Catholic social ministry activists, union members lobby for TPS extension

Last month I spent more time in the US Capitol Building than I had in the previous 12 years I’ve lived in the Washington DC metro area. Why? Because changes in federal immigration policy threaten to suddenly uproot hundreds of thousands, splitting husbands from wives and parents from children – and because my Church and my union are leading the fight to prevent this by preserving DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and TPS (Temporary Protected Status).

Virginia Catholic social ministry leaders visit Sen. Mark Warner’s office on Feb.5

At the beginning of February, the USCCB hosted its annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, a conference that brings together Catholic activists from across the nation. After a couple of days of workshops and prayer, participants headed out to Congress to meet with their elected representatives and witness for social justice. Extending DACA and TPS protections was a top issue this year. DACA protects undocumented immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the US as children, through no fault of their own; many of these children remember nothing of their nation of origin, having grown up entirely in the United States. TPS permits those whose homeland has been torn by war or natural disaster to remain in the US until it is safe to return. The president has moved to end both programs, so we urged our House and Senate members to take legislative action to protect their participants from deportation.

Fr. Clete Kiley (UNITE HERE/Catholic Labor Network) leads orientation for worker-

A week later, I was back. Working Families United, a coalition of labor unions with immigrant members was taking a stand. Although TPS was begun as a “temporary” program, many of these nations took a long time to recover; TPS holders have built careers, married, and raised US-born children here. The unions brought members holding TPS from across the country to Washington DC and accompanied them to the Capitol to tell their stories.

In Exodus 23:9 we read how God told the Israelites, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” One of the key goals of the Church-Labor Partnership Project (CLPP) is to bring Church and labor together to advocate for immigrants in a time of increasing nativism. We will continue to bring you news as Congress debates how to move forward.

Immigrant union members from LIUNA Local 11 and LIUNA Local 572 pack congressional offices to call for TPS extension

Long Lost Text

The Working Catholic: Economic Ideologies
by Bill Droel

The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin ( just published The Catholic Social Ethic by St. John Paul II (1920-2005). This two-volume text of 500+ pages dates from the 1950s, when Fr. Karol Wojtyla was a young parish priest/teacher. Scholars have long known about the text. In fact, about 300 copies were circulated among students and others in the 1950s. Jonathan Luxmoore, an expert on Catholicism in Eastern Europe, reported on the text a dozen years ago. He recently summarized the new book for Catholic News Service (1/19/19) and for The Tablet of London (2/2/19).

Just as there are Biblical fundamentalists who selectively invoke one or another Scripture verse to support their preconceived opinion, so too there are some papal fundamentalists among Catholics. For example, a small but influential number of Catholics in the U.S. and elsewhere pull a phrase from John Paul II or from Pope Benedict XVI to claim that Catholicism is in harmony with unrestricted capitalism (also called neoliberalism). Similarly, a few Catholics pull out one another phrase to say that Catholicism gives unqualified approval to Marxism. This new book by John Paul II got caught up in this pick-and-choose controversy, causing the long delay in publication.
The Catholic Social Ethic, along with John Paul II’s other writing and talks, shows that he never was a big fan of free market capitalism. He repeatedly rejected “individualistic liberalism.” Nor of course did John Paul II ever mount a defense of communism. Yet through study and experience of the communist regime in Poland, he was well-versed in Marxist themes.
John Paul II, Luxmoore says, recognized that Marxism appealed to young workers because of injustices in their situations. To connect with young adults, Catholicism must have a sophisticated alternative to Marxism. It cannot merely condemn a mistaken ideology. Catholicism must furnish an approach to social justice and peace that fits the daily comings-and-goings of young adults. John Paul II, along with several other Polish theologians including Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (1901-1981), set about crafting an accessible theology of work.
In contrast to materialistic capitalism, John Paul II popularized the principle of the priority of labor over capital. That is, the worker is the subject of work; not the investment of money. Yes, investments are part of production and service delivery. But the purpose of the enterprise is the worker. According to John Paul II, the word worker is inclusive–managers, owners on the scene, shop hands, janitors, truck drivers, clerks, all those who in some way fashion and distribute the service or the product.
In contrast to materialistic communism, John Paul II outlined a spirituality of work which integrates business, family life, civic involvement and more with fidelity to Jesus’ gospel.

