Will California’s Uber drivers finally win labor protections?

American workers have certain legal protections, such as the minimum wage, the right to overtime pay, and the right to organize in unions – plus their employers must make social security contributions on their behalf, and purchase workers’ compensation insurance to protect them in case of injury. The self-employed lack all of these rights. “Gig workers” such as Uber drivers have been denied the legal rights of workers because, like self-employed people, they choose their hours of work – even though otherwise their entire “business plan,” including prices charged, is dictated by Uber. Since the federal government has failed to protect these workers, the state of California has tried to step into the breach with a new law. The law, signed by Governor Newsom in September, makes it more difficult for employers to classify workers as “independent contractors” without basic employee rights, and will take effect Jan. 1.

Want to learn more about the difficult working conditions faced by Uber drivers? Check out The Uber Workplace in DC, a report by Katie Wells of Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor an the Working Poor.

Catholic Charities, Construction Unions Join Forces for Job Placement

Catholic Charities USA and North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) are partnering to connect low income and unemployed workers with family-supporting careers in the union construction trades. Faced with an aging workforce, NABTU has joined with Catholic Charities and a variety of community-based organizations to recruit a new generation of workers, with an emphasis on increasing opportunities for women, transitioning veterans and people of color. A key element of the program is a three week “pre-apprenticeship” program that allows candidates to explore the different trades before making a commitment. Pre-apprenticeship classes are running in several areas of the United States with participation from local Catholic Charities agencies. Support for this program is an important element of the Catholic Labor Network’s Church-Labor Partnership Program. For more information, contact clayton@catholiclabor.org.

Theologian: Catholic Social Teaching Could Break Impasse on Paid Family Leave

Paid family leave is a major policy priority for both the Catholic Church and organized labor. “Every other industrialized country has a policy ensuring that parents can have a paid break whenever they have a child, and polls suggest widespread support for such a policy. Yet competing paid-family-leave bills introduced in this year’s Congress have stalled, continuing almost a decade of legislative impasse,” explains Catholic University of America theologian David Cloutier in a compelling recent Commonweal essay. What’s more, he argues, each political party is promoting a solution rooted in one element of Catholic Social Teaching while neglecting another.

Republican proposals for family leave, Cloutier says, generally allow individuals to borrow from their own social security or retirement accounts to care for a new child – but that means delaying retirement or reducing benefits later. This imposes a real hardship for low-income workers; the proposals contain no element of solidarity, no cost-sharing in which those of us who are more fortunate help those who are less so. The Democratic proposals, in contrast, vastly expand the type and number of “qualified caregiving” costs (arguably including “self-care”) eligible for subsidy up to sixty days per year and is funded by taxpayers generally – there’s not a lot of evidence of subsidiarity in the program. Cloutier concludes,

In their current approaches to paid family leave, our two major political parties display their failure to understand that solidarity and subsidiarity work in tandem. Democrats try to impose solidarity, while Republicans try to escape it. Republicans confuse subsidiarity with atomistic individualism, while Democrats ignore the appropriate complexity of shaping a civil order in pursuit of genuinely shared goods. It is not that Democrats are the “solidarity party” and Republicans the “subsidiarity party”; each misunderstands not only the other’s principle but also the one it pretends to own. The overall result is a lack of action that hurts the most vulnerable. Catholic social teaching might suggest a way out of this impasse, but it would require a fundamental reorientation on the part of both sides of our polarized country.

CLICK HERE to read The Paid Family Leave Impasse: How Catholic Social Teaching Can Help.

