Loyola Food Service Workers Win Union

The Catholic Labor Network is pleased to report that food service workers at Loyola University in New Orleans won union representation with UNITE HERE Local 23 on April 28. After a year-long campaign closely monitored by the Catholic Labor Network, workers now will have an opportunity to negotiate a contract with Sodexo, the French multinational that operates the cafeteria for the school.

The workers benefitted from extensive support from Loyola students. Readers of this newsletter may remember that in November 2022 the Catholic Labor Network participated in a “teach-in” attended by many students and workers – an event that reflected on Catholic Social Teaching on labor unions and worker justice and made the case why these workers deserved the protection of a union contract. Read more

Family Wage

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine Part Thirteen, Poverty by Bill Droel

It’s published in Wall St. Journal (4/30/23), so it must be true. It’s an essay about wages by Michael Lind. He begins with a quotation from Adam Smith (1723-1790), a theorist for modern capitalism. For capitalism to thrive, Smith says employees must get a family wage.
Family wage is a principle of Catholic social doctrine. A slogan from Unite Here, a union of hotel workers with headquarters in Manhattan, is a good paraphrase of our Catholic principle: “One Job Should Be Enough.” Our U.S. bishops described a family wage in their 1919 Program of Social Reconstruction. Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) has it in his 1931 encyclical Reconstructing the Social Order, as does Vatican II (1962-1965). St. John Paul II (1920-2005) also writes about it. The idea is that one wage earner should be paid at least enough to support a family, including its education needs, some funds for leisure plus for modest savings. The amount of that wage can differ by location and by the type of job. A family can have a second wage earner, but the family’s survival should not depend on that arrangement. St. John Paul II emphasizes that the measure of a society’s justice is its wage structure. All other compensations and social policies and management plans are accessories.
Lind says that our economy does not abide by the family wage principle but uses a model he calls low-wage/high-welfare. Many employees get inadequate pay but stay afloat through Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, housing vouchers and more. In other words, as Lind writes, “taxpayers pay to rescue workers whose work does not pay enough.”
Lower wages allow for lower costs which benefit some consumers. For example, middle-class and upper-class families are winners in the low-wage/high welfare economy when they hire housekeepers or landscapers. The losers are taxpayers and of course the underpaid.
Matthew Desmond in Poverty, By America (Crown, 2023) agrees. Poverty resists elimination despite charitable endeavors and social welfare because some people benefit from the poverty of others. “Poverty is an injury, a taking,” says Desmond. Normally, people are unaware of how their lifestyle depends on the perpetuation of poverty. However, Desmond’s book makes it plain, using many examples including our tolerance for insubstantial wages.
There’s a corollary to the principle of a just wage. Because an employee agrees to a sub-level wage the criteria for justice is not met. Adherence to this aspect of Catholic doctrine means, for example, that a pastor cannot morally pay a teacher less than a just wage because the teacher understands the job as a vocation. The standard is objective, not subjective. That standard does, however, take into account that a just wage in a small town, for example, might be lower than a comparable wage in Manhattan.
There is plenty of room for debate as to how to achieve just wages. Lind mentions collective bargaining, but he is not happy about a bargaining unit at one Starbucks and then a different unit at the next Starbucks. He suggests sector or multi-employer bargaining might be better. This idea is like the Catholic idea of an industry council plan. To be continued…

For more on this topic get St. John Paul II’s Gospel of Work edited by Bill Droel (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $8.)

St. Joseph: A Servant Worker

May 1, international workers’ day, is celebrated in the Catholic Church as the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. For the occasion, Catholic Labor Network Spiritual Moderator Fr. Sinclair Oubre offers the following reflection:

St. Joseph: A Servant Worker

As a young seminarian, I came across the writings of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. I don’t remember which books I was reading, but I was very impressed by his idea of our work being a participation in God’s ongoing creation.

My first maritime job was in the summer of 1978. I was in the lazaret prepping the steel for priming and painting.

The space was hot and filled with paint fumes, but what kept chanting in my head, no matter how mundane and unseen this job was, “You are participating in God’s on going creation, and how you do your job is joined together with God’s ongoing creation.”

As I worked, I was a servant to the ship. Though insignificant, my work made the vessel better, which made life onboard better, which made the operations better, which made the company better, which made the industry better, which made transportation better, which eventually made God’s creation better.

St. Joseph’s work was in service of Jesus Christ’s salvation.

St. Joseph placed himself as the service of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In spite of the social scandal of her pregnancy, he labored to support her.

