Join the Catholic Labor Network at the USCCB Catholic Social Ministry Gathering!

January 25-28, 2020

Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington DC 

Every year, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops invites Catholic social ministry leaders and social justice activists from across the country to Washington DC for several days of fellowship, learning, prayer, and activism – and the Catholic Labor Network, as a partner in the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, holds its annual meeting and luncheon. I hope you will join us for one or both of these events in January 2020 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC!

The Catholic Labor Network annual meeting opens at 8am on Saturday, January 25. In the morning, we’ll hear Catholic labor leaders, clergy and lay social justice activists share how their faith has informed their witness for the working poor and struggles to change society. Our special guest speakers will include USCCB Labor Policy Advisor Michael O’Rourke; staff from Catholic Charities and the United Food and Commercial Workers who responded to this year’s ICE raids at Mississippi meatpacking plants; airline food service workers who have organized with the union UNITE HERE, and are campaigning for living wage jobs with health care coverage; and many more. We will also provide updates on the Church-Labor Partnership Project, a Catholic Labor Network effort supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, fostering partnerships between Church and labor organizations to promote social justice.

CSMG 2020 will open that afternoon and continue through Tuesday, January 28. This year’s theme is Bearing Witness: Life and Justice for All. Speakers and workshops will cover major topics in Catholic Social Teaching, from global peace to environmental protection to economic justice – including a workshop hosted by CCHD and the Catholic Labor Network, Church and Unions Partner to Seek Justice for All.

To register for either or both of these important events, CLICK HERE

Catholic Labor Network Statement on the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued the Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum, endorsing the right of workers to organize in unions to secure just wages under modern economic conditions. Citing the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, he noted that “Two are better than one: They get a good wage for their toil…. Where one alone may be overcome, two together can resist. A three-ply cord is not easily broken.” Indeed, Leo did not simply endorse the right to form unions, but “desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient [49-50].” This teaching has remained consistent to the present day, as reaffirmed by Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate when he said 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 [25].”

Sadly, in the United States we have witnessed the opposite. In the 1950s, more than one third of American workers enjoyed the protections and opportunities of union members: protection from arbitrary treatment in the workplace, and the opportunity to negotiate their wages and working conditions through collective bargaining. What union workers won helped lift the dignity and standards of all workers, reducing inequality and promoting a more humane economy.

Today only about one in ten workers belong to labor unions, and when workers try to organize and bargain collectively they often face retaliation or stonewalling by hostile employers. The erosion of union representation in the face of this opposition has in turn lowered standards for all workers, contributing to surging inequality.

The PRO Act proposes to deter – and where necessary, punish – employers that violate workers’ rights to prevent them from organizing. It provides for arbitration when a union and an employer are unable to agree on a first contract. It would permit unions to negotiate “fair share” fees when they incur costs for representing workers who do not belong to the union.

The Catholic Labor Network believes that the PRO Act is consistent with “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.” These reforms promise to make labor unions “more numerous and more efficient.” Consequently, the Catholic Labor Network endorses passage of the PRO Act.


The Working Catholic: Strikes
by Bill Droel

Strikes are in the news: auto workers, janitors, teachers, hotel workers and more. Catholicism has a well-developed doctrine on labor relations that includes moral considerations regarding strikes. Most Catholics, I suspect, know nothing about this doctrine. Some who know about it don’t accept it.

Catholicism says that a wholesome, holy society must have bargaining associations for workers. This teaching is part of the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. It also fits with Catholicism’s experience of responsible freedom—something lacking in societies without independent worker associations and other countervailing forces. Totalitarianisms, on one hand, squash unions. Libertarian capitalism with its equation of freedom with extreme individualism likewise rejects unions and other mediating structures. A healthy society by contrast encourages workers’ groups and other associations.
Catholicism does not say that every workplace must have a union. It does not say that this or that union is a good fit for this or that workplace. It does, however, assert that the workers make the choice for or against a union without the maternal or paternal meddling of management. In support of this doctrine Catholicism says that bona fide workers’ groups are entitled to job actions. Catholicism does not vouch for the wisdom of any one job action. That’s a prudential matter for the workers.

