Tenth Anniversary of “Respecting the Just Rights of Workers”

Today, June 22, marks the tenth anniversary of a remarkable document. Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for Health Care Workers and Unions was released on June 22, 2009, signed by a roster of 10 Bishops, union leaders, and Catholic hospital administrators.

Throughout US history, nuns belonging to a variety of religious orders had made care for the sick a focus of their work in the world, and their institutions came to account for some 15% of the nation’s hospital beds. The sisters became a model of Catholic and Christian charity known especially for their care for the poor – unlike many competitors, their nonprofit institutions could focus on the needs of patients rather than the demands of shareholders.

The last years of the twentieth century witnessed an explosion of organizing in the nation’s hospitals and nursing homes. Had nuns still been staffing the Catholic hospitals this movement would surely have had little effect: the sisters, who took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, did not pursue personal wealth, had no families to support, and a vow of obedience that made strikes unlikely. But by the 1980s and 1990s, the dwindling number of sisters in these communities dictated that most employees were laypeople, who had taken no such vows and were supporting spouses and children.

I suspect that this experience gap between the sisters who still dominated the hospital corporate boards and the new lay workforce — many of whom were not Catholic in any event – explained much of the bitterness that accompanying some of the organizing campaigns. (Adam Reich’s 2013 study examining one of these organizing campaigns, With God on Our Side: The Struggle for Workers’ Rights in a Catholic Hospital, is illuminating on this issue.)

Catholic Social Teaching on the right to organize offered a framework for the two sides to begin a dialogue in 1997, hosted by the USCCB. In 1999 the group issued a Working Paper describing their shared principles, “A Fair and Just Workplace: Principles and Practices for Catholic Health Care.” But it would be another decade before the discussants issued the final product, Respecting the Just Rights of Workers. The guidance document urged that management and labor debate the issue of collective bargaining in a spirit of charity, each assuming the goodwill of the other party – and stressed that under Catholic Social Teaching the right to organize or not to organize in a union belongs to the workers alone.

The document has not put an end to bitter union organizing fights in Catholic hospitals – to work, both hospital administrators and unions must agree to honor its principles. Today, most Catholic hospitals in the Northeast and on the West Coast are organized, but the situation in the Midwest is mixed, and few Catholic hospitals in the South engage in collective bargaining with unions representing their employees. As workers in nonunion hospitals continue to seek union organization, and hospital management must decide how to respond, Respecting the Just Rights of Workers offers an important resource for both parties to consider.


On the Edge

The Working Catholic: On the Edge
by Bill Droel

There are prophets of peace and builders of peace. There are protesters and institutional reformers. There are outsiders and insiders. The distinction is fluid. A person might be a prophetic outsider on one topic and an expert insider on another.
Newspapers and textbooks often present the outsider as a model for social justice. The outsider is concerned with social change but not overly concerned with how to implement reform. The insider gets less attention. They are the ones who speak institutional jargon. They can be dull. They know tax tables and zoning laws; they know about international protocols and about pipeline treaties. These insiders resist the first answer that occurs to them because they have heard the world’s complexities reduced to slogans. They take confidence in their faith but they do not believe that God is on their side or that God is opposed to their opponents. Insiders regularly wonder if they are right. They readily acknowledge to themselves that in this or that situation they are only 75% right.
The outsider is necessary for momentum but eventually the insider makes social change. Without inside reformers there are only passing reactions to grievances. Are there any bridges between the vociferous outsider and the stodgy insider?
The term ginger group is sometimes used in England and elsewhere. It refers to a conscience within a broader social reform movement or organization. A ginger group is loyal but it also dissents from an organization’s leaders. For example, Labor Notes (www.labornotes.org) with offices in Detroit and Brooklyn is loyal to unions. But it champions those workers that reform a workplace without waiting for clearance from an international union headquarters. Voice of the Faithful (www.votf.org), to mention a second example, has headquarters in suburban Boston. Its members have not left Roman Catholicism in disgust over bishops’ malfeasance nor have they challenged Catholic dogma. Instead they are a controversial ginger group that presses for reform.
Center for Action and Contemplation (www.cac.org) is the hub for all things regarding Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM. In a 2013 pamphlet titled Eight Core Principles and in some of his blogs, Rohr uses the term edge of the inside. A group on the edge of the inside of an institution is “free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways,” Rohr writes. An edge of the inside type group must love both the institution and the outsider critique of the institution, and it must “know how to move between these two loves.” An edge of the inside group advocates for change by “quoting [the institution’s] own documents, constitutions, heroes, and Scriptures against its present practice. This is their secret: systems are best unlocked from inside,” Rohr writes. The total outsider simplistically chooses one idealized alternative while denigrating the other institution. “This has gotten us nowhere,” Rohr concludes.
Does a posture of edge of the inside make sense in our current predicaments? Would Democrats for Life be an edge of the inside example? How about Change to Win, an affiliation since 2005 of four labor unions? Is an edge of the inside group ever effective? Or is edge of the inside but a temporary stop for outsiders with their denunciations and agitations on their way to being insiders? Please share your experience with this columnist.

