Higgins Legacy Events Now Available on Video

In the first days of May, the Catholic Labor Network teamed up with the Archdiocese of Washington and the AFL-CIO to mark 20 years since the passing of legendary “labor priest” Monsignor George Higgins. Higgins, who hailed from Chicago, came to Washington DC to serve as Social Action Director for the nation’s bishops in the late 20th century and became a fixture on picket lines and at union halls. He was the living link between the American Church and the American labor movement in those years, regularly instructing the faithful in Catholic Social Teaching through his “Yardstick” columns in the Catholic press.

The first event was a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Wilton Gregory. Higgins passed away on May 1, 2002 – 20 years ago on the international labor holiday recognized by the Church as the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. On Sunday May 1, 2022 Cardinal Gregory recalled Higgins’ memory and greeted California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski, leading a delegation representing the labor movement. Fr. Evelio Menjivar, a DC-area “labor priest”, served as homilist, noting Jesus’ ministry to workers and how this informed more than a century of Catholic Social Teaching. CLICK HERE to view the video of the Mass.

The next day AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and CLN Board member Patti Devlin welcomed a panel that explored Monsignor Higgins’ legacy at the AFL-CIO. Fr. Clete Kiley, as moderator, introduced the topic with reflections on Higgins and the Chicago environment that produced him and other “labor priests” of his era. He then introduced the three panelists: Fr. Evelio, Dr. Meghan Clark of St. John’s University, and Chuck Hendricks of UNITE HERE. Fr. Menjivar spoke of the pastoral role that priests play in accompanying workers in their pursuit of justice, while Dr. Clark pointed out how unions protected the dignity of all workers and fostered their participation in the workplace. And in a moving testimony, Hendricks related how his organizing career informed his faith journey to lead him into the Catholic Church. (Ingrid Delgado of the USCCB was scheduled to participate – although she had to stay home due to illness, but shared her prepared remarks.)  CLICK HERE to view the video of the panel presentation.

A memory to be honored and a legacy to be continued

On May 2, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler introduced a panel exploring the career and legacy of “labor priest” Monsignor George Higgins. She told the assembled:

Hello everyone! I’m Liz Shuler, President of the AFL-CIO, and it’s my privilege to welcome you to the House of Labor. We are honored to have you with us as we mark the 20th anniversary of Monsignor George Higgins passing and celebrate his legacy with today’s panel, “The Labor Movement and the Catholic Church Then and Now.”

On behalf of the AFL-CIO, I want to thank the Catholic Labor Network … for making this event possible.

Looking at everyone who has come together today – and I see a lot of familiar faces out there, like AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride – we can see the true impact Monsignor Higgins had on our movement.

He really was “Labor’s Priest.” He dedicated his life to bringing the labor and faith communities together. And … wherever working people were lifting their voices…from the vineyards of California to the coal fields of Harlan, Kentucky… Monsignor Higgins was there.

He brought his ministry to local union halls, to picket lines, and even right here to the House of Labor. And everywhere he went he fought for policies people now take for granted: workers’ compensation, overtime pay, health and safety laws, our rights to organize and so much more.

And his impact is still felt whenever working people find the courage to proclaim our dignity and worth as human beings and children of God, from athletic fields to production shops and from Mexcio’s auto plants to Starbucks coffee shops.

As we mark this anniversary, I’d like to read from the AFL-CIO Executive Council statement issued shortly after his passing:

Msgr. George Higgins was the unsurpassed standard-bearer of his Church’s solidarity with underprivileged and average working families … the 20th Century’s leading advocate of a religion/labor alliance on their behalf … and the inspiration for a new generation of faith champions of worker rights.

 [He] was consistently at the side of workers, be they farm workers, auto workers or hospital workers, when they needed a clear, strong, strategic voice calling for respect and dignity on the job…

We need to remember this lifetime carefully, not simply as a memory to be honored, but a legacy to be continued.

So today, we gather to recommit to carrying on his legacy – one that recognizes that solidarity is the core value of our movement and the root of Catholic scripture.

