Catholic Cemeteries of San Antonio strips workers of union rights

In an unfortunate setback for worker justice at Catholic institutions, Catholic Cemeteries of San Antonio has moved to strip cemetery workers of their union rights. The cemetery workers had been represented by the CWA for more than a decade when the union received a letter from the Catholic Cemeteries administrator Fr. Martin Leopold stating that they would no longer recognize the union after the current contract expired June 30.

Fr. Leopold’s letter made no attempt to reconcile the action with Catholic social teaching. It did, however, advise the employees they had no legal recourse, arguing that the First Amendment puts Catholic Cemeteries beyond the reach of U.S. law. The union is pursuing an appeal before the National Labor Relations Board.

Housing, Part 3

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

I just returned from St. Paul. In the early 1970s, as part of the War on Poverty, I lived and worked in a St. Paul neighborhood called West Seventh. On this and in previous visits I observe a drastically changed West Seventh. Its anchor, the Xcel Energy Center, opened in September 2000 as the home of the Minnesota Wild. (Lady Gaga performed there just after I left; too bad she missed me.) There are two hotels, one just opened. Several restaurants and bars line West Seventh, including a brand new brew house. Several medical facilities are there. A short walk down a hill leads to a string of condos on the east bank of the Mississippi River.
As I walked around West Seventh and around a couple other St. Paul neighborhoods, I thought about Richard Florida, who caused a stir with his Rise of the Creative Class (Basic Books [2002]; www.creativeclass.com). A city can recover from its post-industrial slump, Florida says, if it can attract and retain a sufficient number of educated young adults. The way to do so includes universities, trendy neighborhoods, an art scene, sports venues, public transportation, medical and research facilities, skilled jobs and more. Florida uses charts, a global creativity index and examples, including (on the positive front) Austin, Seattle, Boston and more. He implies that any place has the potential to thrive. Thus for a time his book and his talks were popular with regional meetings of mayors, at business conferences, among urban planners and professional associations and even some church organizations.

Now, however, Florida realizes that his prescription has a downside. Yes, “the concentration of talent and economic activity” makes a place thrive, he writes in The New Urban Crisis (Basic Books, 2017). But… think about it logically… those places might perhaps be any place, but cannot be all places. In fact, says Florida (again with demographics, charts and several lists of “star cities”), a concentrated thriving place causes inequality and eventually undermines the wider society, including the trendy place itself. Whereas 15 years ago Florida celebrated one side of the story, he now concentrates on the downside.

Housing issues are a big symptom of the downside—including wide disparity in real estate prices, lack of affordable housing, differences in municipal services and persistent discrimination. A thriving part of town, Florida convincingly shows, is not merely adjacent to another part of town. Concentrated urban prosperity contributes to “chronic, concentrated urban poverty…which remains the most troubling issue facing our cities.”
A handful of new books wail against gentrification. (These books will be considered in a subsequent blog.) Florida, who once was an unabashed proponent of gentrification, admits the obvious: Gentrification displaces the elderly and poor; it pushes them into neighborhoods that already have too much poverty. But “direct displacement of people by gentrification is not as big an issue as it is made out to be,” Florida explains. It is only a part of the inequality problem which unfortunately “is driven by the same economic motor that powers growth.”

Some illnesses cannot be tackled wholesale and head on. A change in behavior, however, gets at the illness indirectly. That is, treat the symptom to attack the bigger cause. Within that framework an affordable housing effort undertaken by the community organization in my own Chicago neighborhood, Southwest Organizing (www.swopchicago.org), might be the solution to global inequality. SWOP’s rehab of vacant structures will, of course, assist those families who move into the apartments. With some interplay among other advocacy groups and interested developers, this neighborhood project could be replicated and thereby somewhat offset the downside of the trendy growth that occurs in other Chicago neighborhoods and with more pinball effect the project could have some global implications.

