Florida voters approve minimum wage increase

In a big win for just wages, 61% of Florida voters supported raising the state’s minimum wage (gradually) to $15 per hour.

Catholic Social Teaching holds that every worker deserves a living wage, and most everyone agrees that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour – less than $15,000 per year for a full-time worker – is not a living wage anywhere in the country. That’s why a growing number of states have opted to set a higher one, either by legislative action or by popular vote as in Florida. Indeed, as the Washington Post noted:

Minimum wage increases are typically popular among the electorate. Since 2000, states have held 21 referendums on the minimum wage, and all have passed, according to a tally kept by Ballotpedia. Public opinion surveys have shown broad support; a 2019 Pew survey found that two-thirds of Americans supported raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Florida’s current minimum wage is $8.56 per hour. The constitutional amendment just passed would phase in a series of step increases, with a $10 minimum taking effect in September 2021 and climbing to $15 per hour in 2026. More than 2 million low-income workers are expected to get a raise due to the amendment.

Healthcare unions demand OSHA infectious disease standard

Despite what you might hear from business lobbyists about alleged “overregulation,” insiders understand that OSHA seldom issues a regulation unless pushed by worker advocates. Although there are thousands of toxic chemicals in use in industry, regulations only cover a few dozen – usually in response to lobbying or lawsuits by labor unions and public health organizations. Nurses and health care workers have been waiting more than a decade for a workplace safety standard governing infectious diseases, and the pandemic has been the last straw: three unions have filed suit demanding that OSHA lay out what employers must do to protect health care workers.

OSHA began exploring an infectious disease standard in 2009, responding to a petition by health care worker unions during the swine flu epidemic. The 2014 Ebola scare strengthened the case for action, but after President Trump’s 2016 election OSHA dropped the subject. Now, after dozens of hospital and nursing home employees have died from COVID-19 while caring for the ill, workers are no longer willing to wait.

AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), AFT (American Federation of Teachers), and the WSNA (Washington State Nurses Association) – each of which represent substantial numbers of health care workers – filed suit. The suit demands that OSHA prepare and issue an occupational safety and health standard protecting workers exposed to infectious diseases in the workplace.

Please pray for the safety of our health care workers, and rapid action by OSHA to keep them safe.

Workers Discuss “Right to Recall” in Online Forum

Some employers replacing furloughed workers with temps

The covid-19 pandemic required many hotels, restaurants, theaters and sports venues to close their doors, at least temporarily. Many were forced to furlough longtime employees. As they gradually reopen, will they call these loyal workers back to service – or take advantage of today’s depressed labor market to hire lower-paid replacement workers?

A recent WORKERS SPEAK OUT online panel discussion bringing together hotel workers and union representatives from Chicago, Boston and Baltimore revealed a range of responses, and a national movement to create “right to recall” laws that would require reopening employers to offer furloughed workers their old jobs before hiring off the street.

Justice would seem to require that firms gearing up after a pandemic interruption recall the career employees whose labor helped the employer build the firm in the first place. But in the absence of laws requiring this, the actual behavior of firms is hit-or-miss and often depends on the power of the workers and their union to secure fair outcomes.

In a striking contrast, participants in the panel heard from two Chicago-area hotel workers, one protected by a union contract and one who was not. Adrian Aguirre, a bartender at the Omni Chicago, had successfully organized in a union with his co-workers and secured a contract with two-year recall rights in the event of a layoff. Carlos Perez, a houseman employed at the Hyatt Century, has no union. The Hyatt told all the furloughed workers they were fired, and has hired replacements from a temp agency.

This is why the hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE is working across the country to pass city and state laws protecting workers’ “right to recall.” Readers of this newsletter will be familiar with the situation in Baltimore, where CLN and Catholic social ministry leaders recently organized an appeal to the Mayor to sign two “right to recall” bills approved by the City Council. The legislation would protect ALL hospitality workers in the city, whether they belong to the union or not. The CLN is working with the union in other jurisdictions to pass similar initiatives.

CLICK HERE to view a recording of WORKERS SPEAK OUT on Right to Recall after the Pandemic!

Baltimore Catholic social ministry leaders call on mayor to sign “right to recall” bills

Bills would require hotels reopening after pandemic to rehire furloughed employees

More than 15,000 Baltimore workers employed in area hotels, casinos, restaurants and sports arenas have been laid off, through no fault of their own, due to the pandemic. After huddling with furloughed workers and union representatives on October 6, representatives from 9 Baltimore City parishes called on Mayor Bernard Young to sign legislation guaranteeing their “right to recall” when these businesses reopen.

