Pope Vows to Eliminate Temp Labor at Vatican

Every year, before the holidays, Pope Francis gathers the Vatican’s lay employees and their families to honor their service. He gives a short address praising their work and offering spiritual and temporal guidance for the year to come. This year, though, he also veered into a conversation about temporary workers. The Holy Father, who frequently preaches that workers deserve secure and dignified employment, had learned from one of the career employees that the Vatican itself employed temporary workers, and this concerned and alarmed him.

The Pope did not seem to be referring to temp workers in the American sense (i.e. workers obtained from temp agencies) but the Italian one. Under Italian law, workers who have passed a probation period have considerable employment security – and employers seeking to evade this obligation often choose to employ “temporary” workers on fixed, short-term contracts shorter than the probation period. Francis vowed to eliminate the practice in the Vatican as a matter of conscience.

The other day I had a meeting with Cardinal Marx, who is the President of the Council of the Economy, and with Monsignor Ferme, the Secretary, and I said: “I don’t want illegal work in the Vatican.” I apologize if this still exists…It’s a problem of conscience for me, because we can’t teach the Social Doctrine of the Church and then do these things that aren’t right.

Thank you, Francis, for affirming that employment is not just a matter of economics or even of law, but of conscience. You can read the Holy Father’s full remarks HERE.

Global Outsourcing Eliminates Oreo Jobs: Union Calls for Boycott

In November, US and Mexican Bishops urged that negotiators working to amend NAFTA ensure that any new agreement better protects workers on both sides of the border. Mondelez International, which owns Nabisco, is giving an example of why this is necessary. A couple of years back the company demanded that workers producing Oreo cookies on Chicago’s South Side offer massive wage and benefit concessions as the price of keeping production in place. The workers, represented by the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers union (BCTGM), resisted – and the company promptly relocated production to Monterrey, Mexico, laying off 600 bakers and devastating the community.

The BCTGM has organized a boycott of the Oreo cookies outsourced to Mexico, and is working with Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) to share their story. In December, IWJ issued a report on the dispute, Breaking Faith: Outsourcing and the Damage Done to our Communities.

Advent, Part III

The Working Catholic: Advent Part III
by Bill Droel

Every preacher has a sermon ready for this weekend or next in a folder labeled “Keep Christ in Christmas.” The theme is such a cliché that it is better to leave the folder in a file cabinet, away from the pulpit. Ordinary lay people know how to sufficiently navigate December’s commercialism. And who says that Christ is not in the office parties, the shopping for gifts, the decorating, the baking and all the rest? For those who falter, there’s a how-to book: Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson (Harper Collins).
The entire “Put Christ in Christmas” movement, now championed by President Donald Trump, is misguided. It shows a lack of faith in the Incarnation. The error is an easy one to make. I catch myself on occasion saying something like, “Bring Christ to the Marketplace.” Although I don’t use the phrase “re-Christianize society,” I might nod in agreement when I see it in an essay.
Christ is already in the world and he cannot be removed, no matter how corrupt or indifferent people may be. A Christian is supposed to dispose himself or herself to God’s presence in the world; a lifetime task. Secondly, a Christian is supposed to assist others see the divine presence by making the world better match God’s plan for it.
The late November shampoo of our church carpets, the enhanced December décor of the church, the well-sung Advent hymns, the evocative Advent liturgy that makes use of Isaiah and early parts of the four gospels—all of these nourish us and prepare the way for the glory of Christmas. But the Bethlehem story itself points to the truth that God is most intimately available in the comings-and-goings of ordinary families, among unremarkable workers and especially among the poor.
Yes, the crèche in our home, in front of the church and in many public squares (including here in Chicago) is a visual reminder of God’s Incarnation. But the figurines in those displays are inanimate. The living Christ includes all the retail clerks who stack merchandise and direct shoppers. These workers, please understand, do not have to consciously exude Christianity. Indeed, some are members of other religious traditions; others do not worship at all. Yet, Advent is seeing Christmas in them and then improving their world. For example, don’t shop on Sunday so that workers have Sabbath time.
Restaurant workers mirror Christ. As an Advent discipline, bump up the tip, let’s say to 25% of the bill. The barber, the postal worker, the newspaper delivery person, your bartender.
Christ is the worker who sews the dress shirt that goes into a gift box. That worker is likely overseas and may well labor in a sweatshop. Christ is the worker in a Thailand shrimp house who washes and packages the little fish for the hors d’oeuvre tray at the office party. That worker is probably a slave. As an Advent discipline, only eat shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico or from a U.S. aqua-farm.
Christ is any family that can’t find a room at Mar-a-Lago, or at the Hilton or even at the Route 20 Motel. Christ is anyone who is not welcome at the family table, likely because that person is associated with too much sorrow and discord. During December, many Christians donate food or money for the care of the homeless. Get a closer look at Christ by volunteering at the pantry or shelter.

