NLRB Withdraws Protection from Catholic College Faculty; Saint Xavier University Busts Faculty Union

Under the National Labor Relations Act, most private-sector workers in the United States enjoy the protection of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) when they seek to form a union. If their employer fires or writes them up for supporting the union, they can get relief from the Board; if a majority of workers votes for a union, the Board certifies them as the representatives and the employer is obliged to negotiate a contract. Although these protections are stronger on paper than in practice, they do exist.

That is, unless you teach at a religious college or university. On June 10 the NLRB reversed a previous decision (Pacific Lutheran) holding that adjunct faculty outside of religion and theology departments had a legally protected right to organize in unions. In Bethany College, the Board ruled that the school’s religious identity shields them from legal consequences if they fire union supporters or refuse to bargain with a union formed by the adjunct faculty. This does not forbid workers from forming a union and bargaining, but whether their efforts succeed now depend largely on the goodwill of the employer.

How will Catholic colleges and universities respond? Catholic social teaching hasn’t changed – Catholic doctrine has taught that workers have the right to organize since Pope Leo’s Encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, and the US Bishops stated clearly that this right extends to employees of Catholic institutions in their 1986 Pastoral Letter Economic Justice for All. But those Catholic institutions with unions – or with workers trying to organize – will surely be tempted to use their new legal impunity to dominate rather than bargain with their workers.

Indeed, some Catholic colleges such as Duquesne, Manhattan and Seattle University, have been refusing for years to bargain with union representatives elected by their adjuncts and invoking their religious freedom to do so. I fear that the NLRB decision will inspire those who have adhered to Catholic teaching and recognized adjunct unions heretofore to adopt the same line.

In a separate but related development, two weeks ago St Xavier University did just that. After 40 years of bargaining with a union representing full-time, tenured faculty, SXU announced that it would no longer do so. These workers were left unprotected by a different legal decision (Yeshiva, which ruled that tenured professors were managers, outside of the scope of the NLRA).

In the first reading last weekend, the feast of Corpus Christi, Moses explained that the LORD had let the Israelites wander in the desert so as to test their hearts, and learn whether they intended to keep his commandments (Deut 8:2). This NLRB decision has left Catholic college employees in a labor rights desert, but the test will be for college administrators: do they intend to manage their institutions in accordance with Catholic Social Teaching or not?



Facilities Can No Longer Prohibit Shore Leave for Seafarers

Fr. Sinclair Oubre on duty in the Panama Canal

A guest contribution from Fr. Sinclair Oubre, CLN Spiritual Moderator and member of the Seafarers International Union

In November of 2001, I took a job as the 12-4 AB on the MV Seabulk Challenge. I flew to Boston, and on arrival at the facility gate where the ship was discharging heating oil, I experienced the enhanced security procedures that were put in place after the attacks of September 11.

We sailed to Camden, New Jersey, loaded high-sulfur diesel at the Citgo facility, and then sailed into the Gulf of Mexico. We eventually docked at Kinder-Morgan in Houston, and began discharging our cargo.

On our arrival, the facility informed us that we were detained onboard because of “security.” A US-flagged ship crewed by US merchant mariners must have posed an extremely high security risk to the facility. Many of the crewmembers lived in Houston, and were prevented from seeing their wives and children in the 8 hours they had between watches.

The strange thing was that we watched tank trucks drive by the ship to go to the heart of the facility, load, and the depart.

As one crewmate stated in exasperation, “They want our oil, but they don’t want us.”

Jump forward almost 19 years, and the ability of US and foreign seafarers to access shore leave has finally been enshrined in US regulations.

The legislation was originally passed in the 2010 Coast Guard Authorization Act. Section 811 was simple:

“Each facility security plan approved under section 70103 ( c) of title 46, United States Code, shall provide a system for seamen assigned to a vessel at that facility, pilots, and representatives of seamen’s welfare and labor organizations to board and depart the vessel through the facility in a timely manner at no cost to the individual.”