The two bills, recently approved by a large majority in the City Council, do not require the hotels and other venues to rehire these workers now, but would insist that when they do hire, they offer the furloughed employees the jobs before recruiting replacement workers.

The audience of nearly one dozen Baltimore City pastors and lay social ministry leaders was deeply moved by the testimony of Jose Ramirez, a public area cleaner at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel. UNITE HERE union organizer Tracy Lingo translated the testimony and shared how the City Council had voted for two local ordinances protecting hospitality workers’ right to recall whether they belong to the union or not. The group agreed to submit a joint letter to the Mayor urging him to sign the essential legislation. (CLICK HERE to view the letter.)

To date the Mayor has taken no action. If he vetoes the bills they will be returned to the Council for further action.

Catholic Labor Network supports launch of 3rd MC3 cohort in Nashville

The Central Labor Council of Nashville & Middle Tennessee, in partnership with the Nashville Area Building Trades, is launching its third Apprenticeship Readiness Program in the construction trades November 9-20, 2020.  This free, 120-hour training program follows NABTU’s national MC3 (multi-craft core curriculum) and has been adapted to the local vernacular of Nashville to be dubbed, “Music City Construction Careers.”  Locally, MC3 has graduated 15 participants to date.

Aimee Shelide Mayer, Representative of the Catholic Labor Network in Middle TN, is once again working to recruit from community partners, most specifically Catholic Charities and local parishes with a population who might be interested in a construction career.  The Building Trades of late have focused on intentionally inviting women, veterans, and people of color to join their apprenticeships, and Aimee’s outreach has followed this approach.

Respecting the new social norms of COVID-19, information sessions were held virtually and a recording of the first session can be viewed on the MusicCityMC3 Facebook Page here.  Applications are currently being received and reviewed, with interviews to take place between October 21-30. Interested applicants can apply online here, and questions may be directed to aimee@catholiclabor.org or 615.669.4694.


Is the Church losing touch with working-class Catholics?

America magazine probes disturbing data

In a recent, wide-ranging article examining data on Church attendance, America magazine editor Kevin Clarke asked: Is the Church losing its working-class flock?

There’s great reason to be concerned. Despite a popular media narrative about secular elites looking down on blue-collar believers, survey data suggests that while mass attendance has declined for many social groups, the sharpest fall seems to be concentrated in the lowest income brackets.

When Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, ran the numbers for America, he located the greatest drop-offs in Mass attendance among self-described Catholics in the lowest income bracket. Those who said they “never attend” Mass jumped from 6 percent in 1972 to just under 25 percent in 2018. In the bracket just above these Catholics, Mr. Burge found another significant leap in never-attenders, from just over 1 percent to 21 percent.

Meanwhile, at the top income quartile, never-attenders went to 13 percent from 4 percent, and in the quartile just below the top, the percentage jumped to 17 percent from almost 2 percent.

Clarke spoke with many members and friends of the Catholic Labor Network for insight on this, from steelworker Charles Perko to Bishop John Stowe (who celebrated our recent Labor Day Mass) – not to mention Nashville representative Aimee Shelide Mayer and board member Joseph McCartin. CLICK HERE to check it out.