We are unified through not just an economic vision, but also a moral vision of justice for the greater good.

I am proud to say that here at the AFL-CIO, where we represent more than 12.5 million people in 57 unions, we are recommitting to our coalition between faith and labor by forging new partnerships in communities across the country.

We are going to follow First Thessalonians, and “encourage one another and build each other up.”

That is, in fact, what unions do. It’s what both of our movements do.

Together, the labor movement and our faith partners can be the most powerful forces for progress in the United States… not just for union members, but for everyone. And we’re going to talk all about how we can continue to join forces today.

We have a great line up for you, including our panel moderator  Father Clete Kiley of UNITE HERE and the Archdiocese of Chicago, and our panelists:

  • Father Evelio Menjivar from the Archdiocese of Washington
  • Meghan Clark, from St. John’s University
  • Chuck Hendricks of UNITE HERE and the Catholic Labor Network…and last but not least
  • Ingrid Delgado from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Thank you all for being here.

I am also honored to share the stage with my beloved sister Patti Devlin from the Laborers International Union of North America, who will speak on behalf of the Catholic Labor Network.

Patti, the floor is yours.

Unions have always been a crucial part of participation by workers

The Catholic Labor Network and the AFL-CIO recently hosted a panel on the legacy of “labor priest” Monsignor George Higgins. Theologian Meghan Clark of St. John’s University reflected on the dignity of labor and the role of unions in fostering worker participation.

Thank you, Fr. Clete – and thank you to both the Catholic Labor Network and the AFL-CIO for inviting me to be part of this moment of reflection and celebration of Msgr Higgins and the relationship between the Labor Movement and the Catholic Church.

It is a personal pleasure to be here – my grandmother, a librarian, became a union organizer. The director at her library had become increasingly erratic and dictatorial. A welcoming community center had been transformed into a hostile work environment. Teaming up with the local teacher’s union, she began to organize the librarians to seek justice and participation. On the day that I was born, they held the official vote to unionize. In the same day, she became a union leader and a grandmother.  (She waited the day to come see me in the hospital to be at and work the vote, they voted for a union and she became president).

For my grandmother, as for many of you here, her work with the union was deeply connected to her faith. This connection was obvious to Msgr Higgins, for whom working with labor unions was his ministry (and it is an honor to be on this dais with two labor priests who carry on that legacy). Msgr Higgins would often talk about the “unbroken” support for workers’ rights to unionize in Catholic social teaching and the Church’s understanding that if we look at the historical record, workers can’t defend their rights without unions.

During the Industrial Revolution, Catholic social teaching as we now know it began precisely because the Church needed to address the worker question – it needed to take a stand on unions. The rise of factories and industrial labor radically changed the way in which men, women, and then – children “worked” and this fundamental change brought with it new forms of exploitation, inequality, and inadequate social protection. Here in the United States – archbishop Gibbons in Baltimore and others found themselves asking what to do about Catholics who wanted to join unions –- – Rerum Novarum was the answer and in it Leo XIII firmly and unequivocally put the moral weight of the Roman Catholic Church behind the worker’s right to unionize.

The Church and the Labor Movement have collaborated and strengthened each other through many ups and downs in the ensuing hundred and thirty-two years. This collaboration has been seen in the legacy of Msgr Higgins and countless Labor priests, in the deep faith of labor leaders like Cesar Chavez, John Sweeney, and Richard Trumpka.

As a Theologian, I’d like to propose in my brief time left – continued collaboration in the future is important for the Labor movement and is essential for the Church – and I want to highlight two elements of this relationship – the dignity of work and the centrality of participation to justice.

Dignity of Work

American society has a complicated relationship to “work.” When I ask my students to describe what comes to mind when they hear the words work, labor, or job…their immediate response is tied to wages, struggle, and a career. Good work and good jobs are often limited to the question of salaries – and salaries often bear no correlation to contribution to the common good.   The pandemic has revealed something the Labor movement has long understood – – some of the most essential jobs for our common life together are those that receive inadequate wages, protections, and fail to be understood as “good work.”  Here perhaps Catholic social teaching can redirect our public discourse towards an appreciation of the dignity of work. Work is not just how we “earn our bread” but it is how we are co-creators with God. In 2017, Pope Francis referred to work as a form of “civil love.”