This seems pretty straightforward, but billion-dollar companies could not figure out what the words “timely” and “no cost” meant. So began a ten-year regulatory process that finally guaranteed merchant mariners the right to shore leave when they arrive at US ports, assuming they have D-1 visas, and that no federal agency has restricted shore leave.

On June 1, 2020, the US Coast Guard regulations implementing section 811 finally came into force. Presently, foreign seafarers are restricted to their ships by company policies (concern that the seafarers will bring COVID-19 back to the ship), and CDC and CBP policies that restrict them to their ships during the pandemic. Once the pandemic ends, these restrictions will be lifted.

For thousands of US seafarers, though, no longer will they have to put up with arbitrary facility “security” polices.” Nor will they have to pay exorbitant transport fees to go from the gangway to the front gate.

For members of the members of the Sailors Union of the Pacific, the Seafarers International Union, the Marine Fireman’s Union, the Master, Mates & Pilots, the Marine Engineers Beneficiary Association, the American Maritime Officers, the Inland Boatman’s Union, and the thousands of non-union US merchant mariners, facilities will have to manage their visiting seafarers as well as they manage the ship’s cargo.

Labor Leaders Respond to Floyd Killing

Labor leaders across the country are responding to the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of police and reflecting on structural racism in the United States. Below find selections from some of their thoughts.

The AFL-CIO building, located a block away from the White House, was damaged during protests along with others on nearby streets. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released a statement the next day.

My heart is heavy at the events of the past few days. I watched the video of George Floyd pleading for his life under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. No person of conscience can hear Floyd’s cries for help and not understand that something is deeply wrong in America. What happened to George Floyd, what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, what happened to far too many unarmed people of color has happened for centuries…Racism plays an insidious role in the daily lives of all working people of color. This is a labor issue because it is a workplace issue. It is a community issue, and unions are the community. We must and will continue to fight for reforms in policing and to address issues of racial and economic inequality. We categorically reject those on the fringes who are engaging in violence and destroying property. Attacks like the one on the AFL-CIO headquarters are senseless, disgraceful and only play into the hands of those who have oppressed workers of color for generations and detract from the peaceful, passionate protesters who are rightly bringing issues of racism to the forefront….

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) represents workers who drive buses and operate subway systems; although about one in eight U.S. workers are African-American, more than one in four transit workers are. During the protests following Floyd’s death, several bus drivers, starting in Minneapolis, refused to transport police and arrested demonstrators. ATU President John Costa released a statement on the tragedy and on ATU members’ actions in the aftermath.

We are deeply disturbed and angered by the tragic death of George Floyd, an African-American who was held, handcuffed, on the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” Those all-too-familiar words, first uttered by Eric Garner, an African-American who was suffocated during a 2014 arrest by a white New York police officer, come as a tragic reminder of the injustice inflicted on persons of color every day in the United States…    Furthermore, as our members – bus drivers – have the right to refuse work they consider dangerous or unsafe during the pandemic, so too Minneapolis bus drivers – our members – have the right to refuse the dangerous duty of transporting police to protests and arrested demonstrators away from these communities where many of these drivers live. This is a misuse of public transit…

The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) represents police officers in departments across the United States. Zealous defenders of their members, the FOP typically responds to charges of excessive force by police by urging a presumption of innocence. But the video of the Floyd killing inspired a swift denunciation by the police union.

Our thoughts and prayers today are with the friends and family of Mr. George Floyd, whose tragic death this week shocked and horrified our nation. Law enforcement officers are empowered to use force when apprehending suspects and they are rigorously trained to do so in order to have the safest possible outcome for all parties. Based on the bystander’s video from this incident, we witnessed a man in distress pleading for help. The fact that he was a suspect in custody is immaterial—police officers should at all times render aid to those who need it. Police officers need to treat all of our citizens with respect and understanding and should be held to the very highest standards for their conduct….

Interested readers should also visit the home pages of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the National Association of Building Trades Unions



Church Leaders Respond to Floyd Killing

Catholic Church leaders across the country are responding to the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of police and reflecting on structural racism in the United States. Below find selections from some of their thoughts.

