Catholic institutions, ranging from vast hospital chains to small parochial schools, employ approximately one million workers in the United States. When such institutions recognize and bargain with unions representing their employees, they model the principles of Catholic Social Teaching for lay business leaders and workers and alike.
The Working Catholic: Public Friendship
by Bill Droel
Let’s say there is a society in which everyone honors contracts—formal ones and implied promises. Managers and their employees abide by their collective bargaining agreement. Car dealers transparently present their vehicles; customers pay their loans. Real estate agents advertise “open housing” and then do not discriminate. Tax returns contain accurate figures. Civil courts are the rarity. Yet, says Pope Pius XI (1857-1939), such a utopia may disguise alienation. All the rules can be followed, but that society can lack friendship or alternately what Catholic social thought calls public charity, neighborly love or solidarity. “Justice alone,” Pius XI writes, “cannot bring about a union of hearts and minds.”
The collapse of great societies is about the decay of relationships, writes Robert Hall in This Land of Strangers (Greenleaf Books, 2012). All of our major issues, he details, are really about weak relationships—homelessness, struggling families, addiction treatment, misuse of the internet and even economic downturns. Even our daily commerce suffers under a paucity of open relationships.
The big concept in business today is “marketing the brand.” A company may have several flavors or models or instruments or services. According to the brand theory, customers, employees and stockholders will stay connected to a successfully marketed brand, no matter the specific product or service. Yet, what is actually happening? There is high employee turnover and “an ocean of employee distrust” in many sectors, Hall writes. Managers too distrust the corporate executives while those executives lose touch with the original aspirations of the company. Stockholders are fixated on quarterly returns, not on a company’s future. Customers are loyal until a competitor runs a commercial that promises the next flavor, model, service or instrument. And all the while Wells Fargo spends lots of money on their “Rebuilding Your Trust” campaign.
Society goes along treating “relationships as if they were optional,” Hall continues, even though plenty of research documents the benefits of relationships. Those with many friends and colleagues are “prospering emotionally, socially, academically and economically.” Those who have few friends and colleagues are also those who lack confidence and resiliency, who fall behind in school, and whose finances are sliding backward. What holds for individuals and families also holds for companies and non-profits. Those with only tentative ties to a small number of stakeholders have or soon will have a grim financial picture.
Has alienation run its course? Will relationships be a priority in the days ahead? According to Hall, “the small group is the unit for transformation.” Neighbors or like-minded people unite around a local concern. They get to trust one another and, over time, expand their social capital to include other concerns and other small groups. Lots of encouraging energy comes about as people connect with other members of society in new and exciting ways.
There’s the Me Too movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s fresh energy in the movement for responsible gun ownership. Fresh relationships are building around local electoral campaigns. The durability and effectiveness of these movements and of other civic endeavors, however, depends on what is occurs between people, one-to-another. Does it begin and end on the internet or is there genuine face-to-face exchange? Hash tag groups and flash mob events do not in themselves contribute to a relational society. In fact if cyber-connections are overdone, there is risk of greater isolation.
Strong cultural forces make genuine relationships seem superfluous. Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017) calls those forces liquid modernity. It favors episodic and temporary attachment and fluid identity. The culture suggests that strong attachments are potential hindrances. The fickleness goes further. Views of reason and good sense change with conditions, Bauman writes. There is little assurance that what an individual holds to be true at sunset will be what that individual prefers tomorrow. Modern culture puts too much emphasis on the individual, who is quickly overwhelmed with choices in the “realm of self-fulfillment and calculation of risks,” Bauman continues. In a liquid culture, strangers and weak ties are the substitutes for “the feared fluidity of the world.”
Movements, churches, unions, civic entities and more continue to use too many shortcuts. They resort to the strategy of “better presence on the web” and spend far too much time and energy on impersonal marketing, on the color of the brochures, the advisability of TV or radio promotions and the like. They attempt to catch people on the fly–people who might attend a grand opening or a rally, people who are fond of clicking like or don’t friend.
Effective solidarity or neighborliness requires the opposite. Public friendship is grounded in virtues, beginning with amicability. It treasures finesse, attention, subtlety, forbearance and perseverance. A person’s practice of civic friendship proceeds with calculated vulnerability in a humble and sincere manner. Public virtues are nourished in small groups, but not those given to mixing-up, shifting, exiting and entering, randomly meeting, starting late, jumping around, endlessly in crisis over collective identity and disbanding over and over.
