Right to Work

The Working Catholic: Right to Work
by Bill Droel

The pastoral teaching of Catholic bishops in our country has “consistently supported the right of workers to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining,” wrote Anthony Picarello Jr. to the Supreme Court this past January. Picarello is the bishops’ general counsel in Washington, D.C.
Bishop John Carroll (1735-1815) became the first U.S. Catholic bishop in 1789, following a stateside election. (That is another story.) From that day until now, no U.S. bishop has ever compromised our Catholic doctrine by supporting a so-called right to work measure—neither for public sector nor private sector workers. Quite the opposite to expressing support, explains Picarello, bishops have “been very inimical to right to work laws.”

Why does Catholic doctrine support the right of workers to organize and specifically why does it oppose right to work measures? Those measures, Picarello continues, represent a “general concept of freedom that [is] too absolute and extreme.”
Put it this way: A Catholic cannot be a libertarian. Freedom is precious. In Catholicism freedom means freedom to exchange views with others, freedom to associate with others, freedom to worship with others without coercion, freedom to participate in electoral campaigns, freedom to engage with lobby organizations, freedom to join block clubs, hobby clubs, community organizations, professional associations and, to our topic, labor unions. In libertarian terms—an awful philosophy that is infecting our beautiful society—freedom means freedom from; it means doing one’s thing, freedom from an encumbered lifestyle, freedom from obligations in order to be left alone, freedom from social responsibility except as an individual option but not letting society hinder one’s acquisition or accumulation of money or pleasure. The libertarian picture results in ragged individuals on one end and big companies and/or big government on the other end. The Catholic picture has a multiplicity of people’s groups in between those extremes.
An open shop at a union company or right to work measures undermine solidarity, threaten social cohesion and ultimately and surely are unhealthy— physically and spiritually—for the person. (Doctrine does not change merely because many U.S. Catholics, including those who identify as libertarians, do not always adhere to one or another matter of Catholic doctrine.)

The Catholic doctrine on labor relations, derived from our dogma of the Trinity and from Scripture’s revelation about God’s plan for work, has 12 or 20 corollaries, but here are its main points:
1.) Workers decide for or against a union with no paternal or maternal interference from managers. Workers likewise can later decertify a union that displeases them. No specific company is obliged under Catholicism to have a union nor does our doctrine endorse or oppose any particular fit between a particular company and a particular union. The workers decide.
2.) People flourish best–again physically and spiritually—in a vibrant civil society, not under oppressive government (totalitarianism) and not in atomistic arrangements (libertarianism). A vibrant civil society must have some labor unions with honest collective bargaining.

Picarello referenced three Chicagoans in his written testimony to the Supreme Court: Cardinal Blasé Cupich, our current archbishop, Bishop Bernard Sheil (1888-1969), a former auxiliary, and Msgr. George Higgins (1916-2002), a long-serving advisor to Church officials and union leaders. This column gives Higgins the last word, by way of a quotation from Msgr. John A. Ryan (1869-1945) of St. Paul. Higgins thought this early 1930s quote well summarized the matter.
“Effective labor unions are still by far the most powerful force in society for the protection of laborer’s rights and the improvement of [their] condition. No amount of employer benevolence, no diffusion of a sympathetic attitude on the part of the public, no piece of beneficial legislation, can adequately supply for the lack of organization among workers themselves.”

Droel’s publications on labor doctrine include Catholic Administrators and Labor Unions plus Pope John Paul II’s Gospel of Work, available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $8.50 prepaid for both).

Catholic leaders call on Supreme Court to preserve union rights for public employees

On February 26 oral arguments began in Janus v AFSCME, the most important Supreme Court case in decades for American labor unions. A majority of employees in the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services have voted for union representation by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the AFSCME contract with the state requires all employees covered by the contract pay union dues or “agency fees” to cover the costs of bargaining and grievance handling. Mark Janus, a Department employee, wants to opt out of paying these agency fees and is asking the Supreme Court to rule that the First Amendment gives him the right to refuse. If Janus wins, he will bring “right-to-work” to every state and local government agency in the United States. That will almost certainly be catastrophic for public employee unions – after all, why pay dues if you can get all the benefits of the union’s contract without it?