Droel is an editor with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).


The Working Catholic: Personalism
by Bill Droel

Is there a sustaining philosophy for idealistic young adults? Is there a creative path that cuts through the inanity of social media, of most TV programming, of the self-help industry? Is there a comprehensive outlook that resists cynicism and resentment? Is it possible to access a fountain of inspiration while maintaining a busy work schedule and keeping up with family obligations?
World War I ended in 1918, only to be followed by the Great Depression which began in 1929. In the wake of these major traumas, idealistic young adults seriously probed the meaning or lack thereof in the feverishness of modern progress. Could it be that the promise of plenty necessarily results in the opposite? In grappling with these and similar questions, a cadre of young adults in Paris and elsewhere constructed a philosophy they called personalism. Emmanuel Mounier (1905-1950) was its initial leader; the literary journal Espirit (www.espirit.presse.fr) was its main organ. In addition to Mounier, other personalists included Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), Nicholas Berdyaev (1874-1948) and Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973). A young actor and seminarian in Poland, today known as St. John Paul II (1920-2005), contributed to Espirit. Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), sociologist and leader in the Reformed Church, can likewise be considered a personalist.
The common response to the Great Depression and to our own societal and economic disruptions is a call for more self-reliance, more unencumbered liberty. A personalist, however, knows that a hard accent on individualism only leads to worthless relativism. Today of course, relativism has taken over our culture. For example, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, a Catholic, says there are “alternative facts” and Rudy Giuliani, another Catholic, says there is no truth to be found. Or there is this extreme expression of relativism from former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, also Catholic: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concepts of existence, of meaning, of the universe and the mystery of human life.”
Liberty is a marvelous modern achievement. Personalists, however, make a distinction between a solitary individual and a relational person; between freedom from and freedom for. One’s future is not predetermined by nor subordinate to one’s family of origin or by one’s caste. But the modern celebration of autonomy cannot mean an absolute defense of individual privileges. A person naturally self-actualizes within relationships, personalists say.
There is another characteristic of personalism that appeals to today’s young adults. The plan for life “emerges from the comradeship of the road rather than the diagrams of the classroom,” Mounier writes. Abstract principles preached from on high only answer questions no young adult is really asking. Moralizing, says Mounier, only further alienates. Experience is what counts. Serious thinking alone is but one more rotation on the merry-go-round. Friendship and involvement are crucial. Then young adults process the experience with critical reading and thinking, along with deep conversation. There must be action. A book club or a rump group is good, but alone such gatherings do not adequately contain enough substance. Action is essential for a meaningful, holy life. And along the way, young adults in action/reflection improve our world.
The secret is involvement in the world absolutely combined with a spiritual element, the personalists say. Don’t expect a fully formed spiritual life to come first, however. “The first step in the spiritual revolution is the economic and political revolution,” Mounier writes. The material world has to be reformed in a way that allows distressed people “to find their way towards things spiritual.”
Personalism is not an organization with a website. There is no Personalism for Dummies workbook. So where can a young adult find this philosophy? It is a process of reading, thinking, finding friends and small collective efforts for improving one’s workplace, school, neighborhood or society.
Peter Maurin (1877-1949) brought personalism to the United States from France. He was a co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, a chain of 174 hospitality communities in the United States, plus some overseas. Several publish a newspaper. The flagship publication is titled The Catholic Worker (www.catholicworker.org). The Houston Catholic Worker (www.cjd.org) is particularly good.
Some organic community organizations in our country, though maybe unaware of its influence, are promoting the basics of personalism. They stress one-to-one encounters prior to any public policy topic or any grievance. The bigness of the state and of industry is not a solution, a personalist group maintains. Action is essential. Then reflection, or what Maurin called “clarification of thought,” must follow.

