We Just Come to Work Here, We Don’t Come to Die!

A Labor Day Reflection from CLN Spiritual Moderator Fr. Sinclair Oubre


“Cause if it’s always level on the floor where you’re working

and your telephone is OSHA approved

When you tell me how much you’re spending on safety,

pardon me if I’m not moved.

Ever since 1970 the law has been on my side.

And I just come to work here, I don’t come to die.”

This past June, I had the privilege of sailing with 219 future United States merchant mariners. The 2022 Texas A&M Maritime Academy Cruise began in Galveston. We sailed to Savannah to take on bunkers, and then headed to Charleston, North Carolina. After three days in Charleston, we let go the lines, and sailed for 13 days to Reykjavik, Iceland. I departed the ship in Iceland, and they sailed to New York, and then back to Galveston.

On Saturday, June 18, 2022, our course took us over latitude 41 degrees, 43.7 minutes North, and longitude 49 degrees, 56.3 West, the site the RMS Titanic disaster.

That evening, we gathered on the fantail at 11:20 P.M. to pray for the merchant mariners and passengers who died on the morning of April 15, 1912, 110 years ago. I led the Rite of Funerals Outside of Mass, which concluded at 11:37 P.M.

In preparation for the service, a short poem was written by 2nd mate Jon Allen, and signed by the 40 cadets and crewmembers. At 11:40 P.M. we passed over the wreck and the souls who lie in rest, and the boson placed the poem-in-a-bottle into the sea.

In both the movie Titanic and A Night to Remember, much attention is focused on the passengers and their struggles for survival. With only a few exceptions, the more than 900 crewmembers are faceless bodies in the background. Of these crewmembers, 688 lost their lives that night. These were not just the highly trained members of the British Merchant Navy like Commander Edward Smith and Chief Engineer Joseph Bell, but stokers, messmen, and room stewards from Southampton, and many small English towns along the coast.

None of these merchant sailors knew when they left land on April 11, 1912, that they would never return home. As ILWU longshoreman Harry Stamper wrote, “We just come to work here. We don’t come to die.”

Growing up in Port Arthur we have had many maritime tragedies and industrial disasters.

  • On April 11, 1926, the tanker Gulf of Venezuela blew up at the Gulf Oil Refinery dock in Port Arthur. Twenty-five crewmembers were killed and eleven workers were injured.
  • Some time between February 4 and February 6, 1963, the SS Marine Sulphur Queen, having sailed from the Beaumont sulphur docks disappeared with the loss of her 39 crewmembers.
  • On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1977, a major explosion occurred at the Port Arthur Texaco Refinery, seven men were killed, and 26 were injured.
  • On Wednesday, December 9, 1981, an explosion and flash fire in a catalytic cracking unit at the Gulf Oil refinery injured at 21 people.

Sadly this list can go on and on. Most recently a construction worker was killed at the Valero Refinery on February 18 of this year.

Let me paraphrase St. Paul, “The computer programmer cannot say to the janitor, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the banker to the to the plumber, ‘I do not need you.’”

All moral work is important. All moral work is essential. All moral work is a participation in God’s ongoing creation. If the work that is done was not done, our quality of life would be so much less.

The AFL-CIO stresses on Workers Memorial Day (April 28), “Mourn for the Dead, Fight for the Living.” As we enjoy the prosperity of our lives, we are called to work for the safety of our fellow workers, because . . .

“We just come to work here. We don’t come to die.”


Report: More than 600 Catholic Institutions with Labor Unions

New this year: Non-Tenure Track Faculty at Santa Clara University

Happy Labor Day! Readers of this newsletter know well that for more than 130 years the Catholic Church has taught that workers have the right to organize in unions. This is no less true of workers at Catholic institutions than those at secular and for-profit corporations. Indeed it is MORE true, as the US Bishops reminded us in their 1986 pastoral letter on the economy, Economic Justice for All. There the bishops affirmed that workers at Catholic institutions have the right to organize in unions and that “All the moral principles that govern the just operation of any economic endeavor apply to the Church and its agencies and institutions; indeed the Church should be exemplary.” [347]

While not every Catholic institution practices “exemplary” labor relations, workers at more than 600 Catholic schools, colleges, hospitals, nursing homes and other venues are currently represented by labor unions. We at the Catholic Labor Network look at these examples as signs of Joy and Hope in this world. Consequently, every Labor Day we release our Gaudium et Spes Labor Report listing these institutions by state and Diocese.