The video of George Floyd in police custody Monday evening is gut wrenching and deeply disturbing. The sadness and pain are intense. Let us pray for comfort for his grieving family and friends, peace for a hurting community and prudence while the process moves forward. We need a full investigation that results in rightful accountability and veritable justice.

Particularly at this time when human fragility has been brought into focus by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are called to respect the worth and dignity of each individual, whether they be civilians in need of protection or law enforcement officers charged with providing that protection. All human life is sacred. Please join our Catholic community in praying for George Floyd and his family, and working for that day when “love and truth will meet [and] justice and peace will kiss” (Psalm 85).

– Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis.

In astonishment, we are seeing the reactions of people across the United States as they express feelings of frustration, hurt, and anger in their cry for justice for George Floyd, whom we painfully watched being suffocated in front of our eyes on video in Minneapolis, Minnesota this past week. Many of us remember similar incidents in our history that accompanied the Civil Rights Movement, where we repeatedly saw Black Americans viciously brutalized by police on television and in newspaper photos.  Those historic moments helped to rouse our national conscience to the African American experience in the United States and now, in 2020, we tragically still see repeated incidents of police brutality against African Americans.  We find ourselves in this national moment again with the awakening of our conscience by heartbreaking photos and video that clearly confirm that racism still endures in our country. On television and in social media, we are observing an overflow of pain felt acutely in the African American community and shared by too many other communities…. This moment calls us to be the Church of hope that Jesus Christ created us to be in a world full of pain and despair. We pray for a new Pentecost:  a renewal of love, justice and truth in our hearts.  We are called to do justice and love goodness in order to walk humbly with God….

– Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the Archdiocese of Washington.

[The Catholic Labor Network is based in the Archdiocese of Washington; Archbishop Gregory is one of a handful of African-American bishops. CLICK HERE to read Archbishop Gregory’s statement in its entirety.]

The killing of George Floyd was senseless and brutal, a sin that cries out to heaven for justice. How is it possible that in America, a black man’s life can be taken from him while calls for help are not answered, and his killing is recorded as it happens?

I am praying for George Floyd and his loved ones, and on behalf of my brother bishops, I share the outrage of the black community and those who stand with them in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and across the country. The cruelty and violence he suffered does not reflect on the majority of good men and women in law enforcement, who carry out their duties with honor. We know that. And we trust that civil authorities will investigate his killing carefully and make sure those responsible are held accountable.

We should all understand that the protests we are seeing in our cities reflect the justified frustration and anger of millions of our brothers and sisters who even today experience humiliation, indignity, and unequal opportunity only because of their race or the color of their skin. It should not be this way in America. Racism has been tolerated for far too long in our way of life.

It is true what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, that riots are the language of the unheard. We should be doing a lot of listening right now.

– Archbishop José H. Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Archbishop Gomez also serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

We are broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes. What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.

Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on. As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference. We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice….

This joint statement was issued by the Chairs of seven USCCB Committees, ranging from the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development to the Ad Hoc Committee on Racism to the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Who is the Catholic Labor Network? Meet Catherine Orr, Social Ministry Coordinator

CLN Recording Secretary Catherine Orr also serves as Program Coordinator for the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors.

Catherine Orr has been working with marginalized communities for many years and has embodied the call of Catholic Social Teaching. While attending Marquette, she was doing a service learning project in which she worked at a group home for at-risk boys. She worked on anger management with the boys but was forbidden from mentioning anything related to religion, which she found difficult because forgiveness in foundational to all faith traditions. She wanted to continue to help the marginalized and the poor but wanted to make her faith a more explicit part of this work.  This led her to the Department of Living Justice in the Diocese of Green Bay where she became the diocesan director running the St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, Inc. and the Micah Daytime Resource Center for people struggling with homelessness. During this time, she saw the struggles of immigrant workers in the local agricultural sector, which led her to become active in immigrant issues. She worked in coalition with farmers and community activists to fight for immigration reform.

Catherine and her family relocated to Youngstown, Ohio in August 2016, and while living there, she worked in the Social Action Office for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Cleveland. During this time, she witnessed the mass layoffs at the Lordstown General Motors and saw the devastation on the community as economic security and dignity gave way to opioid abuse. While living in Youngstown, she became the Program Coordinator for the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors that operates out of a virtual office setting.  Her role is to support social action directors around the country in their ministerial efforts.