A strike is morally OK with some conditions. It must be a just strike. That is, the workers have previously exercised good faith in expressing their position. The issues are serious enough. No violence can occur, though strikers can be loud and can temporarily assert extreme demands. During a strike the union must have a negotiating posture. So too, says Catholicism, must management. This is why a lock out is immoral.
Finally, the strikers are not allowed to put customers, patients, students, neighbors and the like in danger. This is why a wholesale strike by police officers is immoral. For the same reason a nurses’ strike is morally dicey. It could be acceptable, only if provisions for patient care are taken and if it is of short duration.
In keeping with these criteria Catholicism says that no Catholic is allowed to cross a legitimate picket line. No Catholic, meaning suppliers, customers and managers. (If this stricture were observed, all strikes would be settled quickly. After all, about 25% of all executives are Catholic.)
Cardinal John O’Connor (1920-2000) of New York was schooled in labor doctrine from his childhood. One time a major Catholic entity scheduled its high-priced ticket fundraiser at an elite country club. Days before the event the club’s staff went on strike. O’Connor announced that his religion prohibited him from attending the event and mentioned that the prohibition should apply to any Catholic. The event was cancelled, even though the entity really needed this fundraiser.
From the doctrine pertaining to strikes it logically follows that the use of permanent replacement workers is a contradiction in terms. O’Connor testified to our U.S. Congress on this point.

Finally, the record must state that Catholic institutions sometimes flaunt our faith and engage in union busting. That their trustees and managers are able to get away with their behavior, provides proof as to why workers need their own associations, free from maternalism or paternalism. A list of Catholic institutions that harmoniously deal with a union is found on this Catholic Labor Network website.

Droel is an author of Catholic Institutions and Labor Unions (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $1)

Catholic Labor Network Representative Presents to Rising Theologians at Vanderbilt University Program on Religion and Justice

Aimee Shelide Mayer presents on Catholic Social Teaching and labor to Vanderbilt theology students

Guest Column by Aimee Shelide Mayer

When I began my role as a liaison for the Catholic Labor Network in Nashville, I did not know about the newly-formed Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice at Vanderbilt.  After meeting a Divinity School student at a Gamaliel-affiliated community task force on economic inequality, I got connected to Dr. Joerg Rieger, founding director of the Wendland-Cook program.  He invited me to address his course, “Theology, Economics, and Labor,” whose syllabus reads:

The class is designed to help students understand the challenges of broad economic developments and of work and labor for the lives of individuals and communities. Changes in economics and labor affect not only the worlds of politics and economics but also the world of religion and faith, as growing disparities shape us deeply, all the way to the core. The goal of this course is not to bemoan the situation but to search for alternatives and to show that all those affected by these problems can also contribute to turning things around, based on the notion of deep solidarity.

I presented on the day when they were considering “Christian Responses to Capitalism,” particularly written responses from various denominations, including the American Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, Unitarian, United Church of Christ, and–most notably–Catholic traditions.  The class included twenty-four graduate students from various theological backgrounds, including a few Catholics.  I spoke on the rich Catholic tradition supporting labor (including Scripture and Catholic Social Teaching–particularly the social encyclicals and pastoral letters on labor).

In addition to expounding on the historical/social encyclical context, I also talked about the current-day work being done on behalf of the Catholic Church through the Catholic Worker Movement, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Catholic Labor Network to support on-the-ground initiatives for workers’ rights.  I shared how CLN is working in Nashville to support the MC3 Apprentice Readiness Program in the Building Trades, to build clergy  support of Workers’ Rights Campaigns, and eventually to create educational opportunities on labor for leaders in the Catholic Community, including the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers.

The graduate students were encouraged to learn that the Catholic Church has an action plan in place to practice what they have preached and written about since the dawn of Catholic Social Teaching with Rerum Novarum in 1891.  The students’ response should be a source of encouragement for all Catholics to embrace our rich tradition and welcome it as a call to action to support the dignity and decency of work in our own local communities.

Aimee Shelide Mayer is a local representative of the D.C.-based Catholic Labor Network and works to support opportunities in Nashville, TN, that promote the principle of Catholic Social Teaching on the Dignity and Rights of Workers. She can be reached at or 615.669.4694


Despite Unfair Labor Practices, Nurses Form Union at St. Mary Medical Center, PA

This summer nurses at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, PA organized to seek collective bargaining. This might have been an opportunity for bearing witness to Catholic Social Teaching: Church teaching on the right of workers to organize is clear and consistent, and in their 1986 Pastoral letter Economic Justice for All our nation’s bishops stressed that “All church institutions must also fully recognize the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively with the institution through whatever association or organization they freely choose (353).” Unfortunately, hospital administrators responded much the way secular, for-profit employers often do. According to Unfair Labor Practice charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board and recent health reports publicized by the Center for Advancing Health, administrators conducted illegal surveillance of union supporters and disciplined at least one of them in retaliation for their organizing activity.

Despite this, the nurses at the Bucks County hospital outside Philadelphia affiliated with the Trinity chain voted 403-285 to join PASNAP, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.  The hospital and the union are currently in difficult negotiations for a first contract. It doesn’t have to be this way: more than 200 other Catholic hospitals and nursing homes bargain constructively with unions representing their employees in a spirit of mutual respect. We hope and pray that the same positive spirit soon comes to St. Mary Medical.

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

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 (; 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!