The case has inspired an outpouring of Catholic support for labor. In January, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops weighed in with an amicus brief in support of AFSCME. The remarkable brief cited the long history of Catholic Social Teaching defending the right to organize and pointed out that Janus, like Roe, was asking the Court to declare Catholic Social Teaching unconstitutional. (The Catholic Labor Network joined an interdenominational alliance that filed an amicus brief of its own, also supporting the union.)

In the weeks since, numerous bishops, priests, and Catholic lay leaders have spoken out to defend the union. Don’t miss, for instance, Michael Sean Winters’ excellent essay in the National Catholic Reporter, Don’t Let ‘Janus’ Case Axe Root of American Labor.  Fr. Michael Seavey, speaking at a rally before the Supreme Court building, reminded listeners, reflected on reports describing the network of deep-pocketed pro-business interest groups that financed and promoted Janus’s challenge:

In our nation’s history, there has been one institution and only one institution that has consistently advocated for, defended and promoted working people. That institution is not the government, it is not any political party, nor is it any think tank or corporation. The only institution that has consistently stood by working women and men at all times and under all circumstances are labor unions….The dark forces of economic exploitation, condemned by Pope Leo in 1891 and consistently condemned by popes ever since still face us today. They are fueled by amassed wealth and power; and move against the forces of justice, true community, and true freedom. Their true identity, covered by a veneer of concern for liberty and individual rights, becomes readily apparent when the real agenda comes to the forefront.

Fr. Clete Kiley, a Catholic Labor Network board member, addressed the issue at a solidarity rally in Chicago.

Because solidarity is at stake today the Catholic Bishops of the United States stand with AFCSME, with the Labor Movement and with the millions of union members across this country. The Catholic Bishops of the United States have filed an amicus curiae brief in the Janus case in support of AFCSME. The brief draws upon more than 125 years of Church Doctrine that supports workers, upholds their right to form unions and to bargain collectively… Unions are a positive good for society in Catholic Doctrine.

My personal favorite was the intervention by Bishop David Zubik, who penned an insightful column in the Pittsburgh Catholic. He recalled how his father’s union membership had provided a family-supporting wage during his youth, as it does for many today. He concluded,

 “Solidarity!” is the great rallying cry of organized labor, and one of the most important theological principles of the church. We are all in this together. Those of us who are strong need to stand with those of us who are weak, so that we can all thrive together. We in the church need to support our sisters and brothers in unions, as together — in both private sectors and public sectors — we work for a more just, pro-life and pro-family society.

Have any Catholic leaders in your community impressed you with their witness for public workers’ rights in the face of Janus v. AFSCME? Please email clayton@catholiclabor.org with the details, or share them in the comment section below!