When it was necessary to flee Bethlehem for Egypt, he did not hesitate, but took on the work of preparation, planning, and travel. When the Holy Family arrived in Egypt, he took up his tools again, and worked in service of his family’s well-being. After a certain amount of time, it was time to move the family back to Nazareth, where he took up his tools again in service of sustaining the family.

I find that our contemporary world places a lot of emphasis on each person’s work being at the service of the person’s career. In the end, the individual may advance his or her career, but that person has done nothing to cooperate with God’s ongoing creation.

On this Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, may he intercede for us. May all our work be at the service of God’s ongoing creation, and be in harmony with God’s ongoing redemption.

Workers’ Memorial Day

Every year, work-related injuries claim the lives of approximately 5,000 Americans – and a much larger number fall victim of occupational diseases after extended workplace exposures to hazardous substances. That’s why workers across the United States and beyond mark April 28 as “Workers’ Memorial Day.” It’s a day of remembrance for those killed on the job.

Death on the job may be a rarity for those of us fortunate enough to work in offices, but it’s a reality for millions of our brothers and sisters working in sectors such as agriculture, transportation, construction and manufacturing. Tractors roll over. Trucks collide. Roofers fall from great heights. Factory workers are crushed in powerful machinery.

Every one of these deaths is preventable.

Work is part of the created order. In Scripture we read how God placed Adam and Eve in the garden and directed them to tend it. Made in the image and likeness of our Creator, we were expected to continue the work of Creation with our own labor. But God never intended work to be a death sentence.

Too often, employers cut corners on worker safety to cut costs, and tragedy results. OSHA investigations following a worker’s death routinely discover that basic safety measures had been neglected to speed up production. This must not continue.

This Friday, there will be events across the country in memory of those who have died on the job. I would encourage you to mark Workers’ Memorial Day in some fashion. Pray for the souls of those who died from workplace injuries or illnesses. Attend a memorial service. Lift up your voice for worker safety with a letter to the editor or a social media post.

In the words of Mother Jones, one of our Catholic labor heroes: Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living!

Embrace: A Triduum Reflection

By Catholic Labor Network Spiritual Moderator Fr. Sinclair Oubre

Back in 2001, I was reassigned from my position as a tribunal judge to a parish pastor. To put it mildly, I was not excited about getting back to being pulled in numerous directions, and trying to shoehorn a full pastoral program into a pastor-plus-part-time-secretary budget.

Over the first three weeks, after the morning Mass, I would sit before the large crucifix in the main church, and explain to Jesus on the cross how much my life sucked.

This would go on for about ten minutes, and Jesus would just hang there and listen to me complain, and in the silence my conscience would finally prod me with the truth, “Well, my day is not going to be as bad as your day was!”

Three weeks passed before Jesus convinced me that no matter how bad my days as pastor may be, they would never be so bad as his day. At that point, I just turned my attention to doing the best I could with this small and wonderful parish community.

In the end, I came to understand that things go so much better when I “embraced the cross of Jesus.”

As we approach the most sacred feast of the entire Catholic liturgical year, I invite you to also do some “embracing.”

Go to your parish church for the Feast of the Lord’s Supper this Thursday, and embrace the Eucharist, the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ under the form of bread and wine.

As St. Charles de Foucauld said so well, “You are there, my Lord Jesus, in the Holy Eucharist. You are there but a few feet from me . . . Your body, you soul, you humanity, your divinity, your entire being is there in its double nature! How close you are, God!”

Go to your parish church for Good Friday services. Embrace the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Journey with him from the Garden of Gethsemane to the tomb at Mount Calvary. Stand with Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary of Magdala, and John the Evangelist, and embrace what love Jesus poured out on our behalf.

Go to your parish church for the Easter Vigil, and embrace the light of the Easter fire, the mystery of the empty tomb, and the voice of the angel announcing that our Lord Jesus Christ is risen.

Also, embrace the newest members of your parish. Embrace with joy those who have been born again in Christ through baptism. Embrace those who have made a profession of faith in the Church that Jesus founded, and embrace those who have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Embrace them as brothers and sisters, and through that embrace, assure them that you will walk with them as intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.

Washington DC Food Service Workers Mobilize for $20 Minimum

Compass Group, a national food service vendor, operates cafeterias throughout Washington DC. Its employees feed students at Catholic University of America (CUA), George Washington University, and American University; tourists and visitors at the Smithsonian Institution museums; and diplomats at the World Bank. Unfortunately, in today’s inflationary environment, too many Compass Group workers earn less than a living wage.