Droel’s booklet, Public Friendship, is available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)

Corporate Elections

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

There are new rules for electing players to the All Star teams. As in a presidential election, fans now vote in a primary and then in a conclusive election. The primary determines the top three players at each position for each league (each league’s top nine outfielders are grouped together). The fan’s conclusive vote determines the starters. Then MLB players have a ballot, plus the All Star managers and the commissioner have some discretion. Thus some players will be in Cleveland on July 9, 2019 by way of the fans, others by way of fellow-players and some by way of management.

New rules for electing corporate boards are needed. Currently, stockholders vote (including by proxy). Many of these stockholders are “the most uninvested, irresponsible parties involved” with the company, says David Ciepley in Hedgehog Review (Spring/19). “They have never contributed a dime to the corporations” because they acquire the stock on speculation in the secondary market, often in a bundled retirement fund. They hold a stock on average for four months. They are uninterested in “making improvements for long-term returns” but instead favor “quickly squeezing what they can out of the company.” A few people acquire a company’s stock in a different way, but they too are often fixated on the firm’s quarterly performance on the Nasdaq or another exchange. These people are the company’s executives who are paid in stock, not cash. At election time they nominate and vote for like-minded directors.
A crucial step “for reducing corporate misconduct and for reorienting the corporation to public purposes,” writes Ciepley, is “overthrowing the baleful notion, currently regnant in law schools, the business press and even the courts…that corporations are purely private associations and that their stockholders are [in any meaningful way] their members, owners or principals.” He admits that “there is no simple or obvious path to restoring the public purpose of the corporation.” Ciepley does though allude to co-determinism, a mechanism for including stakeholders in corporate governance.

This notion, which derives from Catholic doctrine, has long been advanced by theologians, public policy leaders and business executives, as Matt Mazewski, a student at Columbia University, details in Commonweal (3/22/19). There are examples from Great Britain and elsewhere, though he concentrates on Germany.
Catholic philosopher and mining engineer Franz von Baader (1765-1841) was among the first to develop sound arguments for worker participation in corporate governance, Mazewski finds. By 1891 Germany passed legislation for factory councils to advise management. The notion gained popularity after World War II. For example, Heinrich Dinkelbach (1891-1967), a Catholic and a steel manager, devised a plan for general input from trade unions for business direction. In 1951 Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), also Catholic, won legislative support for special co-determinism provisions.
The general concept appears in several Church documents. It is explicitly promoted by Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) in his 1931 encyclical Reconstructing the Social Order. His Latin phrase for co-determinism, collegia ordinum, is translated industry council plan in the U.S.  Pius XI and the others said that some form of this doctrine tempers adversarial feelings between workers and owners because both are participating in the company’s success. It puts an emphasis on self-regulation and thus makes government meddling in business less necessary. The temptation to absorb these stakeholder councils into one or another government agency must be resisted. Unions do not disappear; management does not disappear; stockholders remain and government retains a role. The council plan can be variously constituted and look differently in various sectors. With genuine and full cooperation a business grows because participation is enhanced through the plan.
Establishing a true community of work “will not be easy,” Mazewski concludes. But putting varied interests on corporate boards “would certainly be a good place to start.”