Farm Workers

The Working Catholic: LeRoy Chatfield.
by Bill Droel

Time is catching up with the founders of the United Farm Workers Union (www.ufw.org). Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) has been dead for 27 years. Rev. Jim Drake (1938-2001) died young. Larry Itliong (1913-1977), who started the famous Delano Grape Strike and National Boycott of September 1965, is gone. Dolores Huerta is now 90 and Rev. Chris Hartmire is in his late 80s. So too is LeRoy Chatfield.
Chatfield was the administrative assistant to Chavez during the ten crucial years of the UFW. He has recently given us two gifts: A memoir, To Serve the People: My Life Organizing with Cesar Chavez and the Poor (University of New Mexico [2019]; $27.95) and the definitive Farm Worker Documentation Project (www.libraries.ucsd.edu/farmworkermovement/archives).
Chatfield did everything. He walked the first picket line, tended to Chavez during his 25-day fast, was part of the march to Sacramento, managed the operation when Chavez was on the road a month at a time, raised money and spoke at colleges, organized a major legislative labor campaign in California, represented the UFW at the funeral of Robert Kennedy (1925-1968)–all of this after Chavez took on the 31-year old Chatfield to develop farm worker cooperatives, which he also did. Chatfield was on the scene prior to the Delano Grape Strike and played a key role in it. His chapter about it is the best in To Serve the People.
Prior to these defining ten years, Chatfield was for 16 years a member of Christian Brothers of De La Salle (www.delasalle.org). Peter Maurin (1877-1949), a founder of Catholic Worker Movement (www.catholicworker.org), once belonged to the same order, Chatfield reminds us. All through the book he refers to his connections with the Catholic Worker. He served as a teacher and administrator at Christian Brothers’ schools in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Bakersfield. His social formation occurred as a Christian Brother—sometimes by way of the community, sometimes in spite of it. For example, a Christian Brother recruited Chatfield, then aspiring to the order as high school student, for a cell of a specialized Catholic Action group. He was intrigued by social doctrine, though he didn’t understand much of it. However, he memorized and experimented with the Catholic Action method. “I tell you that nothing in my life since age 14 has served me better or landed me in more hot water than those damn principles of observe, judge, act,” he writes.
Just as often, Chatfield’s social formation came through his own involvements with student groups and Catholic organizations, including a Catholic Worker house in Oakland and a relationship with Ammon Hennacy (1893-1970). The tale of how he found Chavez indirectly includes the Catholic Worker. At age 29 Chatfield (then known as Bro. Gilbert, FSC) went to Boston to participate at the annual convention of National Catholic Social Action Conference. NCSAC was founded by former Catholic Workers John Cort (1913-2006) and Ed Marciniak (1917-2004). At the Boston conference Chatfield heard “that a man by the name of Cesar Chavez was organizing farm workers in Delano, California.” That was enough for Chatfield.
In this memoir Chatfield expresses affection for all the people and groups he met. There is no bitterness. He left the Christian Brothers only because he wanted full-time involvement with farm workers and presumably the order was unprepared to assign him to that mission. He likewise left the UFW with abiding affection.
“For nearly ten years, Cesar was my best friend,” says Chatfield. They talked over family matters, their faith, sports, politics and lots more. This autobiography is not in any way a tell-all. But in details here-and-there it gives a glimpse into the tragic flaw of the heroic Chavez. A full picture comes through in the sympathetic biography, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez by Mirian Pawel (Bloomsbury, 2014).
Chatfield came to Chavez out of general desire to help farm workers. Chavez left his job with Community Service Organization out of the same general desire. Chatfield calls this “Cesar’s vision.” There was unresolved tension about the exact purpose of Chavez’ movement. It was parts union focused on gaining collective bargaining status, part social service agency, part public relations lobby on behalf of farm workers, and at times a retreat-style spiritual community. Chavez was the only one who knew and controlled the game plan. Thus there was arbitrariness about his leadership. It was a vision; something that Chavez did not or could not share in a bullet point memo.
As the months went by Chatfield got the message that he would be a fall guy for defeat during a legislative campaign. There was no showdown; Chatfield simply knew it was time to go. Plus he and his wife Bonnie, whom he met in the movement, had four daughters; a fifth was born subsequently.
The second part of the book is equally interesting. Again, the Catholic Worker is part of the story. By 1974 Chatfield was a manager in Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial campaign and went on to serve in the administration, including as director of California Conservation Corps. He then spent five years in real estate development and two more years back in school. Meanwhile, Catholic Workers Dan Delany (1935-2015) and Chris Delany were busy founding a comprehensive house for the unemployed and homeless, Loaves and Fishes (www.sacloaves.org). They hired Chatfield to be its first director. His chapters on these 13 years contain interesting reflections on addiction and on possessions plus a list of tips for managers of non-profits.
Upon retirement Chatfield, wouldn’t you know, returned as a Loaves and Fishes volunteer, developing cottages for the homeless. During retirement Chatfield also returned to producing a journal for high school authors, (www.syndicjournal.us). On Chatfield’s own website, (www.leroychatfield.us), many of his Easy Essays are posted.
Jorge Mariscal put this autobiography together. Its references are up to the minute, but sections of the book are reconstructed from interviews in 1976, from notes in 2002, from several segments written in 2004 and from Chatfield’s diary entries in 1961, 1968-1969 and 1993. There’s a little repetition, but it is not distracting.
Social change movements and their leaders are diminished when they become part of our celebrity culture. True social change requires many energetic and reflective people, most of whom never appear in the news. Chatfield’s account and others like it are an important contribution to understanding how change occurs. Today’s activists are wise to learn from the past; from its positives and negatives.