John Paul II drew this out in his encyclical Laborem Exercens/On Human Work — work is for the human person, not the human person for work, for this reason, Catholic theology strongly maintains the priority of labor over capital. Similarly, over the last decade, Pope Francis has repeatedly called our attention to the problem of youth unemployment around the world –even in places with strong social protection – the lack of dignified work is a problem because it is through work we inhabit and develop our dignity.

In his January 2022 Angelus series on St. Joseph, Pope Francis noted that “Work is an essential component of human life, and even of the path of sanctification. Work is not only a means of earning a living, it is also a place where we express ourselves, feel useful and learn the great lesson of concreteness, which helps keep the spiritual life from becoming spiritualism.” (Jan 12).

This broader vision of the person  – the who and why of the dignity of work that Catholic social teaching offers to the Labor Movement. It is a vision that does not shy away from examining the changing nature of work in the twenty first century, does not only pull from the past but looking to a future and world that does not yet exist — as Leo XIII called for in Rerum Novarum (and as evidenced in Msgr Higgin’s ministry) – seeks to look @ the world as it truly is, and look beyond for solutions to its most pressing social problems. (RN14)

One place where the Church and the Labor movement can work together more is in developing a greater sense of global solidarity within our living out the dignity of work. In response to the Financial Crisis, Benedict XVI called on labor unions to think more globally: “the global context in which work takes place also demands that national labor unions, which tend to limit themselves to defending the interests of their registered members, should turn their attention to those outside their membership, and in particular to workers in developing countries where social rights are often violated.” (64)   This is something the AFL-CIO is committed to through its participation host of global union federations as well as the ILO.

 Justice as Participation

The last 20 years have been dominated in the US by significant anti-union legislation scattered around the country – these impact wages, benefits, and worker protections BUT it also manifests in lack of a voice for workers – Effective participation in shaping one’s working conditions and culture only happens when workers are able to come together. participation is about the inclusion of each, yes, but this only happens by coming together – participation is always relational and it is central not only to democracy but economic justice.

Unions have always been a crucial part of participation by workers…and the US Bishop’s 1986 pastoral, Economic justice for all goes so far as to define justice as participation, highlighting the importance of unions not just in securing fair wages and benefits but about having a voice, participation in decision making.

 It is this positive role of participation – which led my own grandmother to become a union organizer – out of concern not merely for their working conditions but the importance of a library as a welcoming and inclusive community space. It was a participation in the common good of the whole community. Unionization should not be reduced simply to a utilitarian calculus about wages and benefits (despite their deep importance) but also about this sense of that part of the dignity of work is participation in the bigger questions of the institutions within which we labor.

It is my contention that on this point the Church needs the Labor Movement to help it remember this particular aspect of justice and the dignity of work. I am a university professor in a unionized faculty (a member of the American Academy of University Professors – AAUP) – which is rare. It is deeply disturbing how often we see examples of Catholic schools fighting their worker’s attempts to unionize, whether they be contingent faculty or food service workers – time and time again we are seeing Catholic institutions seemingly forgetting our own teaching on worker’s rights.  Here is one place where for me, as a theologian, the relationship between the labor movement and the Catholic church is so crucial – – and can hopefully continue to call members of the church to embrace its own theological commitments more fully.

Future

I conclude today with gratitude for all the work Msgr Higgins did in his ministry, for the work that continued over the last twenty years, and in hope for what the next decades might bring. I hope that it will be one in which both the Catholic Church and the Labor Movement will continue to be partners in the commitment to the dignity of work and for the common good of all. Thank you.

Msgr. George Higgins: A Reflection by Fr. Clete Kiley

Recently the AFL-CIO and the Catholic Labor Network hosted an event honoring the legacy of “labor priest” Msgr. George Higgins. Fr. Clete Kiley moderated the panel discussion.