Young adults are familiar with today’s materialisms and other empty ideologies: careerism, cost-benefit analysis, consumerism, conspiracy theories, extreme individualism in economics and culture, relativism (or what the White House calls alternative facts), and more.
Some Catholic leaders say they are interested in young adults. Maybe so. But does a young adult ever come upon ideas and experiences within Catholicism that suggest an alternative to the harshness of work, to the arbitrariness in society or to our vacuous culture? Would a young adult ever hear themes about work expressed in spiritual terms? John Paul II’s theology of work project is suggestive, but not enough. Other theologians and particularly interested young Catholics have to take the matter a few steps further: More sources, more reflections, more conversations and for sure more focused action for justice and peace within the workaday world.

At the moment, The Catholic Social Ethic is available in Polish. Perhaps a condensed English version can be published soon. Perhaps it could include a few pastoral comments and top out at let’s say 200 pages.

Droel is editor of John Paul II’s Gospel of Work (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $7)

Catholic Labor Network at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) 2019

As many of you know, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development hosts a meeting in Washington DC in early February each year, drawing several hundred Catholic clergy, religious, and lay social ministry leaders from across the United States. The Catholic Labor Network is a collaborating organization in the CSMG, holding our annual meeting the morning before the opening Plenary and contributing to CSMG program itself.

Nelson Robinson, a National Airport food service worker, is a union activist with UNITE HERE trying to turn airline catering jobs into living wage jobs

In a special highlight of this year’s program, workers from labor organizations partnering with the Catholic Labor Network in the Church-Labor Partnership Project (CLPP) shared their stories at our meeting and in a CSMG workshop hosted by the Catholic Labor Network.

Nelson Robinson, who works for a contractor at National Airport preparing meals for airline passengers, talked about how workers like him in airline food service across the United States had organized with UNITE HERE, the Hotel and Restaurant workers’ union, to campaign for living wage jobs with affordable health care. In several communities they worked with community and Church organizations to improve conditions by securing “living wage” requirements for airport contracting employees. Now they are bargaining with the three large companies that dominate airline food service to reach the remainder and to secure family health coverage with premiums they can afford on a worker’s paycheck.

Julia de la Cruz of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers describes the Fair Food Campaign to workshop participants

Julia de La Cruz, from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), recounted the CIW’s quarter-century struggle for justice in Florida’s tomato fields. On learning that most of their produce was purchased by fast-food chain restaurants, the farmworkers targeted those chains, calling on them to buy only from growers who signed a fair labor code of conduct and to pay an extra penny per pound to supplement workers’ wages. The workers received substantial support from CCHD in organizing their campaign and met with remarkable success: today every major chain but Wendy’s has committed to the CIW Fair Food Program. From March 2-14 the CIW will be visiting major universities hosting Wendy’s franchises to urge them to “boot the braids.”

Finally, Anthony Jackson from the Bakery Workers’ union shared the story of Nabisco workers like himself whose jobs are threatened by globalization and outsourcing. Baking Oreos and other Nabisco snacks is a major source of middle-class, family-supporting jobs for African-American workers in Chicago and other US cities, but their new multinational owner Mondelez seems determined to slash wages and benefits one way or another. When Chicago workers resisted deep wage and benefit cuts, Mondelez shifted production to Salinas, Mexico, laying off Jackson and hundreds of other workers. Now the company is demanding that all remaining US employees not just give wage concessions, but give up their pension as well, and Jackson, now an organizer for the union, is bringing their story to audiences across the country. (The union even visited the new workers at Salinas, learning that Mondelez had not lived up to its promises to workers there.) Cardinal Tobin of Newark, whose Archdiocese contains one of the other plants, has addressed a letter to Mondelez on the workers’ behalf.

The CSMG’s rich program also included a well-attended workshop on just wages, the theme of the Bishops’ 2018 Labor Day letter. Much of the agenda focused on race and racism, exploring the Bishops’ new Pastoral letter on the topic, Open Wide Our Hearts. It concluded with Hill visits by participants to lobby their elected representatives on social justice concerns, including a renewal of DACA and Temporary Protected Status for immigrants. More on that next week!

Quit Moralizing

The Working Catholic: Moralizing
Bill Droel

Name any social policy and there is sure to be a religious leader who has an opinion. The religious leader states his or her position in absolutes. For the religionist, the issue is a matter of high morality; no alternative position is acceptable. These religious leaders and the general public routinely fault the daily give-and-take in partisan politics for putting opportunism, gridlock, grandstanding, obstinacy and hypocrisy above moral principle.