A few years ago I was in a Milwaukee shopping mall during Advent. Or better to say, my wife was shopping in Milwaukee; I found a bench inside the mall. A Pakistani-American woman and her baby sat down next to me. An older, well-dressed woman approached us and presumably mistaking me for the father said, “You are so lucky. This child is a great hope to us today.” How did she know?
Over 2000 years ago there was another baby. This one conceived out of wedlock to under-employed refugees. This baby’s life was in political danger and the family had to spend time in a foreign country with no green cards. In one sense Jesus did almost nothing that was extraordinary. He simply went about doing the unexpected: showing kindness to strangers, preaching subversively, associating with oddballs. Advent is about looking for the greatest in the unexpected. It is about great hope on a bench at a mall in downtown Milwaukee.

Advent is preparation for Christmas. Christmas is preparation for the day after Christmas.

Fordham Adjuncts, Instructors Vote Union Yes

In an election concluded in November, contingent faculty at Fordham University have voted overwhelmingly to form a union and bargain collectively. The bargaining unit will include both adjunct faculty and others not eligible for tenure, such full-time lecturers and postdoctoral research fellows. After much hesitation, the flagship Catholic university in New York City had joined Georgetown University and many other Catholic schools across the nation in consulting Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work, and adopted a neutral position during the vote, recognizing it was the right of the employees to decide for themselves whether they wanted to join a union. Today the faculty are represented by SEIU Local 200.

Sadly, a few schools in this position seem to have consulted “union avoidance” attorneys rather than CST. They are determined to prevent their employees from getting a union and are asking the NLRB and the courts to respect their “union avoidance” as an expression of their religious identity (!). Duquesne University, Manhattan College, Seattle University and St Xavier University have chosen this unfortunate route.

American and Mexican Bishops offer Joint Statement on Renegotiating NAFTA

Bishops in the US and Mexico have come together to issue a remarkable joint statement on trade. RENEGOTIATING NAFTA: Rebuilding our Economic Relationship in Solidarity, Mutual Trust, and Justice calls on government officials in the trade negotiations to “pursue a commercial relationship that is mutually respectful, just and solidary, especially for the poorest in our countries.”  The Bishops laid out several criteria that must be met by any just trade policy, including protections for the environment, indigenous peoples, migrants and the poor. Readers of this newsletter will be especially interested in their criteria for “Work and Labor Protection.”

The Church teaches that work has an inherent dignity. We support the protection of worker rights, in their country and in foreign lands, including the right to organize, as well as compliance with internationally agreed -upon worker standards. Concern with job loss in both countries requires that any agreement be accompanied by firm commitments to help workers, as well as their families and communities, cope with both the social and financial strains of dislocation that free trade might bring about. It is fundamental that attention be devoted to safe working conditions, reasonable work hours, time off, living family wages, and other recognized social benefits, as well as preventing child labor.

The statement in its entirety is published, in both English and Spanish, on the USCCB website.

Vatican Organizes International Conference of Union Leaders

November 2017 witnessed a historic gathering at the Holy See in which the Church engaged labor union delegates from around the world in a dialogue about economic justice. The conference, From Populorum progressio to Laudato si’ — Work and Workers’ Movements at the Center of Integral, Sustainable and Fraternal Human Development, was hosted by Cardinal Peter Turkson, who heads the Vatican’s new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Pope Francis delivered a message to the participants honoring the assembled labor activists for their role Read more

Advent Lesson

The Working Catholic: Advent, Part II
by Bill Droel

Contemporaries Karl Marx (1818-1883), Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) and Charles Dickens (1812-1870) were concerned about the social question: Why in an industrial economy that promises upward mobility is there so much misery?
By the mid-1800s prosperity was arriving for “factory and mill and transportation interests,” writes Les Standiford in his intriguing biography of Dickens, The Man Who Invented Christmas (Crown, 2008). In addition to business owners, “a growing number of managerial workers were beginning to enjoy the relative ease of a middle class. But most of those who made the factories run were laborers, and they and their families lived in squalor.”
In his early 20s Engels was in Manchester, working and researching. Appalled by child labor, pollution and slum housing there, he began writing about the evils of capitalism. Standiford says that Manchester in 1843 set the stage for Engels. Had he “come of age in some more pleasant surroundings such as London, The Communist Manifesto might not have been written the way it was.”
Dickens gave a talk in Manchester in fall 1843. He too was appalled. He returned to London and in a fury wrote his anti-capitalist manifesto, A Christmas Carol. Dickens “had no use for revolt or violence as suggested by supporters of Mark and Engels,” Standiford writes. His novels are about the working poor, but they dwell on character not on macro-economics. The stories hinge on the tension between bad people and bad institutions, on one hand, and the possibility of redemption on the other.
The good guys (the poor) in Dickens’ stories are complex. He does not romanticize them. Poverty in itself does not make a person noble or worthy of pity. A poor person might drink, carouse, cheat and make bad decisions at times. Dickens’ premise, however, is that being poor is not a sin; the system is at fault.

