It’s good when our pastors preach the sanctity of life, the rights of workers and the priority of the family from the pulpit; it’s great when they demonstrate these values in their role as employers. In May, the Chicago Archdiocese drew national notice with an announcement that its 7,000 employees will be entitled to 3 months of paid parental leave on the birth of a child. The Chicago Tribune reported… Read more
The Working Catholic: Urban Decline?
by Bill Droel
It wasn’t so traumatic here when in the 1980s Los Angeles overtook Chicago, until then the Second City, in population. Last month, however, demographers caused a stir in Chicago; predicting that soon Houston will be the Third City, while Chicago will drop to number four. Ouch.
The city of Chicago lost about 2,890 residents between 2014 and 2015. Our entire metro region lost an estimated 6,263 residents in the same time period. Meanwhile, Houston had the second-largest increase, gaining 40,032 residents.
Many people are not aware that the black migration to our city is long over. In fact, blacks in a steady stream have moved from here to Atlanta, Birmingham and elsewhere in the South over the past several years. Nor are Mexican-American arrivals offsetting any exodus from Chicago. Actually, the plateau for migration from Mexico to Chicago was reached in about 2005.
In itself, Chicago’s modest population decline is neither here nor there. It is worrisome, however, when tied to several perceptions: That violent crime gravely affects public health; that public schools are incapable of adequately educating young people; that our police prejudicially administer the law; that the Catholic church is abandoning the neighborhoods with which it was once synonymous; that our mayor is more interested in Obi-Wan Kenobi and R2-D2 than he is in working-class families; that our governor wants to destroy charitable groups; that the Democratic Machine does not deliver services but only enriches a few well-healed families; and that business is fleeing our city and state.
Are these perceptions accurate? Are there countertrends to those trumpeted by the prophets of doom?
Mike Gecan of the Industrial Areas Foundation (www.industrialareasfoundation.org) spoke last month to leaders of Chicago’s Episcopal Community Services. The IAF was founded in Chicago in 1940, but now has headquarters in the District of Columbia. Gecan drew attention to similarities and differences between the New York City of the late 1970s and 1980s and Chicago today.
New York then and Chicago, both then and now, are “crippled by federally subsidized suburbanization and by the loss of their manufacturing base,” Gecan began. Both cities “saw decades of white flight… Both regions overspent when times seemed good–pouring millions and even billions into service programs, wages, and benefits and showering tax breaks and other subsidies on corporations and insiders.” Charitable agencies in both places became “dependent on what seemed like an unending flow of public money,” he continued. “Both had deep-seated cultures of corruption in their political spheres–New York mostly at the state level, Chicago and Illinois at many levels.” Finally, “both resorted to gimmicks and one-offs to plug holes.” Things like “sports venues, tourist attractions, sales of public assets, and more.” (The Working Catholic will develop this point in a subsequent blog.)
Gecan began “the differences” portion of his talk by recalling a famous October 1975 N.Y. Daily News headline: President Gerald “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” New York was at its low point with only one lifeline left: a federal bailout. When it didn’t materialize, Gecan said, new leadership emerged from all three sectors–private, public and third or civic sector. “A union leader named Victor Gotbaum (of ASFCME), an investment banker named Felix Rohatyn, young professionals like Donna Shalala and Peter Goldmark, a governor named Hugh Carey, and many more moved to the center. Union pension funds were put at risk to shore up the credit rating of the city. A Financial Control Board was put in place to strictly monitor city finances for ten years… Accountability and painful belt-tightening were imposed on the financial life of the city. Groups in the third sector realized that, going forward, they could no longer rely so heavily on public support and figured out new ways to staff and address programs. A fierce public transit advocate named Marcy Benstock led an effort to block a proposed West Side Highway… A start-up affordable housing finance group named CPC began renovating apartments in Washington Heights and Inwood. And our [Industrial Area’s group] EBC announced its intention to build 5,000 new affordable Nehemiah homes in East Brooklyn.” With emphasis Gecan told the audience: No one asked a politician or a newspaper editor or a financial mogul for permission.
Several New York church entities “found new money” for affordable housing, the backbone of urban recovery. And, concluded Gecan, Mayor Ed Koch (1924-2013), “even when times were still tight, understood that a city is a physical place that needs major physical improvements to show people that it is moving forward.”