This year we are pleased to welcome a new institution to the GES list: Santa Clara University. In June 2022 adjunct and other non-tenure track faculty at this Jesuit university in California voted by more than 2-1 for union representation by the SEIU.

There is also some sad news to report, as one Catholic institution with union representation is closing. This year the USCCB announced that Catholic News Service, the wire service of the Church in America, was to be closed. The journalists employed at CNS are represented by The Newspaper Guild, CWA.

We invite you to review the report and see which Catholic institutions in your Diocese bargain with unions representing some or all of their employees. And if there’s an institution missing, let us know!

CLICK HERE to read the Gaudium et Spes Labor Report, 2022.

California Farmworkers March for Vote by Mail in Union Elections

Church, Unions Mobilize in Support

The United Farm Workers are on the march! In California members of the UFW set out from Delano on foot in the Summer heat August 3. They will arrive in Sacramento on August 26.

What do they want? The right to vote by mail in union elections.

A history lesson: in 1935, the U.S. Government passed the National Labor Relations Act, setting up the election process that allows workers to choose a union representative. But the Act excluded farm workers from its protections.

In 1975, under pressure by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers union, California passed an Agricultural Labor Relations Act to give farm workers the right to vote in union elections. The ALRA was an important step forward for the state’s farm workers, but it needs improvement.

Under current law, farmworkers in the Golden State who want to form a union must vote on the property of their employer, which opens opportunities for intimidation. UFW members are calling on Governor Gavin Newsom to sign AB 2183, a bill that would allow workers to vote for a union by mail if they prefer.

The California Catholic Conference has come out strongly in support of the policy change, and the Church has mobilized to welcome the marchers along the route. When the marchers passed through Fresno, for instance, they were joined by Bishop Joseph Brennan (pictured).

The farm workers are receiving similar solidarity from the state’s labor movement. Also present in Fresno was a sizeable contingent of union members from the Los Angeles hotel workers’ union, UNITE HERE Local 11. (See Report from the UFW March by Mary Entoma.)

The Catholic Labor Network has urged Governor Newsom to sign AB 2183 and is working with its California members and contacts to get additional messages to the governor. If you would like to send the Governor a message in support of farm workers, CLICK HERE.

Report from the UFW March

A Guest contribution by Mary Entoma, UNITE HERE Local 11

In the early hours of August 11th, Unite Here Local 11 members and community allies joined the United Farm Workers in their march to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign AB 2183. Worker power filled the streets. Moved by their faith to join in, these workers came from the fields, hotels, airports, and event centers and sacrificed their time, livelihoods, and comfort to pass this life-changing law giving farmworkers the right to vote by mail in union certification efforts.

We joined these marchers halfway into the day’s 18-mile journey, filled our bags with snacks and water bottles, and were off! The core group led the way with the portrait of La Virgen de Guadalupe at the front. Despite the unforgiving heat, we marched through the unpaved roads, loudly chanting through the orange fields. Surrounded by these courageous and resilient people, one thing was clear: there was nothing that could stop us from getting this victory. “¡Se ve y se siente, la unión está presente!”

Before we embarked on our last mile to the local park the community had assembled in, we stopped by St. Anthony Mary Claret Church where we were joined by Bishop Joseph Brennan and Bishop Emeritus Armando Ochoa of Fresno. Though Local 11 was only able to join for the day, our time with the UFW was a beautiful display of solidarity and faith.

Mark Vinzani, one of Local 11’s community allies that joined in the march, shared about his connection to the pilgrimage: “At the LA Catholic Worker, we are only able to run our soup kitchen because of the dedicated laborers who pick and process the produce that we go on to serve the unhoused of Skid Row. Our community has always supported the UFW – from picketing during the Delano Grape boycott to hosting Cesar Chavez and fellow organizers in our home. We continue to stand with them as they demand their basic rights. Though it’ll be easy to clean the dust off my shoes, the memories of solidarity will be hard to forget.”


Mary Entoma is a community organizer with Unite Here Local 11 and interim president of APALA LA (Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Los Angeles). She is also a rising 4th-year student at UCLA studying labor studies and political science. Coming from a Catholic family, she often feels moved by the principles and values of her faith to do justice work. 


Virginia Airport Workers Seek Paid Sick Days

Window on National Campaign to Raise Standards for Airport Employees

Thousands of airport employees in Northern Virginia, ranging from wheelchair attendants to aircraft cabin cleaners, lack paid sick days and regularly must work ill or injured. The Catholic Labor Network met some of those workers recently at a meeting organized by SEIU 32BJ, which represents many of the affected workers, and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP).