Moralizing is not productive. A revitalized neighborhood is hardly in itself a bad thing. The best future for West Seventh, for all of St. Paul, for my neighborhood and for all of Chicago requires intense interaction among many imperfect institutions—each calling the others back to their original good purpose and each contributing to thick relationships that minimize each institution’s occasional miscues and shortsighted behavior.
To be continued with more housing examples…

Droel edits a printed newsletter on faith and work for National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

World Movement of Christian Workers meets in Avila; Pope Francis Sends Message

This July, the World Movement of Christian Workers – the international association of the faithful bringing together Catholic labor activists from every corner of the world – gathered in Avila for its International Seminar and General Assembly. Buoyed by a message from Pope Francis, the delegates reported how

During our meeting, we were able to welcome among us the main leaders of the Church and the trade union representatives of Spain, who encouraged us to continue building bridges between the world of the Church and the world of work…. We feel supported by Pope Francis in our task of evangelization. In his message to our Assembly, through the Bishop of Avila, the Pope invites us to « bring the Gospel closer to the world of work, so that the voice of workers continues to resonate within the Church; and to lead the struggle so that the whole world can live in dignity, with no one excluded from it. »

Nevertheless, they remain deeply concerned about the challenge of a global economy driven merely by profit.

We share our concerns about unemployment, the lack of decent jobs and the precarious labour relations around the world, and how these generate pain, suffering, death, lack of solidarity, despair, war, violence and migration. Profit is based on a model of labour relations which weakens labour law, collective bargaining, protection and social rights, as well as the representation and defense of workers. In one word, it is based on the impoverishment of life, dehumanization and inequality at work. These conditions affect the lives of millions of people and entire families irrespective of age, sex, race, irrespective of the place where they live. Young people, women and children (child labour) are also affected.

This suffering is the result of a system based on a culture of rejection that transforms people into goods. These characteristics are found in all countries, since we share a context of economic globalization which does not take into account solidarity and respect for the common good.   We feel challenged. The pain of the whole family of workers is our pain. We want to be a sign of hope and show signals of hope, personally and collectively. We want to maintain an attitude that strengthens our presence among our working brothers and sisters, so as to listen, accompany, train and denounce situations. This depends on our personal commitment and is how we can bringing about processes of humanization and allow Jesus to be visible through us, as a gesture and sign of love towards others, in our close, precarious and poor spaces. This goes together with an explicit commitment to increase global solidarity, in line with the international dimension of our movements.

Meeting these challenges can be achieved by continuing the evangelization of the world of work and announcing the good news, in line with the humanization project that God is pursuing for all and which places the person, made in his image and likeness, at the centre of all concerns.

CLICK HERE to read the Final Statement of the International Seminar and General Assembly of WMCW – Ávila (Spain) 2017 in its entirety.

Notre Dame de Namur, Faculty Union Reach First Contract

Hopeful news comes to us from Notre Dame de Namur University in California, which has joined Georgetown, Trinity Washington and several other Catholic colleges with faculty unions. Indeed, Notre Dame de Namur marks a special milestone, because the university agreed to bargain with tenured faculty as well as adjuncts. (Tenured  faculty are considered management employees and are not protected  by the Labor Board.) “In spite of differences that at times feel overwhelming that divide faculty from administration, unionization has for the first time provided a process for faculty and administration to work together constructively to serve our students,” education professor Bob Ferrara reported. One couldn’t find a better advertisement for Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work – a Catholic college and its employees in a mutually respectful bargaining relationship, seeking the common good.

Unfortunately, some other schools (Seattle University, Duquesne, and Manhattan College, to name a few) refuse to recognize the unions chosen by their adjunct faculty, despite Catholic Social Teaching on the rights of workers – and even present their actions as an exercise of religion! Such actions give a poor account of our faith and even risk scandalizing the faithful. If you doubt this, take note of Union Busting for God: Catholic Colleges Invoke “Religious Freedom” to Violate Catholic Teaching appearing in  June’s  USC Annenberg Religious Dispatches.

Garbage Justice

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

Martin Luther King (1929-1968), one of our country’s foremost leaders in race relations, is less remembered for his advocacy of the dignity of work.