Before departing Chicago, Gecan left us with a question: Will enough new leaders here “have the stamina, the endurance, the physical and emotional and spiritual strength, to start what will undoubtedly be a marathon of rebuilding and renewal?”
Droel serves on the board of National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629. It distributes Gecan’s book: After America’s Midlife Crisis; $6 includes postage.)
The Working Catholic: 125 Years by Bill Droel
As anniversaries go, the 125th of modern Catholic social thought is a non-starter except perhaps in a small circle of specialists. Yet Catholic social thought offers a timely perspective on our society’s clash between what some people call our nanny-state and the libertarian free-for-all favored by others. Catholic social thought also suggests a way out of the paradox presented by a rejection of more taxes coupled with the desire for more services. Further, it has interesting things to say about the environment, wages, eldercare, parental responsibility and lots more.
It was 1891 when Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) issued the first modern social encyclical. It is published in English under several titles; On the Condition of Labor being the most popular. It is also still referenced by its Latin title, Rerum Novarum.
Catholicism says that short of the Garden of Eden, each society should approximate “the kingdom on earth.” That is, given the sin of the world, there is still an opportunity to apply realistic though general social principles to economics, culture and politics—first locally and eventually between countries. These principles are derived from Scripture and from the long reflection of Christians in hundreds and hundreds of settings.
These principles are not doctrinally binding on non-Catholics. They are, however, deliberately framed in civic language so that they can be persuasive in any setting. And, not surprisingly, other religious traditions have the same social principles.
Not all religious traditions, it should be noted, use the same method as Catholicism on social ethics—on, for example, issues related to labor relations, medical intervention, social service delivery and more. The difference in method often goes unappreciated when parties disagree on an issue, or agree for that matter.
There is no definitive list of Catholic principles. Most lists include: the inherent dignity of each life, social justice, subsidiarity, the common good, participation through bona fide labor unions and other mediating structures, and preferential option for the poor. Others are: preferential option for youth, gratuitousness, distributive justice, solidarity, family wage, universal destination of goods and a few more, topping out at, let’s say, 25 principles. The principles overlap and one should not be pulled too far from the others.
Finally and with emphasis, these are general social principles. Their specific application is the job of informed Catholics in concert with like-minded people inside their company, hospital, college, labor local, community group, professional association or legislative hall. Two equally moral parties can disagree once the application comes down to a specific policy.
This important point is why I use the term Catholic social thought, rather than top-down social teaching. While the papal encyclicals, beginning with the 1891 On the Condition of Labor, are the backbone, the full complement of Catholic social thought must include other ecclesial statements, some position papers from Catholic lay groups and the collective reflection of Catholics around the world on their experience. Of course, the social thought of the laity has to be consonant with the encyclicals and all the other pieces. One individual does not act or speak for the church. A prominent member of Congress, for example, says he is informed by Catholic thought and that his policy ideas flow from there. Not so, however, in his case. He is libertarian, even flirting with the extreme ideas of Ayn Rand (1905-1982).
Next up: Pope Leo XIII’s themes.
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.
For the length of the campaign season, Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump has been embroiled in a major fight with workers at his Trump International Hotel and casino in Las Vegas. First he was trying to prevent them from forming a union; now, having failed that, he strives to deny them a good contract. If I were trying to make a Catholic case for Trump’s presidential run, Catholic social teaching on labor and work would probably not be the avenue I’d take. Yet that’s exactly the counterintuitive approach taken by former US Ambassador to the Vatican Francis Rooney in Catholic case for Trump is about jobs and wages. “Catholic thought is in sync with what Trump has brought forward,” argues the Ambassador. “Perhaps less nuanced than some would like, he has tangibly and succinctly brought forth the urgent need to bring more good jobs back to America and to get wages rising again.”
Count Villanova Theology Professor Gerald Beyer unconvinced. Beyer responded, “Catholic social teaching certainly affirms the need to create jobs, as Rooney contends… However, Catholic social teaching has never affirmed that an “invisible hand” can work its magic through the market economy to promote the well-being of workers and their families.” Reviewing Trump’s record, Beyer concludes, “Catholics should ask themselves if Donald Trump really shares the vision of their tradition — for American workers and their brothers and sisters globally — regardless of their gender, race, immigration status or nationality.”