Several years ago, a Labor leader lamented to me that with Msgr. Higgins gone, the Labor priests are all dead. But it is clear from our gathering here that the “Mantle of Elijah” has been passed along to a new generation of Labor committed Catholics, and not just of priests, but of theologians, lay Catholic Labor leaders. Catholic workers, and lay ecclesial minsters. Msgr. Higgins would be delighted to see this.

For my part, I am here today as a representative of the Church of Chicago and the Chicago Labor Movement. I bring you greetings from Cardinal Cupich and from President Robert Reiter of the Chicago Federation of Labor, whose generous support got me here today.

George Gilmary Higgins was born on January 21, 1916 in Chicago. Twenty years ago, May 2, 2002 he died there. But Chicago was more than a book-end venue on his life’s journey. It was the city and the church out of which he came. It was in his bones. I believe it will be helpful to reflect on some aspects of his Chicago history.

On December 9, 1915, one month before George Higgins’ birth, Bishop George William Mundelein was appointed the new Archbishop of Chicago. A few years later Mundelein was named the first Cardinal of the West. The Church of Chicago in those days has been described as “the Confident Church”. In 1916 Chicago was the fastest growing city in the country. It was the largest Catholic Archdiocese.

Cardinal Mundelein was decidedly pro-Labor. He urged Chicago priests to be on the “side of the workingman”.  He hailed Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum.  He heartily embraced the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ 1919 Program for Social Reconstruction. He created structures to better provide social services, and developed ways to support working people. He built St, Mary of the Lake Seminary- Mundelein Seminary today.  And every brick, wire and toilet was done by union tradesmen. Mundelein believed the Catholic church and American culture were compatible. He chose the seminary’s Georgian architecture to underscore this point. He wanted to inculcate future priests with this openness to America, with a sense of American citizenship, and economic justice and collaboration with all faiths working for the common good.

Among the seminarians who attended Mundelein’s seminary was Msgr. John Hayes. He is a key person in the Higgins story. He was ordained at Mundelein in 1930. He was THE Labor priest before George. In 1931 Quadragesimo Anno was promulgated underscoring the Church’s commitment to social reconstruction.  In 1933 John Hayes was sent to Rome to study for a doctorate in Catholic Social Doctrine. When he returned, he started worker programs and the local Labor schools. From 1940 to 1944 he served at the NCWC and organized the Labor Schools in dioceses around the country.

(a side note: Msgr. Hayes was my first pastor. He hosted a lunch every year that included Msgr. Hillenbrand, Msgr. Higgins, Msgr. Jack Egan, Msgr. Gene Boyle from San Jose, Msgr, Bill Kelly from Brooklyn and some others.  I was a rookie so my job was to get more ice. But what a legacy! Also, Msgr. Hayes had been pastor in another parish where a young parishioner asked him if he could become an altar boy. Msgr Hayes told the lad maybe he might want to become a Catholic first. Shortly after, Msgr. Hayes received Wilton Daniel Gregory into the Church.) This is a piece of the Higgin’s DNA I’m trying to convey. It was never just one individual doing the work, but a whole network of relationships that gives the context out of which we come. They knew each other and were organized back in their day.

In 1933 George Higgins entered Mundelein seminary. In 1936 Cardinal Mundelein appointed Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand as rector. Hillenbrand was a noted social justice advocate and liturgical reformer. Hillenbrand challenged the students to read every daily newspaper they could get their hands on.  They were formed to explore interfaith dialogue, to tackle the implications of economic and racial justice, and were urged to collaborate with Labor unions, the government, and other religious denominations working for the common good.

George was formed in a Church where the Pope, the Cardinal and the seminary rector were all in alignment around the social mission of the Church. They were clear about the dignity of work, the rights of workers, and the value of unions. This alignment put wind in George Higgins’ sails and allowed his life and ministry, and thus, the Church itself, to become such a beacon for working people. Msgr. Higgins worked his whole life with Catholic bishops and Labor leaders and workers to hold that alignment firm. We need this alignment now more than ever.  We need bishops, and priests, Labor leaders, and working people, really all of us, to safeguard this alignment in every parish and chancery, in every union hall, and on every work site, everywhere. In short, we need solidarity and unity if the Church will “ take the side of the worker” as Cardinal Mundelein urged George and his confreres to do so many decades ago.