Please send along your experience with small groups to the address below. Droel’s booklet, Public Friendship, is distributed by National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)
Construction is a dangerous industry. Nearly one thousand construction workers lose their lives each year in workplace injuries. That’s why for ten years Father Patrick Jordan (chaplain to the New York building trades, and a Catholic Labor Network member) has celebrated an annual Memorial Mass for a congregation of construction workers in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This year Fr. Jordan explained the service and reflected on this grim landmark in a guest submission to the New York Daily News.
Thursday marks the 10th Anniversary Memorial Mass for Deceased Construction Workers, better known as the Annual Hardhat Mass. At this mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, over which I will preside, all those killed on a construction site in New York City are remembered and revered — whether they be union or nonunion workers.
Chairs are placed in the upper sanctuary of the Cathedral with an engraved hardhat and a rose to signify each of the deceased workers who died from April 28 of the previous year till April 28 of the current year. At the end of the mass, the hardhat and the rose are given to the family members of each of the deceased workers.
This year, 19 chairs will be placed in the upper sanctuary of St. Patrick’s Cathedral…. Construction workers have one of the highest death and injury rates in the private sector throughout the entire United States. Yet the safety crisis they face rarely gets much attention.
I think I know why. The construction decedents are disproportionately likely to be immigrants and low-wage workers. With little economic leverage or protections, they are forced to take the most dangerous jobs. These workers seldom receive safety training as required by both New York state and federal law. Most of the nonunion workers were undocumented Latinos with little or no safety training. At the mass, all the deceased are remembered regardless of their status. We emphasize the dignity of each human person in the construction industry of New York City….
I hope and pray that the implementation of recent City Council legislation will help make all nonunion workers safer. I also hope and pray that this necessary measure will reduce injuries and deaths in the New York City construction industry. I prefer to see fewer chairs in the sanctuary of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in next year’s Annual Hardhat Mass.
Those who risk their lives to build this city deserve to know that the law — and our elected leaders — are working to keep them safe.
To read “A solemn prayer for safety in construction” in its entirety, CLICK HERE
Also: Loyola University Chicago, Adjuncts Settle First Contract
For some time, it has looked like the Georgetown University administration and its graduate student teaching and research assistants were headed for a legal showdown at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The students said they were university employees and wanted to vote on union representation in an NLRB-certified election; the University said they were not workers but students and not covered by the NLRB. It had all the makings of an ugly labor dispute.
The university felt confident it had the stronger legal argument and would prevail. But then administrators realized: even if we win the legal case, we are still bound by Catholic Social Teaching, and CST is pretty clear about workers’ right to organize. Read more
The Working Catholic: Cancer
by Bill Droel
When the diagnosis is cancer, our singular focus is properly on treatment—surgery, radiation, chemo, immunotherapy, blocking therapy and more. The bulk of cancer research is directed toward improving these treatments and finding others. Prior to a cancer diagnosis most people do not often think about cancer and we rarely think about the cause of cancer.
Dr. Samuel Epstein died here in Chicago in March at age 91. He was long affiliated with the School of Public Health at University of Illinois. His controversial 1978 book, The Politics of Cancer, was prophetic. “Most cancer is environmental in origin and is therefore preventable,” he wrote back in those days. However, we as a society have made political tradeoffs that tolerate cancer-causing agents in our air, soil, food and beverages. We as a society make these trades for the sake of industrial jobs, less expensive groceries, faster travel, cheaper energy and more.
“Cancer has distinct, identifiable causes,” Epstein wrote. It is not just one more disease associated with aging. Cancer is the only major disease on the increase, he continued. Yet, when attention is brought to cancer, we seem to accept its inevitability. Epstein furnishes two common sentences: “Everything causes cancer, so why bother?” and “You’ve got to go somehow, so it might just as well be cancer.”
Decisions about cancer tradeoffs are made by way of our country’s default moral system. It can be called utilitarian calculus or cost-benefit analysis. It claims that by adding and subtracting projected benefits and suspected harm we are able to determine “the greatest good for the maximum number of people.” This system has several faults, of course. Decisions about industrial pollution, product safety, acceptable soil contamination, modes of transportation and the like are made in Congress, in government agencies, in city halls, in corporate board rooms and in research labs. Yes, science labs make political trades. “Many so-called scientific decisions are in fact economic considerations,” as Epstein wrote.
Various interests lobby and/or fund these remote decision-making entities. The lobbyists expect that their particular interest will be favored. The cancer decisions are not voted upon. Even if they were, the losers (those who are not within “the maximum number”) have to—more or less—accept what others say is “acceptable risk of cancer.”