The legislative process is a moral endeavor, says President John Kennedy (1917-1963) in Profiles in Courage (Harper Collins, 1956). An impatient public does not appreciate “the art of politics, the nature and necessity for compromise and balance,” he writes. The public is “too hasty in condemning all compromise as bad morals [when in fact] politics and legislation are not matters for inflexible principles or unattainable ideals.” Democracy is maintained by flawed people who are “engaged in the fine art of conciliating, balancing and interpreting the forces and factions of public opinion.”
Are principles then irrelevant to public life? Hardly. Though abiding principles do not come with specifics on each detailed proposal nor do they yield strategy or timing, principles give essential guidance. For an effective legislator, politics is a vocation about “compromises of issues, not of principles,” says Kennedy. A politician who “begins to compromise his [or her] principles on one issue after another,” he concludes, “has lost the very freedom of conscience which justifies his [or her] continuance in office.”
Profiles in Courage goes on to detail eight U.S. Senators who at a crucial moment put principles ahead of party loyalty and popularity. Yet even in those moments, Kennedy says, an assertion of high principle comes with calculation. Several examples in the book are about race relations, before and after the Civil War. An antebellum Southern senator decides that the principle of a United States is of higher value than the expectations of his constituents and his loyalty to his party. Introducing a pro-abolition bill, however, will be ineffective. Instead, he supports a mechanism that will delay war. He calculates that a decade’s worth of uneasy peace is worth the loss of his reputation. His principled stand, as it turns out, did not prevent the war but it bought time during which the North became stronger and the institution of slavery weaker. In other words a principled stand does not guarantee perfect outcomes; compromise is always in the mix.

There are many issues deserving attention from faith-inspired citizens: abortion, ecology, immigration, national defense, labor relations and more. With rare exception, religious leaders are advised not to take the shortcut of moralizing on these and other issues. Instead, here are alternative strategies:
1.) Support conscientious legislators. Host a support group or forum in one’s parish where politicians can explore the meaning of their work. Send along compliments when matters are resolved in an acceptable way.
2.) Be a strong, persistent voice in the public square. Over and over explain one’s religious position, using as much natural law or common good language as possible. Never stop asserting the whys and hows of pro-life or pro-planet or pro-civil rights. No matter how basic the explanation may be, there are many, many citizens and politicians who simply do not know why a religious person might oppose abortion or support unions or oppose pollution.
3.) Organize votes. Moralizing (like throwing around the threat of excommunication) likely hardens the position of politicians. Putting voting-blocks together gets attention. Bishops and other Church employees should not endorse candidates nor wade too deeply into the specifics of a piece of legislation. But lay members of any denomination can do retail organizing. Supporting an alternative Democrat in a blue district is better than hollow preaching. Supporting an alternative Republican in a red district will shake things up.
There are grifters in politics for sure. Here in Illinois some go to jail. But there are thousands of moral politicians in municipal, state and federal bodies that approach their work as a vocation. Do they ever hear their job framed in spiritual terms in their congregation, their synagogue, their mosque? There are hundreds of politicians who are capable of putting a moral principle ahead of a special interest, ahead of a party leader’s expectation, ahead of expediency. Not at every hour, on every issue. Not in big moralizing, grandstanding circumstances. But within the deliberative process of democracy, many politicians know how to frame a principle in reasonable terms and at times come away with a moral victory.

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

Catholic Labor Network announces Church-Labor Partnership Project (CLPP)

The Catholic Labor Network is proud to announce the launch of a new initiative: the Church-Labor Partnership Project (CLPP)!

For nearly a quarter-century, the members of the Catholic Labor Network have connected clergy, religious and lay activists in our communities with workers organizing for social justice through unions and workers’ centers. Now, with a generous grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), we will be extending this work nationwide.

The CLPP initiative was unveiled at the Catholic Labor Network’s annual meeting on Feb.2. At the meeting, held in conjunction with the USCCB Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, bakery workers, airline food service workers and farmworkers addressed the group and appealed for solidarity (more on this next week).

CLN Executive Director Clayton Sinyai displays the poster union members used to welcome Pope Francis in 2015. Printed in Spanish and English, it read “In Solidarity with Pope Francis.”

Why now? The Church and labor movement have a long history of working together to promote worker justice, but the witness of Pope Francis has reminded many labor activists just how much we share as voices of solidarity in a society that too often leaves behind the poor, the unemployed, the immigrant. Together we “have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills [Evangelii Gaudium, 53].”