Public Housing

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

St. Frances Cabrini, MSC (1850-1917), the first U.S. citizen to be canonized, is the patron of immigrants. William Green (1873-1952) was for 28 years president of American Federation of Labor (before the merger with CIO). A notorious public housing project in Chicago was named for these two.
Ben Austen takes us inside that housing project in High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing (Harper Collins, 2018). The project started in 1943 with several row houses in an area once called Lower North Side, and previously called Little Italy. In 1958 the high-rises appeared; first 15, then eight more, then others—three were 19 stories, and then others up to 23 stories. Eventually the project came down; demolition completed in 2011.
Originally, Cabrini-Green, like other public housing, was meant to temporarily assist working families; to provide a way station between unemployment and upward mobility. It was also an effort to address slum conditions in the area and to create jobs in construction and administration. Cabrini-Green, a case study in unintended consequences of social policy, failed all three of its original goals.
Austen intersperses the chronology with the stories of select residents. He follows Dolores Wilson, a longtime resident who remains attached to her family and neighbors. There is Kelvin Cannon who, despite potential, soon affiliates with a gang and is convicted of crime. Willie J.R. Fleming likewise shows potential; moves away from Cabrini-Green; yet returns to its danger. He eventually displays organizing creativity, but neither he nor his followers have enough sustaining discipline and power. Annie Ricks comes to Cabrini-Green following a fire in her home. She makes a stand there for the sake of her eight children.
Austen refrains from moralizing. He is also light on analysis; certainly implying the wrongness of some decisions, but not targeting villains. Austen thus challenges readers to draw their own conclusions. His policy narrative is complex enough and his characters are complicated enough that fair-minded readers must put stereotypes aside. Yet, from the time of Martin Luther King’s assassination in April 1968 followed by riots in Chicago and elsewhere, it is obvious that Austen’s book and Cabrini-Green itself will not have a “happily ever after” conclusion.
Are there any heroes in Austen’s book? No super-heroes. But some Cabrini-Green residents manage as best they can, by participating in improvement efforts and especially by keeping their children in school and in some cases finding better opportunity for their families. High-Risers also mentions “friends of Cabrini-Green,” who exhibit constancy in assisting families and young adults there. For example, Brother Bill Tomes (and his handful of disciples) provide a small measure of good example to young people. Marion Stamps, who once lived in Cabrini-Green, is a savvy advocate. She is such a fixture that she can with credibility call-out gang members and politicians alike. The leaders at Holy Family Lutheran Church and at other churches never tire of providing services to residents and eventually, with LaSalle St. Church and others, develop alternative housing. Austen names two police officers who excel in dealing with young people at Cabrini-Green. Jesse White, who is still Illinois Secretary of State, assists many Cabrini-Green residents over the years. His Tumblers group, designed for Cabrini-Green youngsters, still performs at many parades and other events.
Austen includes Ed Marciniak (1918-2004) in his bibliography. Marciniak was involved in race relations and with public housing for decades. As early as 1951 he warned the housing authority not to build high-rises in the Lower North Side/Cabrini-Green area. Over the years Marciniak started a tutoring program for Cabrini-Green students, raised money for scholarships there and served on numerous committees and a few federal judicial panels dealing with Cabrini-Green.

For the last 20 years of Marciniak’s life, I was honored to be his assistant. We spent many hours walking the rim of Chicago’s Loop, often including the area in and around Cabrini-Green. We talked with lots of people—sometimes by appointment, sometimes informally. Here, out of a list of about 20 conclusions, are three in abbreviated form.

1.) The government does a reasonably good job delivering assistance that is not means-tested, specifically Social Security and Medicare. In all other programs the delivery of social services needs to be mediated by smaller, closer institutions. Housing assistance requires partnerships of non-profit entities like churches and community development corporations along with government, plus community-minded, for-profit entrepreneurs, construction companies and management teams. A sufficient number of local institutions need to relate to those in assisted housing—good schools, stores, social service, youth agencies and more.

2.) There has to be a certain quantity of well-managed assisted housing in a target area so that families are not dumped into an otherwise downward scene. At the same time there has to be a limit on assisted housing units in a target area so that the new residents do not inundate the area with poverty. Again, the target area has to have as many local institutions as possible.

3.) Poverty, we also concluded, is not simply about income. An older type of poverty assumed upwardly mobility was possible because a sufficient number of factory jobs in assembly or manufacturing were available. That is no longer the case, as Austen repeatedly mentions. The new poverty includes lack of useful social connections, a lack of proficiency in the requirements of the knowledge-sectors, a loss of marriage and family life as a buffer in one’s daily struggle and more. To impose the expectations of the old immigrant story onto the new urban (and more recently suburban) poverty only leads to blaming people when supposed remedies fail. On the other hand, urban pessimists are wrong to presume that the new poverty is an unbeatable inter-generational sentence and that therefore “those people” deserve to fend for themselves without any assistance.

Marciniak’s book on Cabrini-Green is Reclaiming the Inner City (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5.50). Droel edits NCL’s print newsletter on faith and work.