Our panelists will now share how Msgr. Higgins’ legacy lays a foundation for what each of them, and all of us, are called to do today.

Fr. Evelio Menjivar, Pastor, Priest-Labor Initiative, Archdiocese of Washington.

Dr. Meghan Clark, St. John’s University- a bright generation of lay Catholic theologians;

Mr. Chuck Hendricks, a Catholic union organizer with UNITEHERE International Union, and the Catholic Labor Network.

George Higgins would love seeing this panel.

I came to the Church because the Church came to the workers

Recently the AFL-CIO and the Catholic Labor Network hosted an event honoring the legacy of “labor priest” Monsignor George Higgins. The Catholic Labor Network’s own Chuck Hendricks shared a remarkable story of his faith journey.

Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Chuck Hendricks, and I work with the Food Service and Hotel Workers Union, UNITE HERE.  I am also a parishioner at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Baltimore where my wife is Parish Council President, and I have taught elementary school children Faith Fund and Fellowship. I want to thank you so much for having this gathering, and for inviting me to participate. I have been involved with the labor movement for 24 years and have been part of the Catholic Church for 12 years. For me, the Catholic Church–at least a part of it– has become a place of strength, healing, and justice, which supports me and my family, and holds me firm in my commitment to social justice.

I found my way to the church through my union organizing, learning from the brave workers who led our struggles, and the amazing priests and young Catholics who brought the social teachings of the church to our organizing campaigns. The Church I have joined is one that welcomes the poor, struggles beside them, and stands up to the powerful, bringing the whole Church closer to the image of Christ. We continue to build that church with every action that we take, sometimes finding resistance both outside and inside the doors of the Church.

I was raised Southern Baptist, my grandfather was a Baptist preacher, but when I was fifteen I stopped going to the church of my youth, There was so much fire and brimstone and judgment in that place that I couldn’t see through it to anything else, I could see very little mercy. I did not feel the love of God. So, I left that church behind.

My organizing work became my family and my religion.  I organized my first union at Loyola University of Maryland as a painter and maintenance worker.  While we didn’t try to talk to the priests on campus or the students, they also didn’t try to talk to us. We were isolated and subjected to a horrible antiunion campaign waged by my employer and the anti-union consultants he hired. I was fired for organizing. The experience at Loyola made me more determined to be a union organizer. It certainly didn’t lead me to the Catholic Church.

After joining UNITE HERE, I moved to Palm Springs, California. Our membership was majority Catholic.  They looked to the priest at the largest Catholic Church for solidarity.  Fr. Miquel Ceja could not have been more different than what I had expected from a religious leader. He joined committee meetings to help workers feel strong; conducted blessings when workers spoke publicly, and even engaged in civil disobedience to protest mistreatment. This was the first time I felt myself open up to the Church.

A few years later when I moved to Chicago, I would hear about priests like Fr. Clete Kiley, or Fr. Larry Dowling, who supported housekeepers who lived on the south side. They stood by workers at events, urging them on, or leading in prayer. I saw how moved our members were knowing that these Priest where with them in their moments of weakness and in their moments of strength. My heart was opened even more.

The turning point for me happened during a campaign to organize the subcontracted cafeteria workers at DePaul University who were fighting for a living wage and affordable health care. During the struggle to get a fair contract, I was amazed by the dedication of a community of students who lived at the St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac House. These were young people who committed to living Vincentian Values for a year. These 19- and 20-year-olds were Catholic leaders: they led an Anti-War group, the pro-life group, cooked for people who were homeless and created a movement on campus to end food waste. They embodied the seamless garment of Christ.

They also made it their mission to stand in solidarity with the workers. They understood that subcontracted workers were still part of their community, and that they had a responsibility for the workers’ well-being.