The workers from Dulles International Airport and Washington National Airport – many of whom are immigrants from Africa or Latin America – are calling on the airports authority to implement a paid sick leave policy covering contractors employed at the airport.

During the meeting, several workers testified to the problems created by the absence of paid sick days. One worker, a baggage encoder, explained, “I have a condition of gout, and sometimes it will flare up. I will try to ride it out [at work] because it is more painful to lose the pay.” Other workers spoke of returning to work too quickly after major surgery, to avoid missing a paycheck and possibly getting fired.

The local campaign is part of a national effort to boost wages, benefits and working conditions for airport workers. Usually employed by contractors, the security guards, skycaps, cabin cleaners, and others who keep an airport running are too often underpaid and undervalued. Many have organized with the SEIU.

The Catholic Labor Network will be working with the union and VICPP to urge the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to adopt a mandatory paid sick leave policy for contractors at the two airports.

Study: Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers “Most Overlooked” Element of Catholic Social Teaching

We’ve often heard it said that Catholic Social Teaching is the Church’s best-kept secret. The Church’s social doctrine offers a radical critique of today’s institutions that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has broken into seven major themes, such as “Life and Dignity of the Human Person” and “Option for the Poor and Vulnerable.”

Recently our partners in the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors commissioned a study by Dr. Tom Ryan of Loyola New Orleans that assessed awareness and reception of Catholic Social Teaching among the faithful. Dr. Ryan shared some of the key findings at the Roundtable’s recent Social Action Summer Institute.

As part of the study, this year more than 800 Catholics in the Archdiocese of New Orleans – from priests and parish social ministry leaders to people in the pews – answered a series of survey questions on the topic. One question presented readers with a list of the themes of Catholic Social Teaching and asked them to identify the themes “most overlooked in the Church today.”

The number one answer? The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers.

This does not come as a complete surprise to me. Even though modern Catholic Social Teaching began with an encyclical addressing the dignity of work and the rights of workers (Rerum Novarum, 1891), the topic has long been eclipsed by others. In the U.S. Church, we’ve been very good at affirming the life and dignity of the human person, and pretty good at sharing the option for the poor and vulnerable, but I seldom hear a sermon on the dignity of work and the rights of workers. It’s not something I learned about in religious education, either.

We have a lot of work to do.

The study project, “Advancing the Social Mission of the Catholic Church,” was made possible through support from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Publication of the full study is forthcoming.

Working Catholic: Social Doctrine

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine Part Eight
by Bill Droel

Always do for others what they cannot do for themselves. That’s the rule of charity. Never do for others what they can do for themselves. That’s the rule of freedom. The Catholic principle of subsidiarity maintains the tension between the two. It guides the interplay of functions. It prevents charity from becoming disabling help and prevents freedom from becoming selfishness or libertarianism. Both extremes violate both charity and justice.
The parents of Siddhartha Gautama, for whatever reason, were overly protective. He eventually left home in search of what he called the middle way. The careless parents of recent mass murderers were overly permissive. The father of the Prodigal Son erred in both directions. He was first too protective of his son and then, when the son wanted an early inheritance, the father permitted too much freedom.
In Catholic social thought subsidiarity is usually invoked in the context of governmental responsibility and economic systems. The current picture in our country has ragged individuals at one end and big government plus big business at the other end. If something goes wrong with an internet or TV connection, it is a frustrated individual trying to reach an impersonal media company. If poverty overwhelms a family, a seemingly helpful array of social programs possibly debilitates that family further.