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


The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine
by Bill Droel

Catholic social doctrine comes to us in a series of principles derived from Scripture, from science/reason (including social science) and indispensably from 2,000 years of Christian experience in all manner of social, political and cultural settings. There is no official list of these principles, though several pamphlets and statements provide a starting lineup—usually including innate dignity of each person, solidarity, subsidiarity, dignity of work, common good, social justice and recently option for the poor. A Catholic is expected to prudently apply these principles within her or his own milieu.
Any one principle can be pulled out for close examination and specific use. It is important to remember, however, that the principles are complementary. For example, the principle of subsidiarity says that decisions are best made as close as possible to those affected by the decision, but subsidiarity cannot be pulled too far away from other principles. Neo-conservatives wrongly use it to say “the government that governs least governs best.” Subsidiarity has to be paired with other principles that affirm government, like solidarity, distributive justice and more.
Each principle builds on the God-given dignity of each person. For example, no employer nor any company procedure nor any policy measure can give a person dignity. Likewise, nothing can take a person’s dignity away. Dignity can be and often is disrespected–sometimes by others, other times by the person. But dignity resides with God.
The principle of dignity of work comes from a proper reading of Genesis: Work is not the punishment for sin. It is part of God’s original intention. The dignity of work also comes from a natural law (science/reason) understanding that people are fulfilled through work: Homo Faber. Plus this principle comes from experience, embodying the principle of participation in workplaces.
The dignity of work principle has several corollaries. Among them: The right of employees to vote yes or no on a union without the maternal or paternal interference of their employer. A just strike and the prohibition on Catholics to cross a just picket line are also corollaries.
Not every workplace has to have a union, Catholicism says. However, a healthy, holy society must allow for unions (or guilds). The union movement as a countervailing force is a moral necessity. Catholicism counts on unions (and plenty of other groups) to advance justice and peace throughout society.
The Catholic principle on unions must not drift too far from the other principles like the common good. This turns out to be good sociology. That’s not surprising because Catholic doctrine came in part from a reflection on social science.
Sociology says that people join and participate in voluntary associations to meet two needs: the need to belong and the need to make a difference. Some organizations are mostly about belonging. Others are primarily about making a difference. A sound union does both. It bargains for its members’ wages and conditions. It also attends to grievances. Plus on the belonging side of its purpose, a union sponsors social events for members and their families. Simultaneously union members make a difference as their organization aligns with social improvement organizations (including other unions), donates material and time to charity efforts, co-sponsors a conference or assists other workers, including those overseas. Plus, a union in one workplace improves by way of precedent conditions and pay in a similar company.
All unions, indeed all voluntary groups must aim at the common good, says Catholicism. The common good is the total of desirable things or conditions that no one can singularly obtain. Common goods like clean water or fresh air or the removal of a menacing virus can only be obtained collectively. A just and peaceful neighborhood is one example of a common good. Thus in this example, a union does not only bargain for the economic and safety interests of its members, it also does its part, along with other groups, to obtain neighborhood peace and justice.

Bill Droel is editor of John Paul II’s Gospel of Work (NCL, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $8).

CLN Helps Construction Workers Fight Wage Theft

Major DC General Contractor Subs Out Work to Contractors Breaking Minimum Wage, Overtime Laws; Workers Take Legal Action

Two immigrant construction workers in Washington DC have filed a class action lawsuit against CBG, one of Washington DC’s largest general contractors, for wage theft, and others are stepping up to join them. Workers employed by multiple CBG subcontractors have been denied overtime pay, paid less than the DC minimum wage, or both.

“I was paid $12 per hour,” said Ivan (right), a sheet metal worker who helped install air conditioning ductwork at Eckington Place, a high-end mixed-use development under construction in Northeast DC. The legal minimum wage in Washington DC was $14/hour when Ivan started the job in February 2020, and it’s $15/hour now. “Jimmy [the recruiter] told me that if I learned fast I would get a raise, but I never did.” Read more

Pope Francis Releases Letter “On Fraternity and Social Friendship”

Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti Indicates Limits of Free Market, Condemns Unjust Distribution of Wealth

For more than a century, popes have issued Encyclical Letters explaining the social teaching of the Church. Pope Leo XIII began the tradition with Rerum Novarum (1891), which condemned the unjust distribution of wealth created in the early industrial revolution, defending the right of every worker to a living wage and the right of workers to form trade unions.

On October 3, Pope Francis issued his contribution to this sequence, Fratelli Tutti, a rich document that builds on many themes the Holy Father has addressed during his papacy: the limits of markets as a tool for social justice, the rights of migrants, and a call for a politics based on love and not castigation of the “other.”