And it was the young people of faith who pressed the administrators, the professors, and the leaders of the university to follow in their footsteps by standing side by side with the workers.  One special moment I will never forget was when Jillian, who ran the Right-to-Life committee on campus, went with workers to the President of the University to ask for his support for family health care: Because for her, access to affordable health care was a right to life issue. Those workers won, in large part I believe, because of people like her.

That year…. watching students and priests and workers moving together led me to explore my own faith. I felt called to go back to Church, any Church but not Southern Baptist. But I never seriously thought about joining the Catholic Church. I felt so distant from how I was raised. I tried the Episcopalians, the Methodists, and others, but nothing seemed to fit. Until one day I went to the Catholic Church in my neighborhood. It just so happened to be the day one of the DePaul students, Megan, was encouraging people to join the RCIA classes that she was instructing. It felt like a very special invitation. Megan ended up being my sponsor and my RCIA teacher as I joined the church on Easter day ten years ago.

The coalition that was built at DePaul was like a congregation. And that congregation opened the door for my conversion to Catholicism.

But I think that these struggles also open the Church to the world and the world to the Church. They force us to choose between a church that is safe with those in power and one that is challenging to those with privilege. Throughout the years I have seen us rise to this test.  Priests in the administration of Loyola University Chicago intervened to make sure that workers gained the right to organize and achieve a living wage. Here in DC, workers at Trinity University, Catholic University and Georgetown University have been organized through a card check process and have been able to achieve decent wages and benefits.  The campaign at Georgetown university was led by students of all faiths, led by Ignatian values.  Their call of “We are One Georgetown” was a challenge to the professors and the priests and their president to act according to Jesuit principles. And they did.

Priests have worked with us on other campaigns. Recently, Fr. Martin Burnham from the Theological College in DC performed the role of neutral party for Compass Group employees at the US Senate Cafeteria, where he counted cards with workers signatures, certified that workers wanted to have a union and bargain for fair wages and working conditions. Compass, the largest food service company in the world, agreed to this path: to be neutral, to give workers the choice, to agree to bargain in good faith and to have a Priest be the arbiter. The morality, honesty and standards of the priests allowed both sides to see this process as the best path for building a just workplace.

In all of these cases, the Church leaned in and stood with workers and urged the companies to respond to moral imperatives. And I have seen employers respond to this in a way that has led to solutions, allowing workers to organize free from fear, finding paths to life affirming jobs and building positive relationships between Labor and Employers.

When I was in Chicago, before even becoming Catholic I would attend the Rerum Novarum Dinner each year. At that dinner the AFL-CIO and the Church would issue awards to Catholic Labor Leaders and to Catholic Business leaders who exemplified the church’s social teachings. “We are one body,” and “what we do for the least of these”…. These rules applied to the wealthy in our congregations as well. At the time, this blew my mind, but what I have come to understand, through the work of priests, sisters, and lay leaders across this country, is that our faith and our Church can help bring out the best in all of us; together.

We, of course, have more work to do together.  Far too often employers, including those at Catholic institutions, do not meet the spirit of Rerum Novarum.

Some subcontractors at Catholic Institutions have told us they will not agree to a fair and neutral process for worker organization. In some cases, it is because the Company opposes the process and the institution is not urging them to do the moral thing. In others, however, it is the client, the Catholic institution in question, that won’t let them agree to a fair and neutral process. Recently in discussions with Sodexo, the food service employer, we believe, at the Theological College, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Sisters of Maryknoll, I was told by Sodexo that these two of institutions opposed allowing their subcontracted cafeteria workers to have the same process that was used at the US Senate, the World Bank, Georgetown, Loyola, St. Johns and Depaul University to allow the workers to form a union. The third they wouldn’t even discuss with me.

I came to the Church because the Church came to the workers. Every day we continue to take a stand, against the injustice out in the world, and for our Church: The Church that is allied with the workers and has a preferential option for the poor. The Church in which the shepherds smell of their sheep. The Church that prays at rallies, walks on picket lines, asks their subcontractors to support neutral processes for workers’ organizations, and creates life affirming jobs.

