One of our CLN members, Lisa Calla-Russ of the Archdiocese of Washington, has alerted us that the Archdiocese of Washington is hiring for several positions, some of them related to social concerns – such as Director of Family Life and Program Director for Campus and Young Adult Ministry. CLICK HERE to check out the opportunities at the Archdiocese of Washington.
Most of the workers that keep an airport running – from cabin cleaners, to wheelchair attendants, to food service workers – are employed by contractors, not the airport itself. In the absence of clear and fair labor standards in contract solicitations, vendors slash worker wages and benefits to the bone to submit the lowest bid.
That’s why dozens of airport workers rallied in late September at Washington DC’s National Airport (actually located in Arlington, Virginia). They were calling on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), which also operates Dulles International Airport, to incorporate fair labor standards in their contracts.
At National and Dulles Airports, UNITE HERE represents most food service workers while the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) represents cabin cleaners, security guards, wheelchair attendants and other support personnel. Most of these contractors fail to provide paid sick days or offer affordable family health care coverage to their employees. The two unions came together to organize the rally, held during an MWAA board meeting.
The Catholic Labor Network has heard testimony from SEIU Local 32BJ members concerning the lack of paid sick days, and is supporting the workers’ demands from the MWAA board.
This month nurses at Seton Medical Center in Austin, Texas voted by a landslide to join National Nurses United (NNU), making Seton the first Catholic hospital in Texas with a union. With 72% in favor of the union, NNU will now represent some 800 nurses at the hospital, part of the Ascension Health chain, a network of Catholic healthcare providers. The two sides must now sit down to bargain a contract.
“This victory is just the beginning,” said Geovana Hill, a registered nurse in the renal unit. “As nurses, we always have and always will stand committed to providing the highest quality of care to our patients. We are looking forward to bargaining for a fair contract to improve patient safety, as well as competitive wages to keep Austin nurses working here in our community. We are more than ready to win a strong first contract, which will help with nursing staff retention.”
Catholic Social Teaching holds that while unions have an important role in securing just wages and benefits for workers, they can do much more. Pope Leo XIII, in his Encyclical Rerum Novarum, hoped that unions – like the medieval guilds – would serve to uphold quality standards in the workplace. This is nowhere more evident than in health care. Nursing unions frequently find themselves at loggerheads with managers over staffing levels, with the nurses speaking in support of better patient care facing off with administrators aiming to cut labor costs.
The Catholic Labor Network will monitor bargaining. We pray that both sides enter contract negotiations in good faith and that they settle on a just first contract without undue delay.
Domestic workers are falling through the gaps in our labor and employment laws. That’s why the Catholic Labor Network recently joined dozens of nannies, housekeepers and home-based health care workers from the District and beyond, visiting DC Council members and urging them to support a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.
Back in the 1930s, when our country passed the National Labor Relations Act (giving workers the right to organize in labor unions) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (setting the federal minimum wage), domestic workers – who were primarily women of color – were excluded from coverage. This exclusion set a pattern, and domestic workers have been excluded from much labor and employment legislation since that time. Consequently, domestic workers have organized in many cities and states to seek remedial legislation.
In Washington DC that legislation takes the form of the Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022. The Act would amend the DC Human Rights Act, which protects workers from discrimination and sexual harassment, 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.
All work has dignity, whether performed in an office, factory or someone’s home. The Catholic Labor Network has marched alongside the domestic workers throughout 2022. 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. In June, the Catholic Labor Network joined the domestic workers and other faith leaders offering testimony in support of the Act during its hearings in the Labor Committee.
The bill has been assigned to three committees for markup before it is eligible for a vote by the Council.
A Guest Contribution from CLN Member Pamela Keresztesy
Ultium Cells, LLC, a battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio, is a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solutions. The plant mass produces batteries to support GM’s electrical vehicle assembly and for other industries including aerospace, marine, heavy trucking, and rail.
During the construction process, GM had no issues with intended unionization by the United Auto Workers (UAW) and stated it respects workers’ rights to organize and that the UAW was “well-positioned to represent the workforce.”