Union Reform

The Working Catholic: Union Reform
by Bill Droel

Subsidiarity is a Catholic social principle that celebrates the multiplicity of small institutions that buffer a person from the mega-forces of big business and big government; institutions like the family, the parish, an ethnic club or the precinct. Brian Dijkema, writing in National Affairs (Winter/18), correctly and refreshingly includes labor unions among those mediating institutions that help families navigate in our wider society and global economy. I say “refreshingly” because in recent times several social policy thinkers who acknowledge the crucial role of civil society are cool toward unions. They are pro-family, pro-church and pro-soccer league, but they don’t want the countervailing efforts of unions.
Dijkema, who is with Cardus (www.cardus.ca), a Christian think tank in Hamilton, is aware that the “social institutions that define a rich human life” are in decline, leaving us with a more-or-less random collection of “atomized individuals.” Dijkema thus offers general suggestions for the renewal of local institutions, which in this essay he applies to unions.
Organized labor should embrace the Catholic principle of subsidiarity and its companion, the principle of solidarity. Dijkema does not mean that union leaders should be Catholics. He means that Catholic tradition (and other religious traditions) has resources that can help unions attract and retain a younger generation. Dijkema seems to assume that today’s churches are carriers of these social resources—an assumption those of us involved with parish life question at times. In any case, he is correct that unions and churches can be mutually beneficial. If that is, they approach each other with clarity; not merely in a utilitarian way to get more people at a union rally or to sell more tables at a church banquet.

Dijkema details a contrast between the dominant approach of unions today and an approach that uses solidarity and subsidiarity. In the dominant approach, unions pour money into electoral campaigns. Instead they need to use money and energy “to recapture the imagination of local communities.” In the dominant approach union leaders think power comes through elected officials whereas power can emerge from deliberate encounters between and among grass-roots leaders. Unions, Dijkema says, turn too eagerly to government entities to set wages (a national minimum wage or a local living wage) instead of fighting for a union’s proper function of collective bargaining. Many of today’s unions, Dijkema charges, want “a big play” in the arena of government and/or corporate partnership, a win that will give the union new life. But short cuts don’t last. Unions, like churches, cannot grow “without the requisite work of building the many small, social relationships that act as the strongest binding agents for voluntary associations.” That requisite work means hundreds of one-to-one conversations among a mix of like-minded people, precisely the dynamic of subsidiarity and solidarity.

Dijkema makes some worthwhile suggestions. For example, he thinks unions would benefit from articulating a philosophy or theology of work. Such a project would also, I would add, benefit churches as they seek to attract and retain young families.
However, Dijkema’s either-or tone detracts from his message. Why should a union choose between a national campaign on wages and proposals to “address the challenges faced by young families”? Why, as Dijkema implies, is every campaign that involves government a distraction? If unions and other fair-minded groups do not oppose the misnamed right to work laws, for example, there will only be fewer intermediate groups and more atomized individuals. What if unions did not participate in Fight for $15 campaigns? What mechanism would there then be for teaching young adults about immigration, labor history and more?

Dijkema concludes with a quotation from Pope Benedict XVI (aka Joseph Ratzinger) on a pure remnant church. Dijkema then proposes “a smaller, simpler and less socially prominent labor movement.” Whatever Benedict XVI’s context, sectarian Catholicism is a contradiction in terms. Advocating for a small church is Catholic heresy. A baptized Catholic, for example, cannot casually become non-Catholic. The entrance doors are wide open, especially during Lent. Given the state of unions in the U.S., it is hard to understand how a smaller labor movement would in any way make for a richer society.

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

Georgetown, Grad Student Employees Take Step Toward Compromise

Last month we reported in this space how Georgetown’s response to research and teaching assistants seeking union representative had generated a crisis in campus labor relations. Georgetown’s much-admired Just Employment Policy provides for living wages for campus employees and defends all workers’ right to organize, as established in Catholic Social Teaching. But when the graduate student employees formed a union, the administration dismissed their right to a union and promised to fight their right to organize before the National Labor Relations Board. Happily, in the past month the two sides have taken steps toward a compromise solution: the union has proposed holding a certification election outside the auspices of the NLRB, and the university is considering the proposal. It’s a promising development: a number of K-12 Catholic Schools, such as those in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, bargain with employee unions outside the NLRB system. The Catholic Labor Network will keep you posted as negotiations continue.