I hope to see the Church I was called to join continue this path.  I look forward to walking it with all of you.

Green Jobs for Justice, Labor Organizing, and the Catholic Faith

A guest post from CLN Member Milka Kiriaku

The work that I do within the environmental climate justice movement, seeing as it is deeply informed by the organized labor movement, has been deeply influenced by faith. As a working Catholic, I strongly believe in helping those who are most marginalized, particularly through their vocation in the world. I have devoted my career to advocacy- whether that be through fair housing organizing or food justice. In recent years, I have begun working on labor organizing around the green job sector for Black and Indigenous People of Color. This work is but an extension of my original belief in a basic dignity of all workers, particularly those in emerging manufacturing occupations.

I do this work through a small nonprofit: Sustainable Georgia Futures. Sustainable Georgia Futures is a grassroots environmental education and labor organizing nonprofit stationed in Atlanta, Georgia. SGF serves people in DeKalb County, Clayton County, and Fulton County. As a part of the Justice40 coalition, SGF received direct funding to target green economic growth in communities of color. SGF approaches this work through the lens of relational organizing and federal climate financing. Sustainable Georgia Futures connects low-income to middle-class workers of color to job and internship opportunities in the green sector. Additionally, SGF hires professional organizers and consultants to facilitate group meetings, or “House Meetings,” and to run the Green Fellowship Program. In both the House Meetings and the Fellowship program, recruited partners and hired fellows to engage deeply in workshops about the green sector, environmental climate justice, environmental racism, and climate gentrification in the city of Atlanta.

The Labor Movement and the Catholic Church, Then and Now

The Labor Movement and the Catholic Church, Then and Now: The Legacy of Monsignor George Higgins

Monday, May 2 @ 3pm ET

For decades, legendary “labor priest” Monsignor George Higgins was a living link between the American labor movement and the Catholic Church. Higgins passed away 20 years ago this May 1. To commemorate the occasion, the AFL-CIO and the Catholic Labor Network are hosting a panel discussion on Higgins’s legacy and the relationship between organized labor and the Catholic Church, then and now. This event will be livestreamed from the AFL-CIO in Washington DC.

Hosts: President Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO, and Patti Edwards Devlin, Catholic Labor Network

Moderator: Fr. Clete Kiley, UNITE HERE and the Archdiocese of Chicago

Panelists:

  • Fr. Evelio Menjivar, Archdiocese of Washington
  • Dr. Meghan Clark, St. John’s University
  • Chuck Hendricks, UNITE HERE and Catholic Labor Network
  • Ingrid Delgado, US Conference of Catholic Bishops

 CLICK HERE to register to view the livestream

Mass in Memory of “Labor Priest” Monsignor George Higgins

Sunday, May 1 @ 11am

Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle

1725 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Washington DC

For decades, legendary “labor priest” Monsignor George Higgins was a living link between the American labor movement and the Catholic Church. Higgins passed away 20 years ago this May 1. To commemorate Monsignor Higgins’ legacy, Cardinal Wilton Gregory will celebrate a special Mass at the Cathedral of St Matthew in Washington DC. Fr. Evelio Menjivar, an Archdiocese of Washington pastor and labor priest, will be the homilist. All are welcome to attend. The Mass will also be livestreamed on the Cathedral’s YouTube Channel. Questions? Contact clayton@catholiclabor.org