We as a modern society use the utilitarian method because we no longer believe in objective truth. Reality is mostly my opinion and my feelings plus my loyalty to my crowd, my identity group. This is why it is frustratingly useless to bring facts to bear on a topic. We are all caught in a swirl of what White House advisor Kellyanne Conway tells us are alternative facts.
Without some objective morality, our best attack against cancer is the environmental movement. Every part of acting green directly or eventually levels a punch at cancer.
Start in the kitchen and the alley. Don’t believe the detractors of recycling. It is energy efficient and the recycled items get to the proper fabricators, as Brian Clark Howard details in Chicago Tribune (4/23/18). In Chicago’s alleys the garbage cans are either blue or black. (This is Chicago’s second attempt at a recycling program.) The rules for what goes in which colored-can are a little confusing—at least to your columnist. But, as with all moral behavior, don’t be paralyzed by scrupulosity. Sorting does not have to be perfect in order to make our world green, Howard explains.
Of course, individual action is not sufficient. Only political power can change the big decisions that give cancer permission to invade. But again, the counter-attack can start in small groups. It can be a discussion group, provided its participants move into action—sooner rather than later. The group can popularize some language about the topic. For example, we all have to speak plainly about the cancer lobby. The phrase sounds startling at first because no one goes on a talk show and says, “I’m in favor of cancer.” Yet many powerful entities (tobacco companies, for example) blithely offer excuses for cancerous agents.
A subsequent column will furnish examples of small groups agitating for a green society. Send along your own examples to the address below.
Droel is an editor for National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629). NCL distributes Pope Francis’ green encyclical, Care for Our Common Home ($8.50).
The Working Catholic: Vocation of Politics
by Bill Droel
Can electoral politics be a vocation; a person’s response to God’s call? By one opinion, the answer is decidedly no. Political office, this opinion points out, is a place for illicit sex, ostentation, financial corruption, self-serving ideology and general boorishness. As for those politicians who invoke God’s name, their policy positions hypocritically oppose God’s revealed positions: care for the poor, proper labor relations, compassion for widows and orphans, respect for each life and more.
Days after a recent primary election in Illinois, Lumen Christi Institute (www.lumenchristi.org) hosted a forum in Chicago’s Loop on “The Dignity of Politics.” In its promotional material Lumen Christi, a Catholic group, said that “politics is held in low repute today” and that political activity breeds contempt for the law and public policy.
James Stoner of Louisiana State University, at Lumen Christi’s invitation, shared his own list of negatives with the forum’s participants. Among his obvious examples: the corruption of some office holders deters citizens from electoral politics, including from voting; plus the prevalence of rigid ideology within the major political parties discourages those who might consider political involvement as a vehicle for change.
The Lumen Christi forum—like the daily activity of governance—was conducted in secular language. Perhaps a subsequent forum could ask a panel of elected officials to share how their Catholicism informs their daily work; how within their given environments they incrementally advance justice and peace; how and where they find support when they feel their profession is drifting from the common good.
A panel of Illinois officials at the forum tried to balance Stoner’s negative list. Mary Jane Theis, an Illinois Supreme Court Justice, reminded the participants that politics is a limited activity. While governance must be conducted honorably, its normal business is not a take-no-prisoners moral crusade. Justice is always approximate. The improvements of today must be improved upon tomorrow.
Dan Cronin, a county board chairperson, agreed. Constructive political service doesn’t have the time for moral grandstanding, he said. “Compromise is the way to accomplish good things; it is a virtue.” A conscientious official, said Cronin, must go to work each day with the humble attitude that yesterday was “not quite good enough.” For example, he said, politicians must do more tomorrow to alleviate today’s poverty in Illinois.
Larry Sufferdin, a county board member and a panelist at the Lumen Christi event, spoke of the positives. The corrupt officials dominate the news, but overall “the integrity of politics is good today,” he said.
Some Christian denominations stress people’s sinfulness. Christian sectarians go even further and judge an entire culture to be evil. Withdraw from the world, they preach. Catholicism, by contrast, is world-affirming and therefore accents the goodness of people and their institutions. Catholicism acknowledges that people are flawed by sin and that their institutions can drift away from original aspirations and from the plan of God. But normally the Catholic strategy—grounded in the dogma of Incarnation–is to start with positives and then coax people and institutions toward improvement.
If our world resembles the plan of God, it is because Christians and others respond to the call that is issued to each of us. Politicians need places and occasions in which to reflect on their vocation. Politicians need the solidarity of colleagues—from whatever political party, whatever religious background, or whatever humanistic impulse.