Now, in 2022, Ultium Cells has not recognized the UAW as the bargaining entity for the workers. Union officials claim 85% of the employees have signed union authorization cards. That is more than enough cards for Ultium Cells to voluntarily recognize the union.
The UAW held a vote to authorize a strike for recognition on September 9, 2022, and claims 94% of the workers have voted to strike for recognition. Although the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) allows voluntary recognition if 50% of workers sign union authorization cards, Ultium Cells wants an election conducted by the NLRB.
CLN Testifies in Support
The right of workers to form unions and bargain collectively is one of the first principles of modern Catholic Social Teaching. Pope Leo XIII first enunciated this right in his 1891 Encyclical Rerum Novarum, and Pope Benedict XIV reaffirmed this teaching in Caritas in Veritate, arguing that “the repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum , for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must be honoured today even more than in the past.” Neither Leo nor Benedict distinguished between public and private employees in their exercise of this right.
That’s why the Catholic Labor Network was pleased to support the workers of Prince William County, Virginia, who are seeking union rights.
The Prince William County workers are part of a wave of public employee organizing in Virginia. Until recently, Virginia law forbid public workers from forming unions and engaging in collective bargaining – but a recent law allows cities and counties in the Old Dominion to pass ordinances granting those rights. Workers in the capital, Richmond, and a number of Northern Virginia jurisdictions have won this right in recent years.
Several Prince William County workers testified in support of union rights at a September Prince William County work session, backed by dozens of their colleagues. “Passing collective bargaining rights is a historic moment for Prince William County employees. If we get this right, we can address high turnover rates across the county, inequities in pay and bargaining, and improve the services that we provide,” said Kim Finn, a licensed practical nurse for Prince William County’s Adult Detention Center. “Since this will impact our rights at work, we want to have a say in what is included in this ordinance.”
Clayton Sinyai, speaking for the Catholic Labor Network, supported the workers’ demands for meaningful collective bargaining rights.
Sodexo food service workers from government agencies across Washington DC rallied Tuesday at the Capitol, following a similar action last week in New York City at the Federal Reserve. Represented by the hotel and food service union UNITE HERE, the workers, hard hit by inflation, are calling for a living wage in upcoming contracts.
The French multinational operates institutional cafeterias across the country at corporate offices, colleges and universities (including many Catholic ones), and in government buildings, the focus of the recent actions. Sodexo is the largest federal food service contractor.
For more than a decade, UNITE HERE has been organizing to transform the institutional food service sector from a poverty-wage industry into one featuring living wage jobs, affordable health care, and retirement benefits. While the union has reported success in much of the sector, Sodexo has remained an obstacle, stridently resisting organizing efforts and favoring a low-wage business model. According to the union, some Sodexo workers based in Washington DC are paid the DC minimum wage of $16.10/hour – that is, about $32,000 per year for a full-time worker, well below the cost of living in the expensive capital region.
According to Catholic Social Teaching, every worker is entitled to a living wage. This principle was first elaborated in Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Rerum Novarum . In Laborem Exercens, St. Pope John Paul II explained further that a just wage should be sufficient to support a worker’s family .
“Last year in September, I had to move out of a house I’d been in for 14 years because I couldn’t afford to keep up with rent,” said Venorica Tucker, a banquet server/bartender at the House of Representatives. “I live with my son, so we chip in and try to make it. It’s difficult, even with their help.”
On September 28 the Catholic Labor Network will be hosting a listening session with Sodexo workers. Interested? CLICK TO REGISTER
A Guest Contribution from CLN Member Greg Guthrie
This e-book, Union Communion – Labor Unions and the Catholic Church, presents the Bishops’ authoritative annual Labor Day statements supporting labor unions. These statements are framed by commentary by America’s current preeminent Labor Priests, “America’s most prominent labor leader,” and the Catholic Labor Network. The book intends 1) to educate anyone about the Catholic Church’s official stance on Labor Unions; 2) to remind all Catholic Church members of this official stance; and 3) to edify those who seek to deny, misrepresent or obscure this official stance.