Daily Grind

The Working Catholic: Routine by Bill Droel

Clocks are everywhere because our modern economy needs to know the time.
     Our “regular measurement of time and the new mechanical conception of time arose in part out of the routine of the monastery,” writes Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) in Technics and Civilization (University of Chicago Press, 1934). It was long ago that Pope Sabinianus (d. 606) ordered bells to be rung seven times per day to alert the faithful to the liturgy of the hours.
     As an urban economy eventually emerged, merchants demanded more precision. A public mechanical clock appeared in Belgium in 1188; more places followed in the 1200s. By 1345 the measurement of 60 minutes to an hour and 24 hours to a day became standard. By 1370 Paris had a well-designed modern clock suitable for urban life. In the 1600s many families in Holland and England acquired a mechanical clock for their homes.
     Yet the monasteries came first, according to Mumford. They “helped to give human enterprise the regular collective beat and rhythm of the machine; for the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men.” As the years went by, however, some began to think that a “completely timed and scheduled and regulated” machine civilization “does not necessarily guarantee maximum efficiency,” Mumford concludes. Sticking to the clock is not best for human development.
     Meghan O’Gieblyn, drawing upon Mumford, provides a reflection on routine for Harper’s Magazine (1/22). Have people become machines, she asks? Is the routine imposed by our economy dehumanizing? Or “is it possible in our age of advanced technology to recall the spiritual dimension of repetition”? Does a spiritual motivation lurk “in the gears of modern routine”?
     High tech and advanced automation enhance work and life, say its cheerleaders. Computers and robots free us to set aside drudgery and bring forth our agility, flexibility, creativity and spontaneity. However, “the rhetoric of flexibility…despite its existential promise to make us more human frequently undergirds policies that make the lives of workers more precarious,” O’Gieblyn writes. For example, online retail and the apps on our mobile device decrease variety by conditioning our choice of products and services.
     The goal cannot be the elimination of clocks. Covid-19 previews an unstructured existence within a total computer economy, a total gig economy and a total do-it-yourself, round-the-clock life. What is the result of decreased regimentation? Maybe too many naps. Excessive internet surfing. Heightened anxiety about childcare and schooling. Unpredictable and/or lower wages. Spiritual exhaustion.
     Humane work and a fuller life is not liberation from repetition. The old analysis still applies: Despite talk about teamwork and participation, workers are estranged from one another, from the process and outcome of their labor and eventually from themselves. That’s because too few workers—from warehouse workers to floor managers to computer programmers to middle executives—are insufficiently taught the process and the product of their labor. There just isn’t enough time to do so, we’ve assumed.
     As for O’Gieblyn, she believes “there is [still] something transcendent in the pleasures of repetition.” Tranquility is not simply the absence of structure. She cites St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in saying that a full life requires habits aimed toward the common good. A good habit is not slavery; it is a form of grace. And freedom, O’Gieblyn concludes, is not “eliminating necessity from our daily lives.” Freedom is “the ability to consistently choose the good.”
     For more from O’Gieblyn, get God, Human, Animal, Machine (Knopf Doubleday, 2021).

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

Wage Theft Still Rampant in DC Construction

Readers of this blog will recall how a Catholic Labor Network organizer visiting DC construction sites documented an extensive underground economy in the District’s construction market, one marked by substantial wage theft. We found that a system of labor brokers had emerged as middlemen between construction workers and contractors in several trades. These brokers would supply labor to drywall, plumbing, HVAC and electrical contractors, but pay the workers as if they were independent contractors – denying them overtime pay and failing to pay their social security taxes or workers’ compensation premiums. The Catholic Labor Network generated a major report on the phenomenon. It won’t surprise readers to hear that the victims of these scams are usually recent immigrants, often undocumented ones.

Unfortunately, industry conditions remain fraught. Organizers for the area’s construction labor unions regularly leaflet nonunion construction sites with handbills in English and Spanish counseling workers about their rights. Attention is currently focused on a major redevelopment project in the District of Columbia building once occupied by Fannie Mae, where a wage theft scandal drew coverage in the Washington Hispanic.

On this project, dozens of plumbers and sheet metal workers working for WG Welch through a labor broker told organizers they hadn’t been paid in over a month. Union organizers helped the workers prepare a collective demand for payment from WG Welch and the site’s general contractor, Whiting-Turner. (Under DC law, both are liable when a subcontractor or labor broker fails to pay their workers in a timely manner.) This secured some relief – some workers were paid straight time for the hours owed, but none received either the overtime pay or damages they are entitled to under the law. Construction union representatives are consulting with the workers about possible further legal action.

Watch this space for additional developments.