The Church-Labor Partnership Project will help…

Read more

M.L. King Day

The Working Catholic
Bill Droel

This month’s celebration of Rev. Martin L. King (1929-1968) is of course about more than King. The civil rights era is about more than the Montgomery boycott that began in December 1955. It certainly includes Rosa Parks (1913-2005), who courageously refused to give up her seat on a bus. And, Parks’ disobedience was not a momentary reaction, but was the outcome of much preparation.
In recent times several scholars have drawn attention to “the longer civil rights movement.” Karen Johnson of Wheaton College is one of those scholars. Her book, One in Christ: Chicago Catholics and the Quest for Interracial Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), details significant civil rights activity as early as 1930—not in the South but in Chicago. Her examples, perhaps surprisingly, are Catholic organizations.
Johnson’s thorough account in eight more-or-less chronological chapters plus 49 pages of valuable footnotes is “primarily a story about laypeople” who in addition to highlighting aspects of Catholic doctrine also challenged the notion that priests are above laypeople, that urban Catholicism is synonymous with intra-parish ministries and that Catholics acting as Catholics should keep their efforts separate from Protestants and Jews.
Arthur Falls (1901-2000), a pioneering black physician involved with Federated Colored Catholics and then with Catholic Worker movement, is prominent in the first four chapters and appears throughout the book. The fifth and sixth chapters feature Friendship House with Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985), Ellen Tarry (1906-2008) and Ann Harrigan Makletzoff (1910-1984); the seventh and eighth feature the Catholic Interracial Council with John McDermott (1926-1996) among others. Msgr. Dan Cantwell (1915-1996) and Ed Marciniak (1917-2004) appear in nearly all the chapters.
These Chicago Catholics were successful to a degree. They “helped enlarge America’s moral imagination,” Johnson explains. They showed that racial justice is more than a political matter. Due to these Chicago activists and also to many religious leaders in the South and around the nation, civil rights became a significant aspect of faith, both for blacks and for whites. Further, the Chicago Catholics—years before Vatican II (1962-1965)—taught others that individual salvation and personal transformation are not enough. They communicated, in words and more so by way of example, that full-time Christians must seek “the common good by reforming the institutions shaping the public sphere.”
A contagious esprit surrounded these dedicated Catholics. They nourished one another in several institutional spaces, Johnson emphasizes. They all knew that liturgical grace was essential to their efforts. They believed that the liturgy of the word continued out the church door as each of them did their part in the Mystical Body of Christ to live a liturgy of the world.
Johnson includes enough detail to dispel any suggestion of hyper-romanticism about these civil rights pioneers. These people were street savvy. They knew how to agitate and at the right moment what to compromise. They avoided getting personally bent out of shape as they necessarily engaged in sharp disagreements with one another over strategy: How to include Chicago’s bishop—if at all. Whether or not to include anti-poverty measures in efforts against racism. Whether or not to maneuver inside the Democratic Party, which in Chicago was the Daley Machine. Are discussion groups a waste of time? Can Catholics be militant?
Remarkably, most of these Catholic civil rights leaders remained Catholic their entire lives. It is remarkable because, as Johnson details in parts of two chapters, more than one bishop, some influential pastors and the Catholic system itself reinforced racial distinctions. For example, Falls once told me that the segregation that hurt him the most was on Saturday afternoons when he went to confession. Blacks had to stand in one line and wait until each person in the white line had received absolution.
Johnson writes a comprehensible story. This is an achievement because all her subjects died before she began. She thus scoured multiple libraries for newspapers, magazine articles, minutes of meetings and more. Johnson, by the way, is not Catholic. Yet the book flawlessly covers Chancery politics and points of theology.

A powerful 2% of young Catholics are once again interested in the social question–in race relations, in living wage campaigns, in the dignity of all life, in socially responsible business, in green technology, in mental health delivery, in criminal justice reform and immigration topics. One In Christ is an inspiring account of visionary Catholics who navigated the push-and-pull of public life, and had some fun along the way. As we rightly celebrate King Day, we can continue to learn from all the efforts in our country toward “liberty and justice for all.”

Droel of Chicago is a board member of National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Mary’s Observations on Social and Economic Justice

In late December, the Washington Post published an interesting column, “Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ in the Bible is revolutionary. Some evangelicals silence her.” The Magnificat is Mary’s joyful reflection on how she, a poor young woman, was bearing the Christ-child. The author, an Evangelical Christian woman, felt that her brothers and sisters persistently overlooked one of the prayer’s most compelling elements – Mary’s pointed observations on social and economic justice. The Gospel of Luke tells us how Mary said:

He [the LORD] has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.