Compass workers are organizing to fix that, and you can help.

The Compass workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 23. Last week they brought their campaign to CUA in a joint event with faculty and student groups (pictured). The workers, many of whom work multiple jobs, are asking for a wage floor of $20 per hour and affordable family health care coverage.

In just a couple of weeks, the World Bank holds its annual Spring meetings. UNITE HERE members will be picketing outside the Compass cafeteria at the World Bank, urging Compass to support some economic development for underpaid workers in the Washington DC area by accepting a fair contract for their cafeteria employees. Supporters are invited to join them at the World Bank (1818 H Street, NW, Washington DC) April 12 at 4pm.

Can’t make it to DC for that action? Take a minute to sign a petition in support of Local 23 Compass Workers!


Reflections on the Most Reverend Fernand Joseph Cheri, III, OFM

Courtesy of CLN Board Member Donna Mitchell

After a lengthy illness, the Most Reverend Fernand Joseph Cheri, III, OFM, Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans, transitioned on March 21, 2023. New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Michael Aymond expressed what most who knew Bishop Cheri are feeling about this 71-year-old Black Catholic icon: “We mourn his death and thank God for his life and ministry.”

The dioceses with the largest percentage of Black Catholics are centered in the Deep South.   Black Catholicism has much of its roots and current fervor in New Orleans.  Bishop Cheri was a product of this heritage. He was one of only seven Black Bishops in the United States. He was a true New Orleanian and the pride of Black Catholics in his native city. It is not often that a priest is educated and serves most of his life in his native city. Bishop Cheri was the exception. He attended Epiphany Elementary School and St. John Prep in New Orleans.  He received a Masters of Divinity at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and a Masters of Theology from the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University, New Orleans. His matriculation at St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, Louisiana was the exception.

Bishop Cheri was ordained to the priesthood on May 20, 1978 at St. Louis Cathedral, the year I graduated from high school. I have seen his constructive influence in the community most of my life.  After his ordination, he served as Associate Pastor of several parishes around the archdiocese as well as pastor at St. Francis de Sales Parish in New Orleans.

In 1996, he made his solemn profession in the Order of Friars Minor in the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and became a Franciscan.  Bishop Cheri spent several years dedicated to campus ministry at Quincy University in Quincy, IL. He returned to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, when his Episcopal Ordination as Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans, and Titular Bishop of Membressa took place on March 23, 2015.  He served as Auxiliary Bishop since his ordination and recently served the people of St. Peter Claver Parish, a predominately Black parish since 1920, as Administrator.

His gift of song was his trademark. In the beginning, ending and sometimes in the middle of his homilies he included a relevant song. Bishop Cheri was a popular guest speaker and revivalist. He traveled within the Archdiocese of New Orleans and nationally preaching and sharing his love of music. He loved ministering to the youth. I fondly remember the invigorating message he addressed the youth at my parish’s confirmation mass a few years ago, capturing their attention with song throughout the service. During COVID, when many watched televised masses, he was seen often at St. Louis Cathedral encouraging all through his homily, singing, and broad infectious smile. He was also an unapologetic supporter of social justice.  After the George Floyd murder he led a large peaceful march that ended in a prayer service titled “The Requiem of the Black Children of God”.

In addition to his pastoral assignments, Bishop Cheri served as a member of the College of Consultors, was a teacher at St. Augustine High School, New Orleans, and campus minister at Xavier University, New Orleans.  He served as the Vocation Minister for the OFM St. Louis Province, served on the Archbishop James P. Lyke Foundation, Catholic Campus Ministry Association, Episcopal Liaison to the African Congress Board of Trustees, and convener of the U.S. African American Bishops. Bishop Cheri was also very influential and active with the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver and the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University.

I thank God for Bishop Cheri’s positive impact in the lives of so many; black and white, residing in New Orleans and those across the country who knew him.  His smile, humor, charisma, and gift of delivering God’s word through song and storytelling will be greatly missed.

Starbucks Baristas Strike 100+ Stores

In the latest development at Starbucks, workers at more than 100 unionized Starbucks locations walked off the job Wednesday to protest unfair labor practices by the coffee giant. The move came as the company prepared for its annual shareholder meeting today.

In a union organizing campaign with few parallels in recent decades, Starbucks baristas have been standing up and forming unions in stores around the United States at a rapid clip. Starting with a Buffalo Starbucks in late 2021, nearly 300 Starbucks stores have voted to organize with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Workers at dozens more have filed for union elections. Still, this represents only a fraction of the company’s 9,000+ American locations.