Catholic Labor Network: No to Janus, No to Right-to-Work

OK, so the bishops stole our thunder a bit. But the Catholic Labor Network joined with other faith leaders and faith groups to submit an amicus brief to the Court opposing Janus and defending the right to organize. Other Catholic organizations signing the brief included Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the Franciscan Action Network, The Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy, and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. CLICK HERE to read this amicus brief.

US Bishops: No to Janus, No to “Right-to-Work”

In the labor movement, all eyes are on the Supreme Court and Janus v. AFSCME, where a member of the union is arguing that paying “agency fees” to pay for its services violates his freedom of speech. If Janus wins, all of state and local government employment will be rendered “right-to-work” and unions critically weakened.

On January 19, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops weighed in with a powerful amicus brief defending the right of workers to organize and opposing Janus and “right-to-work.” Read more

Ethical Workers

The Working Catholic: Workplace Behavior
by Bill Droel

In response to recent disclosures of predatory behavior in several workplaces, human resource departments around the country are redistributing employee handbooks. Likewise, managers are everywhere huddling with employees to review proper deportment.
Rule books and company policies are important. They represent an advance over the arbitrary decisions of a boss, even a benevolent boss. Rule books provide a basis for equal treatment. They are often written after some employee input, either through a personnel committee or a union and thus these personnel policies carry a degree of assumed consent. It is, admittedly, difficult to deal with specific personnel incidents like persistent tardiness, suspicions of addiction, internet surfing, gossiping and harassment. Likewise, written company policies add a layer of procedural wrangling or maybe nitpicking to each incident. Nonetheless, those policies benefit the company, its brand, its managers, its lawyers, its insurance policy and importantly, its employees. To operate any business today on a case-by-case basis is asking for additional trouble.
Let’s be clear, however. To have a refined and fully-accepted employee handbook is not the same as having an ethical workforce and ethical managers. A rule book cannot dispose workers to see the sacred on the job; it cannot help a worker imagine her job as a vocation. A rule book does not establish decorum or, to use an old word, reverence in the office. It is incapable of fostering compassion. And please be aware, a rule book cannot give any manager or any employee his or her dignity.

Workers, writes James Drane in Becoming a Good Doctor (Rowman Littlefield, 1988; $16.95), “shape the ethical narrative of their lives by the ways they do ordinary things over and over.” His book is directed to medical schools and hospital administrators, but as Drane says, its argument relates to all occupations and professions. “The whole medical ethics enterprise has been conceived in terms of logic, principles, patient rights and procedures,” he notes. Medical ethics, like other topics in medicine, is taught by using case studies. The result is “an abstract, analytical style.” This approach for doctors, nurses, technicians and many other workers results in licensing requirements, continuing education requirements, renewals, charting, written policies, patient consent forms, information-sharing regulations and lots more. All of this is necessary, perhaps.
This dominant approach to education for and delivery of health care does not consider the worker’s personal virtue or character, Drane continues. “Attention to a young doctor’s personal traits or character is out of place” in medical education or in hiring. The dominant approach assumes that personal character—the product of doing ordinary things well, over and over—has no place. Putting character outside the bounds of hiring criteria and evaluation, Drane contends, contributes to the disease of agnosia. That is, health care workers might lose the ability to see the face of the person being treated or to respectfully appreciate the people they work with. A hospital, to continue the medical example, might have a doctor or a nurse who has completely memorized the procedural handbook. That doctor or nurse might be nearly compulsive about observing all the required dos-and-don’ts. None of this, however, guarantees that such a doctor or nurse is any good; that such a doctor or nurse treats patients and families holistically or respects the inherent dignity of each colleague.

There’s a reason that human resource departments, executives and others don’t traffic in virtue. Modern business has no binding standard for conduct, except the law. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and others, tried to develop a modern approach to ethics that did not depend on revelation or religion. But, under the weight of too many particulars, the objective rationale behind the modern approach to business and public ethics is easily ignored, even explicitly dismissed. The situation in recent years is worse, as a post-modern approach to public life has gained fashion. It harbors an ironic contempt for objectivity itself.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior Counselor to the President and, by the way, a Catholic, says “There are alternative facts.” This is a stunning example of post-modern relativism. If she is correct, there is no ethics.