Two years later, Catherine and her family returned to southeastern Wisconsin, and she began ministering as the Pastoral Associate at Lumen Christi Parish in Mequon, a position she also continues to hold today. In all of her work, she sees dignified work as a fundamental aspect to Catholic Social Teaching, which continues to inspire and drive her ministry.

America’s Unions List “Five Essentials” for Pandemic Recovery Legislation

Wednesday June 3 the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions have organized car caravans in cities across the United States to focus on the essential needs of American workers as the pandemic continues. Many of these needs were addressed in the HEROES Act that passed the House of Representatives on May 15. We don’t yet know what the Senate’s sequel to the CARES Act will be, but the labor movement seeks to ensure that any new legislation includes measures to ensure the following:

  1. Keep Front-Line Workers Safe. This means that workers who are providing essential services to us during the pandemic have proper PPE and testing. OSHA must issue an Emergency Temporary Standard covering workplace safety during the pandemic.
  2. Keep Workers Employed and Protect Earned Pension Checks. The Paycheck Protection Program should be extended and we need to make sure it is used to protect jobs during the shutdown, not to boost stock prices. And we need to take action to protect current and future retirees whose pensions have been hit hard by the falling markets.
  3. Keep State and Local Governments, Our Public Schools and the US Postal Service Solvent and Working. The pandemic has blown a hole in state and local government and postal budgets. We cannot allow this to turn into mass layoffs that slash public services and further damage the economy.
  4. Keep America Healthy – Protect Health Insurance for All Workers. Millions of laid-off workers are losing their health insurance in the midst of a public health crisis. The government should step up to assume COBRA payments for these workers to prevent a new health catastrophe.
  5. Keep America Competitive – Hire People to Build Infrastructure. America needs substantial investments in roads, rail and bridges, while tens of millions are out of work. There will never be a better time to invest heavily in the upgrading of America’s transportation, communication and energy infrastructure.

These are indeed economic essentials if America is to recover stronger than ever from the covid pandemic. The Catholic Labor Network joins with the AFL-CIO in calling on the US Senate to address these issues in a sequel to the CARES Act.

Special Mass Comforts, Strengthens Furloughed LA Hotel Workers

The workers of UNITE HERE Local 11 are hurting. More than ninety-five percent of the members of Local 11 – who work in Los Angeles hotels and restaurants – have lost work as the pandemic shuttered the city’s hospitality sector. So the largely Latino and immigrant workforce did what came naturally: they gathered virtually for a Mass.

The beautiful liturgy was celebrated by Fr. Mike Guitierrez, with members of Local 11 doing the readings and providing the music. Fr. Mike, from St. John the Baptist in Baldwin Park, has had a long relationship with the members of the Local. Twenty years earlier, when he was assigned to a Parish in Santa Monica, several of his parishioners approached him – they worked in area hotels and were trying to organize a union, and asked for his support. “Workers need the support of the Church, and priests involved in labor solidarity have a rich tradition in the United States,” he explained.

Ana Lara, a housekeeper at the Beverly Wiltshire and twenty-two year union steward, read the first reading. “It was so good because we had so many fears. It was time to ask God to help us. We feel more at peace.”

The Spanish-language Mass was livestreamed and a recording can be viewed HERE.

Laudato Si and the Just Transition

May 24, 2020 marks the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ widely hailed letter on the environment, Laudato Si. The remarkable letter reflects on our materialist culture, pointing to widespread pollution and the threat of global warming. He tells us that the Earth “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.” [2]

I find it troubling, not merely because I have myself consumed more than my share of the Earth’s goods, nor because of the Holy Father’s scientifically grounded warnings about climate change. As a member of Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), most of my brothers and sisters are employed in construction. And they aren’t spread evenly across the building industry: in fact, they are also disproportionately dependent on the carbon economy.