The City of Memphis is sending a tax-free grant of $50,000 each to 13 retired sanitation workers, plus one more still on the job. This gesture, N.Y. Times (7/26/17) reports, is “an improvised fix to one of the most bitter legacies of Memphis’s labor history.”
In February 1968 two Memphis garbage workers died, crushed in a compactor. Their fellow workers caucused; lamented their low pay; detailed their unsafe work conditions; discussed joining AFSCME, a union; and called for a strike.
As the days passed, threats and confusion dominated the Memphis scene. King went there on March 18th to support the workers. He returned on March 28th for the same purpose. This time violent young adults roamed the streets. A curfew was imposed. King retreated to Atlanta and then to Washington.
King’s advisors discouraged further involvement in the Memphis situation, but he returned there. It is the lesson of the Good Samaritan parable, he said. “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers,” I am like those who passed by. Aware of threats against him, he preached: “But it doesn’t matter to me now… I may not get there with you… [But] we as a people will get to the promised land.” On April 4, 1968 King was murdered in Memphis.
The city reached a settlement with the workers on April 16th. Some details were hastily left incomplete, specifically about retirement. Thus all these years later, the 14 living workers who participated in the 1968 strike get $50,000 toward retirement.

Back during the 2001 New York City mayoral campaign, candidate Michael Bloomberg made what the press treated as a major gaffe: “Being a sanitation worker in this day and age is more dangerous than being a policeman or fireman.” His point could have been better made, but Bloomberg was correct—more injuries, more deaths. Garbage collectors fall from trucks, get hit by traffic, get cut by objects in bags, get injured or killed as they repair or clean equipment.
Robin Nagle was a driver for a 35-ton New York City garbage truck that she nicknamed Mona. Pedestrians obliviously walk in front of and behind Mona, she writes in Picking Up (Farrar, Straus, 2013). Residents think nothing of throwing out all manner of hazardous material. Plus the complaints.
In December 2010 New York City was paralyzed by snow. Sanitation workers were on the front line of storm clearance. Frustrated residents said that workers intentionally went slow during the recovery, as a passive-aggressive protest about work conditions. Nonsense, Nagle details. “Sanitation pride wraps around many things, but snow fighting is one of the biggest.” To punctuate her retort, Nagle tells about Mona in a five-truck caravan clearing an expressway. After an arduous push down a lane, the foreman led the trucks off a ramp. He gathered the drivers for a very profane pep talk—maybe unaware that one was a woman. The determined convoy quickly went up the opposite ramp and, says Nagle, “we did indeed bust the [vulgar noun that the foreman used for highway], just as we had on the northbound.”

These days health care delivery is a major topic. What two occupations most contribute to the delivery of our health? Plumber and garbage collector.

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

Wages Part II

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

Back in 1992 New Jersey raised its minimum wage. Social scientists David Card and Alan Krueger studied its effects. Specifically, they compared fast food restaurants in New Jersey with others in adjoining Pennsylvania, where wages were not raised—a total of 410 restaurants. Their findings, published in the September 1994 issue of American Economic Review (www.aeaweb.org), showed no decrease for fast food employment and no loss of profit in New Jersey. This study is frequently used to bolster an argument for a higher minimum wage.
Now there is a study from Seattle. The municipal minimum wage there was raised from $9.47 to $11 in 2014. Earnings increased only slightly, the study shows. There was a small drop in employment. Subsequently, as called for in the original legislation, the municipal minimum went from $11 to $13. In consequence, the independent study says, employers cut back the weekly hours of minimum wage workers. The $2 hourly increase for affected workers was wiped out by their lost hours.
What to conclude? Well, first a little more data. There is another independent study of the Seattle wage increase. It, however, only looks at fast food. It predictably finds increase in food service wages. Yet employment in food service remains the same. This is about the same conclusion as the early 1990s study in New Jersey.
Possible conclusions:
 Fast food tolerates wage increases better than other minimum wage sectors?
 A gradual wage increase is better than a sudden jump?
 A state-wide increase is better than a municipal increase?
 The global economy is so fluid that wages and employment vary year-to-year?
Both research teams looking at Seattle note that the matter is not settled. In fact, per the original legislation, Seattle’s minimum will go from $13 to $15. Studies are sure to follow.
There is meanwhile an intriguing experiment occurring in and around Ithaca, New York; located at the bottom of Cayuga Lake and home to an Ivy League school. The Tompkins County Worker’s Center (www.tcworkerscenter.org) has a Living Wage Employer project. It calculates that at the moment a living wage in their area is $14.34. (There are plenty of expert economists and mathematicians around town to keep the figures up to date.)
Any employer in the county can sign the Center’s pledge of $14.34. The employer gets a decal for its window and positive local publicity. So far, 102 employers are in the program. Some are churches, non-profits and public agencies that are sensitive to popular opinion. Others are private employers who are sensitive to their customers and their owners.
The program—here is its unique feature–is voluntary. Of course, just as the Center gives favorable publicity to the participants, it can lobby those employers that do not participate. A related feature of this program is not so much the $14.34, but the process of getting the decals in the windows. The process, The Working Catholic believes, is the real goal. Or say it this way: The process is what creates the favorable outcome.
Ideally the process of the living wage campaign is about nurturing community. Center leaders meet with, let’s say, the trustees of a congregation or the board of an agency or the managers of a private business. The Center explains its program and once the decal is in place, it encourages those trustees, board members and managers to meet and patronize others in the program. Plus, the beneficiaries (the $14.34 workers) are encouraged to shop at stores that are living wage certified. The program is effective to the extent that people feel they are part of a commonweal.
Just as a community is important among those who live, shop and work in the area, so too an internal community is crucial to a worker center. The leaders of a worker center must grow in perseverance and competence, sustained by reflection on their success and failure.
A worker center is somewhat new. It borrows from the old settlement house model, but it is not a place for comprehensive social services. It borrows from the labor movement, but a worker center does not and cannot engage in collective bargaining. It is not a legal clinic, though it knows labor law, immigration policy and more. It is not a multi-issue community organization with institutional members, though it networks with many community groups. Though it helps individual families, a worker center is an aggressive advocacy group around issues related to family life and work. Interfaith Worker Justice (www.iwj.org) here in Chicago serves as a hub for many worker centers.