Droel is associated with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629). NCL distributes Were You Born On the Wrong Continent by Tom Geoghegan ($20), which considers co-determinism in Germany.

One year after Janus

Supreme Court decision opposed by Bishops, unions impacting labor movement

Last year, in a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck a critical blow against social solidarity in Janus v. AFSCME. The conventional practice of American labor relations holds that workers in a particular place of employment are a community with shared concerns, so they choose as a group whether they wish to form a union and engage in collective bargaining. If a majority of the workers vote yes, the union represents everyone in the shop in bargaining and grievance handling, and everyone may be required to pay dues for its support. If the workers become dissatisfied with their union, they may vote to dissolve it – again, by majority rule. The workers go in together, and out together. Besides fostering social solidarity, this method addresses a practical issue that economists call the “free rider” problem: the union contract benefits everyone in the shop, whether they pay dues or not.

Mark Janus didn’t much care about social solidarity or the desires of his co-workers. An Illinois state employee covered by a union contract, he argued that his personal freedom of speech was violated if he had to pay any fees for the union’s services and maintenance. Naturally, the AFL-CIO and AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) opposed Janus. Moreover, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed an “amicus brief” reviewing the history of Catholic Social Teaching on labor unions and supporting the union. The brief even compared the case to the notorious Roe v. Wade ruling, in that a decision for the plaintiff would in essence rule Catholic teaching unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the Court sided with Janus, and overnight so-called “right-to-work” policies were imposed on every public workplace.

Predictably, the year saw the number of “free riders” multiply. AFSCME and other unions representing public employees vowed to redouble their efforts to persuade “free riders” to join the union, with some success. A recent Politico story indicates that these “internal organizing” efforts, combined with (member-authorized) dues increases, prevented expected financial losses for the affected unions, at least in the early running.

Nevertheless, the spirit of individualism — the spirit of the “free rider” — is abroad in the land, and we are the poorer for losing one of our remaining frameworks for social solidarity.

Win on Wage Theft in Minnesota

The Minnesota State legislature is on track to make wage theft a felony in the North Star state, thanks to efforts by unions, community groups and support from the Minnesota State Catholic Conference. Workday Minnesota reports that

The Jobs, Economic Development, and Energy omnibus budget bill will include provisions to make wage theft a felony, penalizing employers who retaliate against employees who report it. The bill also provides funding and investigative power so that MN Attorney General Keith Ellison and the Department of Labor can enforce the new law.

Wage theft is surprisingly prevalent in the United States. In some cases it can be as blunt as refusal to pay for work performed or having a paycheck returned “insufficient funds.” In other cases, it involves harder-to-detect schemes: demanding that employees do extra work after they have clocked out, paying at straight time for overtime work, or paying an employee as an independent contractor so that the employer can duck required social security contributions.

Hats off to the Minnesota AFL-CIO and CTUL (Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha, a CCHD-supported workers’ center) for their leadership on this issue – as well as to the Minnesota Catholic Conference for supportive testimony on the issue.

Fight for $15 Rolls on in Connecticut

In May, Connecticut became the latest state to move toward making the minimum wage a living wage. Legislators passed a bill phasing in a $15 minimum wage by 2023. Commonweal editor Rand Richards Cooper, a Connecticut resident, reviews the debate and explains why this issue is important to Catholics in Why the Fight for Fifteen Must Succeed:

The Catholic Church has provided a strong voice in support of a living wage for well over a century. Since Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum (“Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor”), popes have called for wages sufficient to sustain working families… John Paul II asserted in Laborem exercens (On Human Work) (1981) that the fundamental soundness of any economic system—and indeed its legitimacy—depends in large part on its ability to provide a living wage. “[A] just wage is the concrete means of verifying the whole socioeconomic system and, in any case, of checking that it is functioning justly,” John Paul wrote. “It is not the only means of checking, but it is a particularly important one and in a sense the key means.”