A Labor Day Homily by Fr. Sinclair Oubre, Catholic Labor Network Spiritual Moderator
In the Spring of 1995, Road Warriors from the United Paperworkers Union came to the Sabine Area Central Labor Committee meeting at the Oil Workers Union Hall in Port Arthur, Texas. They shared with us how the A.E. Staley Company had locked out 760 of their fellow workers in June of 1993. They showed a video of a 1994 sit-down protest that was held at the Staley gates, and the pepper spraying of union members and their supporters by Decatur police. Much to my surprise, sitting down at the company’s front gate, and getting pepper sprayed was a priest. Later, I learned he was Fr. Martin Mangan, pastor of St. James Catholic Church in Decatur.
During the Summer of 1995, I was working on my license in canon law at The Catholic University of America. The summer program required us to attend classes in June and July. When classes ended, I reached out to Fr. Martin, and asked if I could drop by Decatur on my ride back to Texas. In my heart, I hoped he could teach me how to be a “labor priest.”
After riding from Washington, D.C. to Decatur, Illinois, I arrived at St. James Catholic Church. Fr. Martin greeted me, and invited me to go to dinner with him. I knew that this would be the time to ask him the question, “How do you do ‘labor priest?’” Before, I got the question out of my mouth, Fr. Martin looked me in the eyes, and asked, “How do you do ‘labor priest?’” It was immediately apparent that he was making it up on the fly just like I was in Southeast Texas.
Living out our lives as Catholics and as workers, we can find ourselves asking a very similar question to the one that Fr. Martin asked me: “How do you do Catholic worker?”
For many Catholic parents, the Holy Family is the model and source of hope. Mary and Joseph know what it is like to raise a child. Mary knows what it is to watch with horror as forces plot against her son. She knows the crushing sorrow of losing a child. So, parents turn to St. Joseph and St. Mary, and ask for their intercession to assist in meeting the difficulty of family life. Mary and Joseph know the situations parents struggle with without having to explain it.
As Catholic working men and women on this 2022 Labor Day, I suggest to you that there are many Servants of God, Venerables, Blesseds, and Saints who know your work, know your struggle, know your pain, and also know your craft and, by your labor, know your cooperation in God’s ongoing creation.
So, if you are a farmer, call on Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, a 20th century Austrian farmer, martyred by the Nazis. He knew well that trials early mornings and late evenings, as well as the bountifulness of God’s harvest.
So, if you are a domestic in a home or a housekeeper in a hotel or hospital, call on Servant of God Julia Greeley, who was born into slavery at Hannibal, Missouri, and worked as a domestic in Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. She knew well the difficult work, but also the reward to assisting families she loved.
So, if you are a teacher, call on St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. A convert to the Catholic faith, and the founder of our nation’s Catholic school system. She knew well the challenges of educating immigrant children with insufficient resources, but also the wonders of opening the temporal and the spiritual world to young minds.
So, if you are a merchant mariner, call on Servant of God Captain Leonard La Rue, who rescued 14,000 North Korean refugees in 1950, and spent the next 47 years as a Benedictine monk. He knew well the might and terror of the sea, but also how God carries mariners and their ships in the palm of His hand.
So, if you are a beautician or a hairdresser, call upon Venerable Pierre Toussaint. A Haitian-American and former slave, who became renowned in New York for his skills, and for his great philanthropic generosity. He knew well the suffering and despair which his clients carried in their hearts, but also how to bring out the hidden beauty of every person.
So, if you are a music teacher, call upon Blessed Maria Belanger. A Canadian, she studied at the New York Conservatory from 1916 to 1918, and later became a sister of the Congregation of Jesus-Marie. She knew well the challenges of passing on great music to children, but also the joy that came when children discovered the eternal beauty of these works.
So, if you are a farmworker, call on St. Isadore. If you are a baker can call on Saint Clement Mary Hofbauer. If you are a construction laborer call on Venerable Matt Talbots. If you are a miner call on Blessed Nikolaus Gross. The holy women and men who know our lives, our labor, our challenges, our despairs, and our joys go on and on.