Disabling Help

The Working Catholic: Disabling Help
by William Droel

Good intentions are not enough. Indeed, good intentions can be harmful.
Tarence Ray provides a case study of wasteful, ineffective and disabling social improvement programs in “Hollowed Out: Against the Sham Revitalization of Appalachia” for The Baffler (https://thebaffler.com/; 10/19). He assessed 15 organizations in his region that received money from Appalachian Regional Commission plus he looked at other economic development projects. ARC is a federal agency with state cooperation. It began in 1965 and is targeted to West Virginia and parts of a dozen other states. The particular funding arm that concerns Ray began during the administration of President Barack Obama to create employment that would offset job loss from the coal industry.
“Wading into the bureaucratic refuse of these [15] organizations was exhausting,” Ray says. He was bounced from one employee’s phone extension to another; several groups didn’t respond to him at all. Only one located in southwest Pennsylvania supplied information.
The organizations are strong on narrative-building (i.e. verbiage) but never really do much, Ray discovered. It could be that leaders of these groups are sincere. They presume that enough high-sounding talk and writing will trickle down to Appalachian culture, will change mindsets and will somehow create prosperity. Some of their goals are simply impractical. For example, proposing a Silicon Holler or tech utopia in rural areas that lack adequate broadband infrastructure. Or in one of a handful of other examples, a program suggests that a former miner train as an elevator operator in a region that has only a few four-story buildings.
Ray’s essay is not a critique of government bungling, though that occurs. These same organizations get foundation grants, which encourages the government to renew funding, which attracts more grants. His target is the crucial fallacy of these and other Helping Interventions: The priority is never to help the underemployed help themselves. It is not a bottom-up agenda. It is top-down assistance always packaged with an “enduring faith in technology.” Developers and investors will acquire property, build facilities, install hardware and garner consulting contracts. College-educated planners, supervisors, technocrats, lawyers and others will oversee the project. Some of whom will be located on the scene but many of whom, after an initial visit, remain in an office with a high-grade computer in Boston or Washington. If a rationale is needed, the government and foundation leaders invoke “trickle-down.” And again, maybe they are sincere in their incorrect belief.

How can a responsible citizen, an ordinary worker avoid a government-sponsored, foundation-funded merry-go-round to nowhere? Run away from jargon. Ray supplies several terms associated with “sham” programs: entrepreneurship, business incubation, targeted, deployed, innovation ecosystem, business coach, sustainable infrastructure, feasibility study, cultural heritage assets, elevating awareness, opportunity zone and the like.
One word that doesn’t appear in all this is organize. The alternative to neoliberal paternalism or maternalism is organized citizens who through their church, their union, their precinct and their self-funded community organization tell big tech and big government what they want in their schools, their communities and their environment. And they say, “Let’s negotiate.”

On this topic of disabling help I recommend Listen, Liberal by Thomas Frank (Picador, 2016). He is particularly good on the use of jargon to avoid genuine social change. Also read Winners Take All: the Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas (Knopf, 2018). And we would benefit from once again considering any of the books by Ivan Illich (1926-2002).

Droel’s booklet, Public Friendship, is available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $6)

More than 600 Catholic Institutions with Employee Unions

One way the Church can evangelize the world is by modeling virtuous behavior in our own lives. Approximately one million Americans are employed in Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, colleges, K-12 schools, and other Catholic institutions. When managers and administrators in these organizations demonstrate fidelity to Catholic Social Teaching by bargaining constructively with unions representing their employees, lay Catholic business leaders – and workers – take notice. That’s one reason why the Catholic Labor Network publishes an annual report listing Catholic institutional employers with unions representing some or all of their employees. This year’s Gaudium et Spes Labor Report lists more than 600 Catholic institutions and organizations that bargain collectively with their employees. CLICK HERE to read the report, and check out the listings for your Diocese!

US Bishops: “Workers’ share of the fruits of the economy has been declining for decades”

Bishop Dewane’s letter recalls the 100th anniversary of the 1919  “Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction”

Bishop Frank Dewane

Each year on Labor Day, the Chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development issues a statement reflecting on our economy in light of Catholic Social Teaching. This year Chairman Bishop Dewane (Diocese of Venice) looked back on a landmark statement issued by America’s bishops a century ago. In a document that came to be called the “Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction,” they examined social conditions in the wake of World War I, with workers fighting powerful monopolies and trusts and an increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. The Bishops of 1919 recommended a series of social reforms that prefigured the New Deal initiatives of the 1930s: a federal minimum wage, the right to organize in labor unions, social security for the elderly.

Bishop Dewane’s letter “On the Hundredth Year of the United States Bishops’ Program of Social Reconstruction” reminds us that the problems of monopoly, economic inequality and exploitation are still all too real today…

Today’s economy, if measured by the stock market, has the most money and wealth it has ever had, and unemployment is around the lowest it has been in fifty years…[yet]  more than one in five jobs in the United States is in a low-wage occupation where the median wage pays below the poverty threshold for a family of four.  Real wages have been largely stagnant for decades, and workers’ share of the fruits of the economy has been declining for decades. Why does this situation persist?

New research suggests that anticompetitive behavior from employers has resulted in lower wages in many labor markets, particularly for lower wage workers.  To be clear, Catholic social teaching holds wages to the standard of a just wage, which is not synonymous with a merely competitive labor market.  In theory, low unemployment should raise wages, but recent research suggests that this may be offset by the increasing concentration of employers—in other words, fewer numbers of employers are employing larger shares of the labor force, giving employers greater power to keep wages down.