The holy season of Advent is designed to convey this lesson: Charity is not romantic; it is a duty. Poor individuals are often not charming. They do, however, deserve help with no heavy moral judgment attached.
St. Luke wrote an inspired story about the social question (poverty). Like A Christmas Carol, it is popular at this time of year. The creator of the whole universe, the story goes, comes to visit his created planet. His holy family cannot get a room at Trump Tower and so they go to a barn. The creator is greeted there by poor shepherds. He eventually spends his life among the poor, all of whom St. Luke says have defects in their character but are open to redemption.
These weeks are the best time to read St. Luke (his first two chapters) and also Dickens’ tale. Get a decorative copy of A Christmas Carol from Acta (www.actapublications.com). Acta’s chief executive Grinch sits all day near the building’s front window, looking forlornly down Clark St., waiting until April 9, 2018 when he can take his seat in Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs (92-70 in 2017). Meanwhile, the joyous elves in Acta’s cramped warehouse can for $14.95 get A Christmas Carol into your mailbox, as quickly as any mega-supplier.

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

Christmas, So Soon?

The Working Catholic: Christmas So Soon?
by Bill Droel

The grocery store was more congested than usual this morning because Christmas has taken over two aisles—miniature lights, extension cords, wreaths, decorative boxes, greeting cards and wrapping paper. Plus there are several gift displays at the front and back of several aisles—trays of chestnuts/hazelnuts/pecans and holiday sausage plus winter ale, which I bought for Thanksgiving and which I’ll get more of later. My regular grocery cashier, who is also a floor manager, mentioned that she spent her first hour in a Christmas meeting: How to adequately staff for these next weeks, how many turkeys to order, etc. I had to also stop quickly at the drug store where the same items are prominent. (Yes, my drug store sells festive beer.) There is a radio station in Chicago that from November 3rd exclusively plays Christmas music until 11:59 P.M. on Christmas Eve.

Who started all this? Who invented Christmas?
One correct answer is Our Blessed Mother Mary. Another answer might be St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), who is credited with inventing, or at least popularizing, the Christmas Pageant. But Christmas in the sense of shopping, office parties, mounds of presents and the like is less than 175-years old.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was into a major writer’s block in 1843. His last three stories were duds and he was in debt. Walking the streets of Manchester that fall, Dickens thought about children and Christmas. Back home in London he wrote A Christmas Carol in a fury. The publisher didn’t like it. Dickens decided to pay for the publishing, thus increasing his debt. Of course, it took off and many editions and adaptations followed. The 1992 Muppet Christmas Carol is my favorite.
Dickens didn’t exactly invent Christmas. But Dickens “played a major role in transforming a celebration dating back to pre-Christian times, revitalizing forgotten customs and introducing new ones that now define the holiday,” writes Les Standiford in The Man Who Invented Christmas (Crown, 2011). Dickens “complimented the glorification of the nativity of Christ with a specific set of practices derived from Christ’s example: charity and compassion in the form of educational opportunity, humane working conditions and a decent life for all.” Dickens’ influence links “the birth of a holy savior into a human family to the glorification and defense of the family unit itself.”

Obviously, the themes of Christmas associated with the original Bethlehem setting, with St. Francis’ pageant and with A Christmas Carol can be lost in the frenzy of shopping. It is silly, however, for Christians to wage a culture war on behalf of our holy season. For example, no one needs the permission of President Donald Trump to greet anyone in friendship by saying “Merry Christmas.”
Instead of grousing about commercialism, why not use the weeks of Advent to implement Christmas themes in the neighborhood, in the workplace and in one’s family? In particular, why not—as many people already do—use these days to fight poverty, even with small gestures? Pope Francis declares November 19, 2017 as World Day for the Poor. Each of us can make an anti-poverty resolution on that day, and evaluate our effort on January 6, 2018, the Epiphany. For a booster shot of the Christmas theme, read again A Christmas Carol. There is a decorative edition with an introduction from pastoral theologian John Shea available at Acta (4848 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640; $14.95).