Despite some gestures and language to the contrary, Republicans and Democrats (with an occasional exception) include only individuals, government and business in their worldview. The operative philosophy and economic model of both political parties neglects those institutions that stand between the ragged individual and big forces—first the family, then associations like a parish, a union, an ethnic club, a veterans’ group, a community organization and more. Because these mediating institutions are not in the picture, the local groups have grown weak in recent decades.
Oliver Zunz has written a biography of Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), The Man Who Understood Democracy (Princeton Press, 2022). James Madison (1751-1836) “talked only about factions,” Zunz says in an interview. He “feared them and sought ways of limiting their impact on government.” Madison favored a strong central government. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), on the other hand, was a pioneer in creating civil society, the realm for volunteer fire departments, local post offices, clubs and other mediating institutions. De Tocqueville, Zunz says, found the United States to be unique in its dependence upon people’s institutions. However, de Tocqueville warned that our individualistic spirit could outpace our community spirit, resulting in a polarized society.
Sometimes subsidiarity is rendered small is beautiful. It does not mean, however, that government governs best which governs least. Subsidiarity insists that government step in, but not in a manner that creates dependence. Whenever possible and always to the degree that is possible, government assistance should be delivered closest to those affected, delivered through local institutions. Ideally, business should act responsibly. A particular business and an industry should operate justly–first toward its employees and then toward its customers and suppliers and then its other stakeholders. When business exploits employees, gauges customers, pollutes the environment and in other ways operates selfishly, government has a duty to regulate and punish.
Perhaps subsidiarity is better rendered no bigger than necessary. It desires the formation of ragged individuals into community-minded citizens. It protects an embedded person’s responsible freedom by buffering those big entities that can smother a person. To be continued…

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

Prayers of the Faithful for Labor Day Weekend Masses

Planning your Mass for Labor Day weekend? Consider these prayers of the faithful found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ web page of Labor Day Resources.

  1. We pray for a renewal of spirit for the men and women who must work in jobs that ignore the dignity of their personhood. We pray to the Lord.
  2. We pray for the men and women who are not able to find jobs. We pray for their continued perseverance and determination as they continue to seek ways in which to participate in God’s creative work. We pray to the Lord.
  3. We pray for all essential workers who work in the agricultural, manufacturing, and public service sectors. That they are provided safe working conditions and access to affordable healthcare. We pray to the Lord.
  4. We pray for the men and women who have recently lost employment. We pray for their continued perseverance and determination as they continue to seek ways in which to participate in God’s creative work. We pray to the Lord.
  5. We pray for the men and women who own companies, who lead companies, and who make decisions regarding safe work conditions and adequate wages. We pray that these leaders will act in the best interests of their laborers. We pray to the Lord.
  6. We pray for union leaders, national and local, who are responsible for speaking for workers. May they be guided by the grace and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to be servant leaders. We pray to the Lord.
  7. We pray for men, women, and children who experience a lack of solidarity and support in their daily struggle to survive. May we be aware of our responsibility to listen to the needs of our brothers and sisters in the world. We pray to the Lord.
  8. We pray that as we are reminded that it is right and just to receive a fair wage for work, we may strive to promote dignity and respect for all in the workplace. We pray to the Lord.
  9. We pray for those who have lost their lives while working, and especially those who died from COVID-19, that they might be welcomed into the heavenly kingdom; and for their families, that they might be comforted and find security. We pray to the Lord.

Catholic HS Students Get Jump on Apprenticeship

Parishes that choose an electrical upgrade or a solar installation by PRO Lighting & Solar may find themselves putting a parishioner to work. That’s because of a unique partnership between an area Catholic high school and IBEW Local 212. High school students at Cincinnati’s Elder High School have an opportunity to get a jump on a career as a union electrician by taking a course at the union’s nearby training center. Participants who take the elective visit the union’s apprenticeship and training center two days per week.

While many Catholic high schools focus exclusively on college placements, Elder appreciates that a construction apprenticeship can also be a promising career path. Union electricians can earn $30, $40, $50 or more per hour, depending on the region of the country they live – a salary competitive with many white-collar jobs. Most IBEW members (and other union construction workers) also enjoy fully employer-paid family health insurance as well as a defined-benefit pension, both increasingly rare in other segments of the economy. And many eventually go on to start their own companies.

Union apprenticeship programs are supervised by a joint committee of union representatives and contractors who employ them. “Half the JATC (Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee) are graduates from Elder High School,” says Training Director Charlie Kenser. “A lot of our members are Elder grads.”

St Monica-St George Parish Installs Solar Panels Using Union Labor

Inspired by Laudato Si, a growing number of Catholic parishes are reducing their use of fossil fuels by investing in energy efficiency and sometimes installing solar panels to meet their energy needs. That’s important, but in a construction industry marked by widespread wage theft and high workplace injury rates, what are they doing to make sure that the men and women performing that labor are being treated justly? Some are ensuring that workers on these projects are protected by a union contract.

That was the case at St. Monica/St. George, a parish located at the University of Cincinnati. When the care for creation team at the Parish started exploring their options for a solar conversion, the Archdiocesan facilities office connected them with PRO Lighting & Solar Read more