Happy Birthday, Rerum Novarum!

Pope Leo XIII

On May 15, 1893, Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical Rerum Novarum, ushering in modern Catholic Social Teaching. In Rerum Novarum, the Holy Father reflected on the industrial revolution and the wholesale transformation it brought, with peasant farmers and artisans who previously owned their land and shops converted wholesale into employees working for wages. He concluded that workers had a right to organize in trade unions to improve their condition and hoped more would organize — 42 years before the US Congress recognized this and passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. He also said that every worker has the right to a living wage and if necessary the government would have to regulate the labor market to ensure this happened — 45 years before the US Congress recognized this and passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, establishing the federal minimum wage.

In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI observed that in an era of globalization,

The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights, must be honoured today even more than in the past [25].

Church and Labor in Las Vegas

In much of the United States, hotel and food service work is not just grueling but poorly paid. But thanks to decades of worker organizing through Culinary Workers Union Local 266 (an affiliate of UNITE HERE) tens of thousands of workers in hotels on the famous Strip and downtown enjoy family-supporting wages and benefits. The less fortunate workers employed in the ten Station casinos scattered around the city and suburbs are determined to secure the same for themselves and their families, and the Church is Las Vegas has been accompanying them.

In 2016, when Boulder Station Casino managers pressured employees to vote “no” on union membership, UNITE HERE’s Father Clete Kiley and a delegation of “labor priests” visited the workers to hear their story and express solidarity. The workers voted 2-1 to form a union with Culinary Workers. Today workers at four of the station casinos have voted for the union – although management is refusing to recognize the election results at two of them and using endless legal appeals to delay the process further.

Fr. Clete Kiley prays over Station Casino workers who are organizing to improve their wages, working conditions, and health coverage.

While visiting Las Vegas for the Church-Labor Partnership Project (CLPP), I was able to meet with workers discussing organizing strategy at two additional Station Casinos. The workers told me that high premiums made the employer-offered health care unaffordable, relaying stories of ill family members or children who went without care. They also said that management was laying off food service employees, then expecting the survivors to pick up the work of their colleagues with no increase in pay.

Far larger than a typical local union, Local 226 (and its sister bartenders’ unit, Local 155) is a critical player both in the industry and the community. In a practice more familiar in the construction unions, Local 226 and its signatory employers operate a Culinary Academy where those interested in a career in hospitality can take preparatory classes – and current members who want to pursue a better-paying job in the hotels can get training for a move up. The center trains nearly 1,000 per year.

On May 8, the Diocese of Las Vegas hosted CLUE NV (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice – NV), an interfaith group of clergy supporting worker justice. Dave Love, who does faith outreach for Local 226, helped build strong turnout for the event, at which some Station Casino workers shared their stories with the assembled religious leaders.

Local 226 Chaplain Gloria Hernandez stands by as Mercedes Cabrera, who works at the Green Valley Ranch Station Casino, explains that few can afford the premiums to purchase Station’s health insurance plan, leaving many workers uninsured — along with their spouses and children.

Deacon Tim O’Callaghan, Social Action Ministry Director for the Diocese of Las Vegas, was very generous with his time during my visit, and connected me with both the impressive Diocesan Catholic Charities facility and a young Las Vegas workers’ center, Arriba. Along with running a homeless shelter and SROs, Catholic Charities works with both the homeless and with refugees in order to teach them work skills and habits and place them in jobs. (It didn’t surprise me to learn that they send a fair number of students to the Culinary Academy.) Arriba organizes among the hundreds of day laborers in the Las Vegas area, who too often fall victim of wage theft by unscrupulous employers, and is under review for a possible CCHD grant.

I rounded out my time in Las Vegas with a visit to the Southern Nevada AFL-CIO, whose leaders expressed enthusiasm for the CLPP and are looking forward to new initiatives in the area.