As in 1891, with Rerum Novarum, or in the 1919 Program, Bishop Dewane highlights the importance of unions in addressing these issues.

The declining share of labor’s access to the wealth of the country cannot be explained by any one model or concept alone.  Nevertheless, that story must include the dramatic decline of worker unionization rates: now, only about 10.5% of workers belong to a union, including only 6.4% of the private sector.  A complex set of policies and decisions over decades have led to the present state of things.  A better arrangement will require careful and nuanced thinking in processes over time.  From the Church’s perspective, progress must include the expression of solidarity that unions strive to embody, as well as the respect for the priority of labor over capital, which is nothing less than the primacy of human beings over “things.”

We in the Catholic Labor Network certainly agree that a just economy must reverse “the declining share of labor’s access to the wealth of the country” and that “the dramatic decline of worker unionization rates” is a leading culprit in today’s income inequality. If we want to live in a good society, we need a large dose of the “solidarity that unions strive to embody.” Labor Day is the perfect time for we as Church to consider how we can support workers and foster that solidarity.

Labor Board Looks at Boeing Firings

For more than a decade, Boeing has been shifting production from well-organized Washington state to South Carolina, where elected officials have vowed to keep workers from forming a union. (Former Governor Nikki Haley said she didn’t want union jobs coming to her state because they would “taint the water”; her successor Henry McMaster has called unions “about as welcome as a Category 5 hurricane.”) When workers tried to organize, the company fought tooth and nail, even illegally firing union supporters. But last year a group of technicians at Boeing’s Charleston plant stood firm, voting 105-64 to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). And now it seems the other shoe is dropping: the labor board is investigating the firings, and has found merit in the charges. Is Boeing repentant? Hardly – it named Haley to its Board of Directors in 2019! Stay tuned.

Minneapolis Airport Workers Share Stories

Sky Chefs employees Adil Becker and Darmyelesh Geda tell Adam Fitzpatrick (Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul) about wages and working conditions in airport kitchens.

Readers of this newsletter know that airline food service workers are among the lowest-paid employees in the aviation sector, and that across the country they are organizing to change that. Recently airline catering workers in the Twin Cities shared their stories with CLN and with Adam Fitzpatrick, Social Mission Outreach Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

America’s airline kitchens are largely staffed by immigrants. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, that usually means the person packing meals for food carts was born in East Africa. Adil Beker, Daremyalish Geda, and Hailu Mulugeta, who met with us, all hailed from Ethiopia. They are employed by LSG Sky Chefs, a contractor servicing Delta, American Airlines and other major carriers.

The starting wage at the Minneapolis Airport Sky Chefs is $13 per hour, about $26,000 per year for a full-time employee. Though above the minimum wage, it’s not nearly enough to pay rent and support a family in Minneapolis. But the workers were even more concerned about the poor health insurance offered by Sky Chefs: co-pays are $50 a visit for even in-network providers, and it costs $500 per month to buy the family coverage. Most workers instead have to turn to Medicaid or the public exchanges, where taxpayers subsidize the cost of their health care – or they just go without.

Many of the 20,000 airport food service workers have joined the hotel and restaurant workers’ union UNITE HERE. They point out that airlines such as Delta and American are highly profitable, and are calling for a starting wage of $15 per hour and better health care coverage. They have voted to strike, but under the law they can’t do it until they are “released” by the National Mediation Board.

“Worker justice is one of the most consistent elements of Catholic Social Teaching, emphasized since Rerum Novarum,” says Fitzpatrick. “We as Church need to show solidarity with workers organizing for justice.”

To learn more, and to support the workers in their fight for just wages, contact clayton@catholiclabor.org.

CCHD Feature Story on the Catholic Labor Network!

Check out the latest edition of the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development’s newsletter Helping People Help Themselves… It’s all about the Catholic Labor Network!

Union, Church Join Forces to Support Families Upended by Mississippi ICE Raids

On Wednesday, August 8, people across the country saw the terrible scenes on their television: hundreds of ICE agents raiding several poultry plants in Mississippi, leaving crying children in their wake. The response from Church and labor was immediate. The state’s Catholic Bishops condemned the raid, and Catholic Charities set up headquarters in parishes near each plant. The United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union (UFCW) also rushed to the aid of the workers and their families Read more