The entire text of the lengthy letter can be found on the Vatican website, and the Vatican News website has provided a short summary as well. I was struck by paragraphs 122-123, which summarize both the vocation of the business leader and the ways in which the rights of private property and the freedom of the market are subordinate to the common good – the needs of the poor and respect for the environment take priority.

Development must not aim at the amassing of wealth by a few, but must ensure “human rights – personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples”. The right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot supersede the rights of peoples and the dignity of the poor, or, for that matter, respect for the natural environment, for “if we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all”. Business activity is essentially “a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world”. God encourages us to develop the talents he gave us, and he has made our universe one of immense potential. In God’s plan, each individual is called to promote his or her own development, and this includes finding the best economic and technological means of multiplying goods and increasing wealth. Business abilities, which are a gift from God, should always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities. The right to private property is always accompanied by the primary and prior principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use. [122-123]

The Holy Father continues with this theme further on in the letter.

The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes. Neoliberalism simply reproduces itself by resorting to the magic theories of “spillover” or “trickle” – without using the name – as the only solution to societal problems. There is little appreciation of the fact that the alleged “spillover” does not resolve the inequality that gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society. It is imperative to have a proactive economic policy directed at “promoting an economy that favours productive diversity and business creativity” and makes it possible for jobs to be created and not cut. Financial speculation fundamentally aimed at quick profit continues to wreak havoc. Indeed, “without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function. And today this trust has ceased to exist”. The story did not end the way it was meant to, and the dogmatic formulae of prevailing economic theory proved not to be infallible. The fragility of world systems in the face of the pandemic has demonstrated that not everything can be resolved by market freedom. It has also shown that, in addition to recovering a sound political life that is not subject to the dictates of finance, “we must put human dignity back at the centre and on that pillar build the alternative social structures we need”.[168]

He also has a great deal to say about the obligations of those of us who live in wealthy and secure countries toward migrants driven from their homes by poverty, violence or persecution.

“In some host countries, migration causes fear and alarm, often fomented and exploited for political purposes. This can lead to a xenophobic mentality, as people close in on themselves, and it needs to be addressed decisively”. Migrants are not seen as entitled like others to participate in the life of society, and it is forgotten that they possess the same intrinsic dignity as any person. Hence they ought to be “agents in their own redemption”. No one will ever openly deny that they are human beings, yet in practice, by our decisions and the way we treat them, we can show that we consider them less worthy, less important, less human. For Christians, this way of thinking and acting is unacceptable, since it sets certain political preferences above deep convictions of our faith: the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion, and the supreme law of fraternal love. [39]

Complex challenges arise when our neighbour happens to be an immigrant. Ideally, unnecessary migration ought to be avoided; this entails creating in countries of origin the conditions needed for a dignified life and integral development. Yet until substantial progress is made in achieving this goal, we are obliged to respect the right of all individuals to find a place that meets their basic needs and those of their families, and where they can find personal fulfilment. Our response to the arrival of migrating persons can be summarized by four words: welcome, protect, promote and integrate. For “it is not a case of implementing welfare programmes from the top down, but rather of undertaking a journey together, through these four actions, in order to build cities and countries that, while preserving their respective cultural and religious identity, are open to differences and know how to promote them in the spirit of human fraternity” [129].

This implies taking certain indispensable steps, especially in response to those who are fleeing grave humanitarian crises. As examples, we may cite: increasing and simplifying the granting of visas; adopting programmes of individual and community sponsorship; opening humanitarian corridors for the most vulnerable refugees; providing suitable and dignified housing; guaranteeing personal security and access to basic services; ensuring adequate consular assistance and the right to retain personal identity documents; equitable access to the justice system; the possibility of opening bank accounts and the guarantee of the minimum needed to survive; freedom of movement and the possibility of employment; protecting minors and ensuring their regular access to education; providing for programmes of temporary guardianship or shelter; guaranteeing religious freedom; promoting integration into society; supporting the reuniting of families; and preparing local communities for the process of integration. [130]

Fratelli Tutti addresses far more than I can explore here. For other reactions to the Holy Father’s letter see…

In new encyclical, Pope Francis envisions ‘renewed hope’ from universal love, open to ‘every man and woman’, America

Fratelli tutti’: Pope Francis presents new encyclical in Angelus address, Catholic News Agency

Pope’s post-COVID encyclical envisions a less populist, less capitalist world, National Catholic Reporter

Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, enshrines familiar criticisms of racism and borders, Religion News Service