially deaf. We add our voice to their voices so the deafness can be overcome.”

The Sisters held shares in Wendy’s, and, working through Investor Advocates for Social Justice (IASJ) submitted a shareholder resolution calling for a review of the company’s procurement practices. Pointing out that human rights violations in their agricultural supply chain could pose a risk to shareholders, the Sisters asked specific questions about third-party audits of labor standards at farms that supplied produce to Wendy’s.

When other shareholders got on board, management decided to endorse the effort, and the 2021 shareholder resolution passed overwhelmingly. But the report management ultimately produced was a puff piece that dodged the hard questions, leading IASJ and other shareholders to deem management nonresponsive.

Management’s dismissive response to the shareholder resolution drew public attention to another corporate governance issue at Wendy’s. Trian Partners, Peltz’s investment group, holds less than 20% of the stock but dominates the board’s leadership positions; Wendy’s is badly in need of independent directors.

IASJ and another shareholder group, Majority Action, led the charge for Peltz’s removal at the May 18 shareholder meeting. A number of public pension funds lined up in support of the no vote. The AFL-CIO Office of Investment included the “vote no” campaign in its 2022 Key Votes survey.

 

Social Doctrine

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine Part Seven
by Bill Droel

There are scores of books explaining Catholic social doctrine. The outline for many of them is a chronology of papal encyclicals (from Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 On the Condition of Labor to Pope Francis’ 2020 On Social Friendship). Or the author might pick issues like peace, health care delivery, labor relations and the environment; quoting relevant official documents in each chapter.
The Church’s Best-Kept Secret by Mark Shea (New City Press [2020]; 16.95) is different. In 159 pages written for a popular audience, Shea reflects on four social principles, giving two chapters to each: the dignity of each life, the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity. The encyclicals are referenced along the way. However, Shea prefers to illustrate the principles with lots of Scripture, some quotations from the early church and citations from C.S. Lewis (1898-1963).
Ethical consistency is Shea’s recurring theme. Some Catholics agree with our doctrine on some issues but not others. Other Catholics, including some bishops, claim to be consistent but mistakenly say one issue has greater moral weight than another. And some Catholics disingenuously claim to support Catholic doctrine, but they only use it to oppose policies or politicians they don’t like. “If your focus is on abortion, fine,” Shea writes. “But do not pretend to focus on it while actually spending your time and energy fighting against the Magisterium…and in favor of policies that harm the environment, fighting against a living wage and in favor of laissez faire capitalism.” The tone of The Church’s Best-Kept Secret is easy-going, not technical. But, as this riff shows, Shea can hammer points as needed.
There’s a difference between the world-as-it-is and “the way it is supposed to be,” Shea writes. Everyone has at least a dim notion of perfectibility, of a better situation, of the world as we hope it could be. He goes on to quote G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936): In the here-and-now people “do not differ much about what things they will call evil; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.” For example, some people justify torture during wartime (though doing so became harder in the United States after the publication of photos from Abu Ghraib Prison). Yes, says Shea, soldiers sometimes have to kill combatants in self-defense. But the moment an enemy becomes a prisoner, torture is absolutely forbidden “as gravely and intrinsically immoral.”
In the same way some people excuse abortion because in their calculus the unborn are less equal. “Hairsplitting arguments about when a fetus becomes a person are meaningless,” Shea says. Each person has a right to live “the whole of human life for the whole of life.”
Over and over, Shea insists that a moral person cannot say that one issue must take priority over others. Concern over 20 or more issues does not dilute or fracture the brand. Yes, “there is plenty of room…for specialization and focusing on specific issues and ills.” But, to make one issue morally higher than another is to make some people in some situations more equal than others. A moral person cannot deliberately excuse evil.
There is obviously imperfection in the world-as-it-is. Yet the moral person retains a vision of a world as it is supposed to be and consistently strives to lessen evil and enhance good. At the same time, Shea concludes, one must refrain from becoming a justice warrior in the sense that they presume to create a perfect world. Such a person will likely be ineffective. Always “begin where you are, and not where you are not,” he advises. You are inside a family, inside a voluntary group, in a union, at a protest or rally. Then challenge yourself and others to move a step outside your comfort zone.
Shea is not the last word on social action, its history, its principles and its current applications. Most readers will quarrel with him on some pages; which is a sign of a good book. The Church’s Best Kept Secret is fresh, accessible and challenging.

Droel is the author of What Is Social Justice (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

CLN presents to seminarians at CUA Theological College

This March, the Catholic Labor Network was invited to present on Catholic Social Teaching to the Social Justice Committee at the CUA Theological College. CLN Executive Director Clayton Sinyai reviewed the history of Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work, the historic impact of Catholic thought on American public policy, and the ABC’s of labor unions with the seminarians (pictured, with Fr. Martin Burnham).

The seminarians were intrigued to learn the role that Monsignor John Ryan played in the movement for minimum wage laws in the United States. Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical letter Rerum Novarum argued that every worker was entitled to a living wage, and that if the labor market failed to provide for this, society should intervene. Msgr. Ryan, the bishops’ first Social Action Director, popularized the principles in Rerum Novarum by promoting public policies consistent with them. These included minimum wage laws (first at the state and later at the federal level) and laws protecting the right of workers to organize (the Wagner Act of 1935).

The College draws seminarians from across the country, and the seminarians had a rich discussion, combining what they learned in their theology classes with the economic and historical data in the presentation. Seminarian Michael Marincel later observed,

To integrate what I have learned about Thomistic Natural Law with what you discussed with us in your talk, because all the material goods of the world (things) are ultimately intended to meet the needs of people, if some people’s needs are not being met, and other people have far more than they need, we need to find ways to assure that the material goods of the world (things) get to those who are in legitimate need. It seems that unionization is one of the best ways to do this, because it allows more equal wages to come out of a conversation between employers and employees that is conducive to management and labor learning to relate to one another as real people with legitimate needs rather than just another cog in the system.

Social Justice committee leader Jack Kristensen saw a practical application for the discussion.

The talk helped me be aware of how Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work applies to people who work in a parish: that they need a healthy salary and enough time to be with their families and for rest. Also, I will probably be more aware of the services I use as a future pastor, making sure they are from companies that treat their employees and the environment according to Catholic Social Teaching principles.

The Catholic Labor Network was pleased to engage these future priests and looks forward to similar discussions at other seminaries.