On this Labor Day, I wish to leave you with this wonderful message, “We don’t have to figure out how to be a good Catholic worker.” The path has already been blazed for us. Holy women and men have radically followed our Lord Jesus as intentional disciples. They can teach us much about our craft, and they can teach us much about how to follow Jesus as Catholic faithful. And they stand ready to intercede for us every day, in all our needs.
All Holy Men and Women, pray for us!
The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine, Part Nine
by Bill Droel
Capitalism today is of the libertarian or wild cowboy style. It destructs our middle-class way of life plus, let’s admit, it erodes the well-being of its supposed mega-beneficiaries. Alternative styles of capitalism are available. They preserve an industrial base, increase employee participation in the economy and improve the odds of maintaining peace. Along the way, the alternatives strengthen economic competitiveness. They support long-haul capitalism, a democratic capitalism.
Germany has an alternative capitalism embedded in its economy, writes Tom Geoghegan in Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?. Its elements are works councils, co-determined boards and regional wage-setting institutions. Employees in Germany can also, if they like, vote for a union to negotiate their wages and pensions. The works councils, each specific to one store or factory, give some managerial responsibility to an elected employee or two. “On layoffs and other issues [like store hours] the employer has to reach an agreement with the works council,” Geoghegan explains. On a co-determined board half the members are from among employees. (There is one extra member from the executive ranks who breaks a tie vote.) This board, which exists only in bigger companies, does not make all the decisions but it receives company information, considers normal operations and sets general direction. There is a separate board of directors elected by shareholders.
All well and good for Germany, you might say. But it can’t happen in the United States. Surprisingly, Geoghegan says, this German model gained its practical traction from the United States in the months following World War II. And guess what? There are elements of this model in our country.
The latest push for an alternative capitalism comes from California. Like a regional wage-setting institution in Germany, California may soon have sector bargaining for fast food employees. Workers in the United States normally bargain store-by-store, company-by-company. That is why each week a dozen Starbucks’ employees over here and another dozen over there file paperwork for a union at their corner store. And that is why employees at each Chipotle must follow the same protracted process. If Assembly Bill 257 is approved by California’s governor, there will be a ten-member council (some employees, some executives and two public officials) to review wage and safety standards across the fast food industry. The California example of sectional bargaining will not deal with everything. Sick leave, paid leave or scheduling issues are off its agenda. Also, the 257 Bill does not hold corporate headquarters liable for violations by one of its franchise owners. (N.Y. Times, 8/30/22 and In These Times, 5/22)
There’s another surprise regarding alternative capitalism. “There is a whiff of Catholicism about it all,” Geoghegan tells us. Well, maybe more than a whiff. In Catholic doctrine it is called collegia ordinum, Latin for arrangement committees. Other names include joint consultative committee (England), enterprise committee (France) and delegates for personnel (Belgium). In the United States labor leader Philip Murray (1886-1952) promoted the concept, calling it the industry council plan. It is under discussion in our federal Congress, where it is called accountable capitalism.
Matt Majewski provides the Catholic development of the concept, primarily as it came about in Germany. Franz von Baader (1765-1841), a Catholic mining engineer and philosopher, was the first to outline what he called “factory councils.” Fr. Franz Hitze (1851-1921) and Fr. Heinrich Brauns (1868-1939) wrote its legal structure. Fr. Oswald von Nell Breuning, SJ (1890-1991) devoted an entire book to the topic and included themes of alternative capitalism as he assisted Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) in composing Reconstructing the Social Order, the important 1931 encyclical. Following World War II, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), a Catholic, embraced co-determinism as a recovery tool. (Commonweal, 3/22/19)
Co-determinism, its proponents believe, is good for capitalism. It decreases strife between managers and employees, prevents unfair competition among similar businesses and mitigates excessive state intervention in business by encouraging self-regulation. Our society cannot continue without a large number of steady working-class jobs, sufficient to support family life. Without alternatives to our current runaway cowboy capitalism, our society will only devolve further into resentment and sporadic violence. Co-determinism and other alternatives like cooperatives are guideposts on the way to an upwardly mobile common life.
For more on co-determinism get Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? by Tom Geoghegan from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $9).