May 15, 2016 marked the 125th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, widely considered the foundation of modern Catholic social teaching. In this 1891 Encyclical, Pope Leo XIII examined the industrial revolution in light of Christian teaching on justice. Finding that the traditional economy of small property owners (farmers and artisans) was giving way to an economy dominated by a few property owners and a large working class, the Holy Father criticized the laissez-faire economy and gave a strong endorsement to trade unions. But where contemporary socialists anticipated ever-increasing class struggle, Leo believed that labor unions could play a positive role Read more
So far 2016 has been a good year for the legions of social justice activists inspired by Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement. In April came news that the cause of Day’s canonization had taken an important step forward as Cardinal Dolan of New York had begun to review evidence from her life and actions to determine if she lived a life of “heroic virtue” and merits recommendation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.
The year has also seen Patrick Jordan, a former editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper – and later, of Commonweal magazine – pen a new life of Dorothy Day. David Cloutier of Mount St. Mary’s University reviews Dorothy Day: Love in Action in the June issue of Commonweal…
Jordan, whose voice remains admirably muted throughout, concludes by suggesting that Day be seen as an “American prophet”—with prophecy understood not only as offering an urgent message but also as embodying a whole “way of being in the world.” Day’s prophetic message, Jordan writes, sought “a closing of the gap between private and public morality…and questioned both our materialism and militarism.” She was, he concludes, “someone who kept pushing us.”
by Bill Droel
There is the world of meritocracy and the world of grace. There is the world of: I worked hard and I deserve what I have. And there is the world of: There but for the grace of God and others I could be.
Once upon a time a landowner hired some day laborers for his vineyard. Going about his daily business the landowner thrice saw idle day laborers in the plaza parking lot. Each time he hired them for the vineyard job. That evening he paid all the workers the standard daily wage; the same total wage for those who worked a couple hours as for those who toiled all day. (See Matthew 20: 1-16)
In 2005 Hamdi Ulukaya founded Chobani Yogurt in Norwich, NY. He hired five workers. Chobani is now the top-selling yogurt brand with over 2,000 employees at its New York and Idaho plants. Ulukaya, a Kurdish immigrant, is quite wealthy. Late last month Ulukaya told his employees about a gift. He is giving each of them shares in the company, totaling about 10% of the company’s worth. The initial math estimates the gift on average to be $150,000. Some workers will get more and the final calculation may well increase the average. “I cannot think of Chobani being built without all these people,” Ulukaya told the N.Y. Times (4/26/16). Ulukaya has long said that a company’s moral conduct, including better pay, leads to success. Companies, he told another interviewer, must look beyond the so-called bottom line. “Business is still the strongest, most effective way to change the world,” Ulukaya said.
Matthew does not tell us the precise motivation of the vineyard owner. Ulukaya, like all of us, does everything for multiple motives. The two employers though share a world view. They have a similar conviction about the nature of reality. And this is important: their business disposition comes irrespective of life’s ups and downs. The vineyard owner and the yogurt executive both suspect that inexplicable generosity haunts the world. They believe that the proper response to the gift of life and to all of life’s gifts is to give the gift away.
Neither executive denies suffering. Misery is part of the human condition. Specifically, Ulukaya has experienced business and personal failures. The same was probably true for Matthew’s agricultural executive.
Neither executive thinks that a gratitude attitude means acquiesce to injustice. Nor is there evidence that either thinks business is for saps. They are realists whose take on things includes appreciation for the powerful but unpredictable spirit of benevolence.
A world centered on meritocracy is always filled with cynicism and resentment. Those who live only by the art of the deal are always incomplete people who usually cannot sustain their ventures.
Belief in a grace-filled world will not result in constant, pervasive toe-tapping, hand-clapping happy times. It does, however, instill confidence. It disposes people to abiding joy that percolates all around. Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), a president of Czechoslovakia and first president of Czech Republic, reminds us that haughtiness is deceiving. Real hope, he says, is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).
The Working Catholic: Bill Droel
A religion-labor coalition appeared during the first decade of the 20th century, reversing the prior hostile suspicion that many Church leaders (upper case C) had toward unions. The change was led by the laity, not primarily by theologians, bishops and other pastors. Heath Carter, using Chicago as his case study, exhaustively combs old newspapers, letters, organizational statements and more to prove this thesis. The result is Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2015).