Starbucks responded by bringing back retired CEO Howard Schultz to fight the union drive using fair means or foul. Starbucks has repeatedly fired or disciplined union activists; closed stores that voted the union in; and awarded raises to workers at stores that HAVEN’T organized while denying the same raises to workers at union stores. According to the union’s count, the National Labor Relations Board has issued more than 70 complaints against Starbucks, encompassing over 1,200 alleged violations of labor law. Workers have asked customers to refrain from purchasing Starbucks Gift Cards until the company decides to treat its workers fairly.

Will Spring 2023 mark a turning point at the company? Schultz has vacated the corner office; new CEO Laxman Narasimhan will have to decide which direction to lead the company. Shareholders, meanwhile, are voting on a proposal for a third-party workers’ rights audit.

It’s past time for Starbucks to deal fairly with its employees – ending retaliation against union activists and bargaining in good faith with those who have formed unions. Please avoid Starbucks gift cards and pray for a change of heart on the part of Starbucks management!

Child Labor Returning to the United States?

It is hard to believe that in the twenty-first century child labor would be a problem in the United States. Yet recent developments have demonstrated that this is indeed the case, and that there are elected officials in the United States who would like to expand its scope.

Just last month the nation’s conscience was rattled when the Department of Labor announced a $1.5 million fine for Packer Sanitation Services, which had employed more than 100 underage children cleaning equipment in some of the nation’s largest meatpacking facilities. At least most of us were rattled – apparently some were merely intrigued. A state legislator in Iowa proposed legalizing child labor in these dangerous packinghouses; a counterpart in Minnesota proposed lowering the age limit on work in construction, another highly hazardous industry. Last week Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill into law making it easier for 14 and 15 year old children to work.

There should be no question where the Church stands on this. In 2021, the Vatican convened a conference on child labor. Pope Francis told the participants:

It is shocking and disturbing that in today’s economies, whose productive activities rely on technological innovations, so much so that we talk about the “fourth industrial revolution”, the employment of children in work activities persists in every part of the world. This endangers their health and their mental and physical well-being, and deprives them of the right to education and to live their childhood with joy and serenity. The pandemic has further aggravated the situation.

Children belong in school, not the packinghouse or construction site. Alongside Pope Francis, the Catholic Labor Network firmly opposes today’s renaissance of child labor.


Most economists would have us believe that the free market is the best form of social organization. Each individual is the best judge of his or her own needs and should be free to negotiate every economic transaction with minimal public regulation or interference. People are rational and knowledgeable; they are capable of calculating costs and benefits with relatively little error, maximizing their well-being. A just wage or price is the one that the market dictates. Economic growth entails economic inequality. Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Governments serve society best by doing least.

Then there’s Anthony Annett. In Cathonomics – How Catholic Tradition Can Create a More Just Economy, he sets out to show that the world doesn’t work that way. And the way the world DOES work is much closer to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching than libertarian free market ideals.

Annett, who spent two decades at the International Monetary Fund, must have heard the case for small government and free markets hundreds of times as IMF economists demanded developing countries adopt neoliberal reforms as the price of a bailout. Today he’s in more congenial environs as a senior adviser for the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

In his book, published last year by Georgetown University Press, Annett begins by reviewing the roots of Catholic Social Teaching in Scripture and the encyclicals before comparing its assumptions with those of neoclassical economics. “Homo Economicus,” the rational utility-maximizing individual that powers economic models, is found to be less than universal, to say the least. Annett argues that Catholic Social Teaching – which suggests that sometimes solidarity must take precedence over competition, that there are limits to accumulating goods, that individuals ought to defer to the common good – is a better fit for the world we live in.

Annett gives only limited attention to labor unions. He notes that “Catholic social teaching also strongly supports the rights of workers to form and join unions and to bargain collectively, one of the strongest and most consistent elements of its labor market ethics (165),” and goes on to cite Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis on the topic of labor unions. But it’s clear that his heart is with the developing world. Annett devotes much of his effort to identifying parallels between Catholic Social Thought and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Thanks to Pope Francis and Laudato Si, Catholic Social Teaching today is also heavily focused on environmental protection in general and global warming in particular. Annett picks up this theme as well. No other topic better illustrates the dangers of free-market fundamentalism. After all, for two centuries firms have been collecting profits from their activities while “externalizing” the costs of global warming by pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“My basic contention is that neoliberalism inculcates and amplifies the wrong values. It is time to try something different,” Annett concludes (284). He’s not wrong.