Politicians and other workers who want to live their calling might here-and-there find weekend worship to be a useful resource. They might get some spiritual cues from official Church sources. Unfortunately, the credibility of Catholic bishops and their staff is at low tide these days. More likely, modern workers would find critique and support in independent lay-centered groups, including Lumen Christi. Best yet are those support groups that politicians and other workers form among themselves. For example, a small support group of lawyers that meets regularly or a business executives group that discusses mutual concerns and perhaps adopts a project for the common good.
Most of the time, most workers and most parents and most students go about their daily routine individually without the benefit of a support group. In the modern age, everyone it seems is a solo-practitioner. A true vocation, however, has two parts: A person’s unique gifts plus the objective needs of a community. Without the challenges and support that come from one’s circle of friends and colleagues, a full vocation is unlikely.
Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work for National Center for Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)
Dignity Health – the hospital group formerly known as Catholic Healthcare West – has been preparing for a merger with another major Catholic healthcare system, Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI). Dignity is largely union; CHI isn’t. SEIU-UHW, representing about 15,000 health techs and support personnel at Dignity, has been pressing Dignity for a contract in order prior to the merger to protect their members – a campaign that included informational pickets outside Dignity hospitals.
CLN is pleased to report that Dignity and SEIU-UHW reached agreement on a contract, ratified by SEIU members in March. Terms extend to 2023 and will protect workers through the transition. The Catholic Labor Network congratulates both parties on reaching a mutually beneficial agreement!
If there is a signal collaboration between Church and labor in the past half-century it is their shared advocacy for America’s migrant farmworkers. And if there is a single figure who symbolized the collaboration between Church and labor, it is Cesar Chavez, leader of the United Farmworkers. Chavez combined his Catholic faith with his union commitments to pursue justice for this exploited and largely immigrant workforce – the men and women who gather the harvest and place the food on our tables. His heroic nonviolence inspired trade unionists, Catholic clergy, lay activists and the faithful from all walks of life.
March 2018 marked a historic point in these events, as Chavez ended a hunger strike with an outdoor liturgy, joined by Senator Bobby Kennedy. America magazine recalls….
It was the most famous reception of communion in California history. No other single Catholic moment touched on race, labor and politics in such a profound way. On March 10, 1968, at an outdoor Mass in the small agricultural town of Delano, Calif., the farmworker union leader Cesar Chavez ended a 25-day hunger strike by receiving the body of Christ. Seated next to him was another prominent American Catholic, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Within three months, Kennedy would be dead, and the hopes of the farmworker movement for a liberation from their exploitation would die with him.
For the complete story, see 50 years ago: The Catholic example of Cesar Chavez and Bobby Kennedy.
In an interesting March story, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published a thoughtful article on the work of women religious in the church. “The (almost) free work of sisters” posed difficult questions about the wages, working conditions and respect given those who perform so much of the church’s labor. Reporter Marie-Lucile Kubacki interviewed some of the religious sisters who teach in schools, tend the sick in hospitals, and even cook and clean for senior prelates. Sister Marie (a pseudonym) told Kubacki:
I often receive sisters in situations of domestic service that are definitely given little recognition. Some of them serve in bishops’ or cardinals’ residences… Does an ecclesiastic think about having himself served a meal by the sister who works for him and then leaving her to eat alone in the kitchen once he has been served? Is it normal for a consecrated man to be served in this manner by another consecrated person? And knowing that consecrated people destined for domestic work are almost always women religious?
Sr. Paule added that unlike most other Italian workers, often
the sisters do not have a contract or an agreement with the bishops or parish priests for whom they work… they are paid little or nothing. This happens in schools or doctors’ offices and more often in pastoral work or when the sisters take care of the cooking and housework in the bishop’s residence or in the parish. … The greatest problem is simply how to live in a community and how to enable it to live, how to provide the necessary funds for the religious and professional formation of its members, how to establish who pays and how to pay the bills when sisters are ill or need treatment because they are incapacitated by old age, as well as how to find resources to carry out the mission according to their charism.
CLICK HERE to read “The (almost) free work of sisters”
This March marked the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ 2013 election. The Holy Father has won the respect and affection of Catholics and non-Catholics alike with his message of love, his humble example, and not least, his advocacy for social justice. Pope Francis has inspired our Church to recommit ourselves to the promise of the Gospel and the premises of Catholic Social Teaching.
In America this anniversary provided the occasion for a remarkable event at Seton Hall University, in which Cardinal Joseph Tobin and AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka (as well as NJ Governor Phil Murphy) reflected on the Francis papacy at five years. Yet why should it be remarkable? Read more