U.S. Catholic bishops, to offer a current situation, do not err in restating or re-framing canons pertaining to deviant personnel. They go in the right direction by requiring their employees to judiciously report deviance. But as intelligent bishops should know, even the most comprehensive personnel guidelines will not sufficiently influence an employee who is short on virtue.
Entertainment executives, to mention a second current example, are not wasting time by requiring all employees to read company personnel guidelines. This pertains even to the biggest stars in the industry, maybe especially the stars. But intelligent executives should know that it takes more than a guidebook to have a culture of respect in the studio or the newsroom.
How can virtue be acquired? To be continued…

SHARED VALUES: A Report on AFL-CIO and Catholic Conference Activity in the State Legislatures

The Catholic Church and the U.S. labor movement share similar positions in several major policy areas, with each supporting a living wage for all who work, the right to organize in labor unions, and the protection of immigrants – even those who are undocumented. So we in the Catholic Labor Network wondered: how often do the two groups work on the same issues?

Read more

Successful Social Change

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

Will the buds of social improvement flower? There are promising signs. People are speaking out for respectful behavior in workplaces. Others are adamant about equal treatment under the law. Some desire better attention to mental health and addiction; still others are sensitive to food and product safety. To turn these and other initial bursts of interest into meaningful social change means avoiding pseudo-change; those activities that feel like social change but only approximate genuine politics.

Discussion groups, for example, are not change agents. Consciousness-raising is not politics. Oh yes, our society benefits from book clubs. Roundtable discussion groups that meet over drinks and a topic are important. These and other modes of intellectual sharing assist those who advance the common good.
It sometimes happens, however, that participants in a discussion group assume that they are thereby tackling a social problem. A parish group, for example, forms around shared concern over opioid addiction. They read and discuss Dreamland, a terrific book by Sam Quinones (Bloomsbury, 2016). They subsequently invite the entire congregation to a couple of presentations, including a well-attended one with the local sheriff. The parish group accumulates a referral list for families dealing with addiction. All of this is good, noble and necessary. It is not yet social change. An opening must be found into the pain treatment industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the nursing home industry, the criminal justice system, the social service bureaucracy and the like.
The parish group itself does not have to be a change agent; in fact, it probably should not be. But the group can perhaps find ways that its members can get inside the problem from within their workplace, their college, their professional association or their union. Plus, the small parish group can perhaps coalesce with other church groups in their denomination or across denominational and religious lines and then join even bigger circles of influence.

A key to social change behavior is the understanding that outsiders must get to the inside. This journey requires sophistication and some tradeoffs, including serious attention to core principles.
Here is one example of outsiders getting to the inside. Globalization has many unfortunate side-effects. But globalization by definition is huge and seemingly amorphous. Sweatshops in Bangladesh are a bi-product of globalization. But there’s nothing one can do about them. But wait. Some students have found a clever way to break into the seemingly impenetrable harshness of the global economy. First students at one school and then students at the next school went, as insiders, to their college bookstore. They asked the store manager to name the factory that produces the school’s sweaters, shirts, jackets and the like. They simultaneously pushed the college administrators to require that bookstore vendors have humane labor codes. The students, who communicate with those at other schools through United Students Against Sweatshops (www.usas.org), got their school to sign-on with an apparel monitoring organization, Worker Rights Consortium (www.workersrights.org). Guess what? Some major apparel retailers and clothing brands met with student representatives. The companies now expect their overseas sub-contractors to observe humane working conditions.

Is the problem of sweatshops solved? Not yet. Some apparel lines want to do their own monitoring of the overseas suppliers; the student groups want independent monitoring. So, the students have to get further inside some apparel companies. In doing so, the students have to find an ally (maybe a college trustee) who is connected to the apparel industry. The students also must consider their principles: Is half a loaf acceptable or do we push for three-quarters of a loaf? Is the credibility of the students enough or would a celebrity endorser help? Maybe a bigger presence on social media is the answer? What else is involved in social change? To be continued…