Please pray for the Station Casino workers and for the Church in Las Vegas!


The Working Catholic: Process Is Product
by Bill Droel

Our Chicago White Sox are “in rebuild mode,” according to their front office. Progress is uneven. Two promising pitchers are out for the season. A left-handed slugger is back in the minor leagues. Defense is spotty. Yet, a couple infielders are hitting. The pitching is coming around. And once the clouds clear, the ballpark is sparkling. The Chicago Cubs are the prototype for rebuilding. They won the 2016 World Series in November of that year and thereby “broke the curse.” (See The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci, Penguin Random House, 2017.)
All institutions are in the rebuilding mode, except those that implicitly or explicitly have given up. Institutions use two grand strategies that ideally complement one another. One can be called the business model, the other is organizing.
For example, within the union movement business unionism refers to servicing the contract. Health care plans and pension plans require attention. The union officers help individual members or small groups who have a grievance. For the sake of public profile and influence, union leaders attend banquets and visit legislators. They publish a newspaper and distribute union information. Organizing in the union movement is about giving the union’s accomplishments away to other workers and families.
Though both approaches co-exist, the business model often dominates. Some union leaders might say that a well-serviced contract will inspire other workers to seek out the union. But in this day and time there are too many shortcuts around the tedious process of organizing one-by-one and then small group upon another small group. Too many shortcuts sap money, talent and imagination from an otherwise good institution. In time, the union realizes that its neglect of organizing has made its future less promising. (See No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power by Jane McAlevey, Oxford University Press, 2016.)
A parish, to give a second example, uses the business model to competently carry out many ministries: funerals, weekend worship, hospital visits, publishing a bulletin, raising money, maintaining the furnace and parking lot and more. Things must get done. A pastor who likely is past middle-age and who is the only priest on staff might reasonably say that servicing those who already participate is, under the circumstances, the best advertisement for growing the parish. Once again organizing (or in churchy jargon evangelization) is more-or-less neglected.
A shortcut is a bulletin announcement for young adults: “Pretzel, Beer and Bible Evening.” Then a staff person waits for someone (anyone) to show up. Organizing in a parish is a pastor or parish leader who makes appointments with young adults at their worksite or over lunch to listen and possibly discover points of connection between the young person’s interests and the Christian tradition.
A shortcut is to keep a shelf of canned goods and a few heavy coats on hand in the parish office for the needy. Organizing in a parish means a pastor and committee members make appointments with many leaders from other area churches and agencies to explore community concerns.
A shortcut is a dedicated hospitality committee that serves coffee and rolls after Mass. Organizing in a parish means 20 of its leaders gather for about 45 minutes once a month to recount what they learned from a quota of individual appointments with fellow parishioners and community members.
Some shortcuts are unavoidable and usually do no harm. Serving the base and organizing can in fact nourish each other. When either one is taken to an extreme, however, it destroys itself. Extreme organizing to the neglect of serving the regular base erodes the loyalty of faithful union members or faithful parishioners. The organization’s collective memory can be lost and soon enough few people will really care if the organization grows.
In recent decades the opposite extreme has been the norm. Most voluntary organizations have overused the business model. Their leaders assume that habitual shortcuts are a sufficient route to the future.
In our day and age the union movement and parish life (the examples used in this article) must be in the rebuild mode. To revitalize necessarily requires a deep understanding that the process is the product and that too many shortcuts defeat the goal.
There are no guarantees. We make choices. The trade of Chris Sale may or may not pay off for our White Sox. Prospects that show promise in AAA or AA may or may not perform here on 35th St. Key players like Carlos Rodon can be lost to injury. The same is true in voluntary groups. A dedicated parishioner or union leader may or may not have enough energy to help with a three-year rebuild. No guarantees. Instead, a series of choices: business as usual or organizing.

Droel’s booklet Public Friendship can be obtained from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $6).