As union membership has declined over the past several decades, union contractors have virtually disappeared from single-family home construction and renovation. Most of the strip centers and many office buildings are now built by non-union workers who lack the job security, employer-paid health care, and pension benefits enjoyed by skilled but expensive union workers. In contrast, many sectors of civil construction remain largely in the hands of union workers, and much of this sector is indissolubly linked with the carbon economy. Union workers lay the pipelines that carry the crude oil and build the refineries that turn it into gasoline. They maintain the power plants that turn coal into electricity. They build the roads and bridges demanded by our nation’s massive fleet of cars and trucks.

This means that any dramatic action taken to reduce man’s carbon footprint won’t fall equally on all of us in society, but rather will fall particularly hard on my brothers and sisters in the building trades unions. And that’s not all: coal miners, auto workers, power plant operators and many other blue-collar union workers will almost certainly become collateral damage of a transition to renewable energy.

Some progressives, in their zeal for the environment, airily dismiss the concerns of these workers. More than a few even imply that their fears of displacement signify selfishness and greed, a willingness to destroy the planet for a few dollars in their pocket. I doubt the Holy Father would agree, though. Laudato Si critiques a “throwaway culture” that wastes both resources and human beings. If workers in the energy economy rely on these jobs to secure a living wage for themselves and their families, Pope Francis would be the last to casually wave aside their concerns and the first to counsel the need for a just transition.

It won’t do just to say that the new economy will create enough “green jobs” to absorb these workers. After all, the nation is filled with former industrial workers who were assured that with “retraining” they’d quickly find new jobs to replace those lost to automation or globalization. Too many of those workers today are serving hamburgers, stocking Walmart shelves or driving for Uber at a fraction of their former family-supporting salaries – if indeed they have jobs at all. It’s poor sport to retrain an unemployed West Virginia coal miner to install solar panels if the solar panel installations are all in Nevada. It’s not much help to send a laid-off SUV assembly line worker to IT classes if the corporate offices are hiring younger college grads to fill the available positions.

What will a just transition for these workers look like? I don’t know. It may indeed involve, as some have suggested, a Green New Deal, but it will take more than that. Will we need affirmative action programs that prioritize workers displaced from the carbon economy? Costly economic incentives to ensure that  new jobs are located in the same communities where the old jobs disappeared? Increased taxes on the rest of us to support all this? A just transition will require a practical and concrete plan to reemploy those employed in the carbon economy, and that will be expensive. We should all be prepared to sacrifice in order to share that burden equitably.

Minneapolis Janitors strike against Climate Change

While some unions face a devastating dilemma when their members’ livelihood is tied to the carbon economy, others are finding common ground with environmentalists. Janitors represented by the SEIU and their green movement counterparts have long shared an interest in eliminating toxic cleaning products. Under the banner of Bargaining for the Common Good, SEIU Janitors in the Twin Cities and local environmental activists went a step further in February.

Under Bargaining for the Common Good, unions and community organizations meet together prior to union negotiations and develop a shared set of demands. In this case, SEIU Local 26 sat down with student climate strikers and groups like Environment Minnesota and the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, and incorporated a series of environmental demands into their bargaining priorities alongside wage and benefit improvements. After grueling negotiations and a short strike, the union won not just a raise but creation of a labor-management fund that will look for ways to reduce the environmental footprint of the office buildings they service.

For more information on the strike see Lessons from the First Union Climate Strike in the U.S. in Labor Notes and Bargaining for Climate Justice in The Forge.

Will Eulen use pandemic as a union prevention tool at Washington National Airport?

Airport workers muster in a car caravan

In Washington DC’s National Airport, a group of immigrant workers from Africa and Latin America has been struggling for years to form a union and bargain for a living wage. Now they are concerned that their employer, the multinational corporation Eulen Group, will use covid-related layoffs to kill the their union drive, targeting union activists.

At National Airport, Eulen employees clean airplane cabins and terminal floors, push wheelchairs and perform other service tasks. Eulen is one of several contractors performing this work at the Washington National and Dulles Airports, but the company has distinguished itself by fighting tooth and nail to prevent its workers from organizing at Washington National — Read more