While we as Catholics have a great reverence for Mary and frequently invoke the Magnificat, I’m not so sure we do that much better. I certainly read and prayed the Magnificat for many years before taking note of what Mary was saying about God’s “preferential option for the poor.” Ms. Mayfield, the author, notes that Archbishop Oscar Romero favored this text, but I can’t recall ever hearing a priest or deacon preaching on this text explore what it means to have a God who fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away with nothing.

And hats off to Ms. Mayfield for introducing me to Ben Wildflower’s amazing woodcut print inspired by the prayer!

Providence Hospital in DC Curtails Services

As we reported in October, Catholic hospital chain Ascension Health was moving to close the financially stressed Providence Hospital, located in an underserved, largely African-American DC neighborhood. The action prompted outcries from hospital employees – especially nurses represented by National Nurses United – as well as the community and DC government.

Ascension was created by the 1999 merger of the Daughters of Charity National Health System and the Sisters of St. Joseph Health System, but it’s evolved a long way from its roots in those religious orders.  The dispute has also drawn attention to the enormous salary commanded by Ascension CEO Anthony Tersigni: the Wall Street Journal listed him as the highest paid nonprofit CEO in the nation in 2014, pulling down $17.6 million that year. (His current salary information is not available.)

Under pressure from the City Council, Providence moved ever so slightly, agreeing to keep the ER open through April and keep 10 or 15 beds. DC Attorney General Karl Racine filed suit, arguing that Providence was violating the terms of its DC operating license with the abrupt reduction in care, but the DC Superior Court rejected the city’s argument.

Government Shutdown Penalizes Public Servants, Poor

2019 opened with a partial government shutdown underway as the president and Congress failed to reach agreement on a budget. Congress wanted to continue funding the government under current program funding levels, while the president said he will keep the government shut unless Congress adds a $5 billion budget item to pay for a wall on the Mexican border to prevent illegal border crossings. Some 800,000 federal employees are now facing dire straits. Many, such as law enforcement personnel and Coast Guard sailors are working without pay; many at the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes for Health, and Food and Drug Administration have been sent home. In past shutdowns, Congress made whole employees who missed paychecks due to such political gamesmanship, but there’s no guarantee that these workers will ever see their money.

Like many Americans, a lot of these workers are only a paycheck away from missing mortgage, rent and bill payments. The Office of Personnel Management has advised them to “consult with their personal attorney” (!) to fend off creditors, or to offer landlords a hand with painting and small repairs in exchange for missed rent payments (!!). It’s no wonder that the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is filing suit on behalf of prison guards and others forced into unpaid labor, which certainly sounds illegal.

The effects are rippling well beyond the federal employees themselves, and not only in the ugly pictures of overflowing trash piling up in our national parks. Government buildings run on the labors of security guards, custodians and food service workers employed by contractors – many of these employees have been laid off and will almost certainly not get back pay. And now comes news that the food stamps and WIC programs that feed the poor are being disrupted.

Please keep in your prayers all those who have had their lives turned upside down by the shutdown, and urge our elected leaders to stop holding our public services and public servants hostage for their political agenda.

Five million low wage workers just got a raise

The federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour, giving a full-time worker an annual salary of less than $15,000. That’s hardly a living wage anywhere in the country, and many states and cities, prodded by community organizations, faith groups, and labor unions, have moved to boost their minimum wage to a more reasonable level. CBS reports that five million workers in 20 states will receive a raise January 2019 thanks to those actions. Some highlights from the past year:

  • The Massachusetts legislature voted to bump the state minimum wage from $11 to $12 Jan. 1 2019, followed by annual increases that will bring it to $15 per hour by 2023.
  • Voters in Missouri voted 62-38 for Proposition B, which increased the state minimum wage from $7.85 to $8.60 in 2019, and schedules subsequent increases to reach $12/hour in 2023.
  • Arkansas voters approved an increase from $8 in 2018 to $8.50 per hour today, and to $11 per hour by 2021.
  • In New York City fast-food workers and employees of businesses with 11 or more people saw their minimum hourly pay jump from $13 to $15 with the new year. That will have New York City joining Seattle and San Francisco as the major American cities where the “fight for $15” has won the day.

A 2017 survey of Catholic Conference Directors and State AFL-CIO presidents by the Catholic Labor Network and Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative found that raising the minimum wage was a high policy priority for both groups. Want to see what’s happening in your state and region? Visit the Employment Policy Institute’s Minimum Wage Tracker.