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

Health Care

The Working Catholic: Health Care
by Bill Droel

Larry Keogh, a fellow teacher at our community college, began each semester by telling his students: “Life is not fair.” He used various techniques and examples to make this point. To master his course (social science) our students needed this maxim, Keogh believed. They likewise needed it to navigate their careers and their personal lives.

Atul Gawande is a surgeon in Boston and author of best-selling Being Mortal (Picador, 2014). He recently interviewed a couple in his Ohio hometown. The 47-year old wife had health problems since high school graduation. She had a medical discharge from the Army because of fatigue. Doctors were not getting at her precise ailment. They prescribed opioids for her joint pain. She became addicted and had to start withdrawal treatment. Then her liver began to fail. Finally, doctors at the famous Cleveland Clinic named the problem and found effective medication. This woman, Gawande reports, “got her life back.” Meanwhile her husband fell and was out of his job as an electrical technician for six months.
The couple has “amazing insurance,” says the wife. Maybe so, writes Gawande in The New Yorker (10/2/17). But their policy has “a $6,000 deductible and hefty co-pays and premiums.” During their setback, the annual health care costs to the family reached $15,000. They did not tell their extended family that they had to file for bankruptcy; which brings us to the curious part of this story.
Bankruptcy is “a personal failure,” says the husband, even though medical costs caused the bankruptcy. “Everybody should contribute for the treatment they receive,” the husband says. His wife is ambivalent about the Affordable Care Act, but she does not think adequate health insurance is a human right. “I work really hard,” the wife says. “I deserve a little more than the guy who sits around.” For this couple, any articulation of a right is accompanied by unwanted government regulation and allocation. They are also convinced that many people cheat the government. They have anecdotal “evidence.”
This couple’s “feelings are widely shared,” says Gawande. Many people in our country are uncomfortable with human rights talk. They are adverse to government programs. And in a defining characteristic of their thinking, these people make a distinction between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor.

Modernity teaches that hard work leads to success; failure is at least partially related to a personal defect. For example, John Calvin (1509-1564), one of modernity’s influential leaders, wrote in a typical Scripture commentary: “Adversity is a sign of God’s absence; prosperity of his presence.” This thinking is deep in our culture. TV talk show hosts, preachers, self-help writers, political candidates, technology entrepreneurs, sports stars, education gurus and more, all tell us that we are responsible for the outcome of our lives. Life is what we make of it, or don’t make of it. Some people might experience an unfortunate, temporary setback. They deserve help. But others create their own misery. They do not deserve help.
It is common in a bar, a barbershop, a neighborhood restaurant, a church club, a family gathering to hear in so many words: “Being charitable is important to me but I don’t owe assistance to anyone. Some people need a handout, but my taxes should not go into assistance programs.”

Is health insurance a corollary to the right to life? That is, something that is unalienable and not hinged to one’s social status or lifestyle. Or is health insurance a privilege, something that some people deserve more than others? That is, health insurance is not unalienable and is only begrudgingly extended to the careless. Is life fair?

Droel’s booklet, What Is Social Justice?, is available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Is Pope Francis “reviving the workers’ church” in America?

In the American Prospect this October, John Gehring presents the argument that Pope Francis, by elevating Catholic teaching on social and economic justice, is breathing new life into an old alliance: the Catholic Church and organized labor. As I described in a Commonweal article this month, early 2017 saw several notable instances where Bishops and Catholic Conferences joined with labor to defend immigrants, the right to organize, and other worker justice causes in the state legislatures. In Francis Revives the Workers’ Church, Gehring paints a larger picture of the Church under Francis re-engaging with the labor movement in the United States. Catholic Labor Network board members Fr. Clete Kiley of UNITE HERE and Prof. Joe McCartin of Georgetown University make appearances explaining what this moment means in the life of the Church and organized labor. Check it out!

Of course, it’s not just in America that Pope Francis is reviving “the workers’ church.”  On October 26 the Holy Father sent a video message to Italian Catholic social activists gathered in Sardinia. As Crux reported,

Working for economic growth based on increased consumption without concern for creating dignified jobs and protecting the environment “is a bit like riding a bicycle with a flat tire: It’s dangerous,” Pope Francis said. The dignity of workers and the health of the environment “are mortified when workers are just a line on a balance sheet, when the cries of the discarded are ignored.”

For details, see coverage in Crux: Communion, not competition, is key to job growth, pope says.