Workers, it turns out, are the church (lower case c) just as much as Church employees. Working people are “not systematic theologians,” writes Carter. But Carter uncovers evidence that many took their faith seriously, talked about it, and attempted to influence the Churchy types. Evangelization, he shows, goes in the opposite direction of the usual presumption. Workaday Christians actually evangelize the Church.
Protestant ministers, dependent on the collection basket and other private donations, had “long-standing ties [to] industrial elites,” Carter explains. Consequently, late 19th century working families criticized the clergy for their lifestyle and for the ornate furnishings in many churches. Catholic clergy, though less connected to the wealthy, sometimes adopted the same posture. Chicago Catholic Bishop Anthony O’Regan (1809-1866), for example, was taken to task over his “palatial estate.”
Protestant theology developed a social analysis that can still be found in public policy debates and in street corner conversations. “Poverty sprang from individual—not systematic—defects,” common Protestant opinion said. Jesus’ saving grace was for sinful individuals, not for an unjust society. The corollary said that “prosperity was available to anyone willing to work for it.”
Though Carter does not dwell on the point, this individualistic theology was (and is) a companion to anti-Catholicism. Its signature campaign in days gone by was anti-drinking; today it is probably anti-immigration.
Protestant pastors scolded the laity for their interest in labor movements. Such involvement was divisive, a distraction from individual salvation and a violation of a contract, albeit a verbal one between and individual employer and individual employee. Catholic clergy tended to emphasize another supposed evil. The labor movements were susceptible to godless socialism.
There were exceptions among the clergy. But in Carter’s case study many clergy said no to labor campaigns, including the eight-hour day, wage increase for women, and racial justice in the workplace. In general the no was louder when a strike or boycott was involved.
The persistent effort of lay leaders paid off. Through letters to the editor, presentations inside some churches, speeches at rallies, and more ordinary workers gradually influenced Church employees to reconsider the cause of labor. Also, as Carter details, working families (more among Protestants than Catholics) began to stay home on Sunday mornings. This became a wake-up call for Church leaders.
The New World is our Chicago Catholic newspaper. Carter makes extensive use of its archive. Until the mid-1890s the newspaper was cautiously reserved regarding labor movements. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) promulgated a great encyclical, On the Condition of Labor. Though not in direct cause and effect, “a decisive shift” occurred shortly thereafter in New World reporting and editorials.
The mutually beneficial relationship between Church leaders and labor movements was part of the New Deal era and the civil rights era, Carter concludes. While each party to the relationship must maintain its distinctive identity, cooperation could benefit both today. The Church needs a point of contact with young workers because they do not worship regularly. Unions and other labor organizations need allies in a culture dominated by individual meritocracy.
There are two ecumenical groups in Chicago dedicated to a religion-labor dialogue: Arise (www.arisechicago.org) and Interfaith Worker Justice (www.iwj.org). In addition and in keeping with Carter’s case study’s city, there are two or three other organizations here that have the dialogue on their agenda, including National Center for the Laity (www.catholiclabor.org/NCL.htm).
Droel edits a free print newsletter about faith and work; INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)
This spring, once again, adjunct faculty are on the move at Catholic Colleges around the United States! On April 14, as fast-food workers across the nation demonstrated for living wages as part of the “fight for $15,” several Catholic campuses witnessed events drawing attention to the poverty wages earned by too many non-tenured college instructors. In New York, Fordham Faculty United sponsored an event on “Labor Justice at Jesuit Institutions.” At Seattle University – a Jesuit institution that refuses to recognize its adjuncts’ right to organize – instructors and students held a march and a “fast for justice.”
On the brighter side, instructors at St. Louis University filed for a union election. The adjuncts are voting now on whether to join SEIU Local 1; ballots are scheduled to be counted May 23.
Nearly 1100 CNAs, housekeepers and others employed at two Catholic hospitals in Oregon ratified their first contract in late April, a contract that included an 8% across-the-board raise. Labor and management had fostered a climate of mutual respect in the period since the 2015 union vote. PeaceHealth VP Debra Miller said told the local Register-Guard newspaper that she was “pleased with the outcome and the collaborative spirit the bargaining teams brought to the process.” she said. SEIU Local 49 President Meg Niemi said, “our members and management took the process very seriously. Our members felt this was urgent, so we were able to get to a first agreement quicker than usual.”
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