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

Rehabbing Foreclosed Houses

The Working Catholic:
by Bill Droel

I moved into Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood in the late 1970s and within seven years bought the home there in which my family still resides. Neighborhood stability and the quality of housing were of concern in the 1970s and with ebbs-and-flows remain so today.
Prior to the real estate collapse of 2008, we were plagued by sub-prime lenders who deceived immigrant homebuyers. Thus, from the late 1990s and into the early years of this century our community organization, Southwest Organizing Project (www.swopchicago.org), made regular visits to those culpable lenders. I recall one Saturday when we went to a storefront loan office on Cicero Ave. bearing a nationally-known name. The manager who greeted us, I was surprised to see, was a young woman I had known since her grammar school days. She had no prior experience in real estate or in banking and thus, unsurprisingly, had no acceptable answers to our questions. On another day, in the company of our local bishop and many neighbors, SWOP took a walk and put a symbol on each property owned by a specific predatory lender. (No, we did not graffiti the property; it was a warning symbol.)
The international real estate collapse of 2008 hit our neighborhood hard. Late that year SWOP, which has 33 institutional members (several churches, a synagogue, a Muslim network, schools and agencies), produced a neighborhood map with a dot on each foreclosed property. Except for the 320-acre park area and some industrial property, the dots nearly blotted out the entire map. (For those who know Chicago: The map covers east of Midway Airport to Western Ave.; from 55th St. on the north to Marquette Park itself on the south. This map, by the way, proved useful to those attorneys representing our neighbors in eviction court. Despite their disgrace from the 2008 collapse, a handful of nationally-known banks continue to haunt our neighborhood with their zombie-like properties.)

SWOP leaders started to think about getting ahead of the problem. They decided to get into the housing rehab and rental business. As a pilot area, those leaders picked what until recent years was called the Lithuanian Corridor, a few blocks within the southeast corner of our neighborhood.
Back when I came to Chicago (the late 1970s) the Lithuanian Plaza was a fun spot—at least for me. Dinner in one of the small restaurants was hearty and inexpensive. A big wave of Lithuanian-Americans arrived in Chicago early in the 1900s. Many worked in the stockyards and related industries. In fact, the well-known novel about those stockyards, The Jungle by Upton Sinclar (1906), featured a Lithuanian-American protagonist. (For an update, get Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stockyard by our former neighbor Dominic Pacyga, University of Chicago Press, 2015.) In recent years several absentee landlords owned the houses in the former Lithuanian-American area. Then came the predatory lender invasion; a favorite tasty restaurant gave way to a shuttered storefront, other businesses closed and eventually the foreclosed houses appeared. The only remnants of a once vibrant Lithuanian-American community are a motherhouse for Sisters of St. Casmir, Draugas newspaper office several blocks away, a museum over on Pulaski Rd. and a monument in the park.

To meet its initial goal of reclaiming 100 housing units, SWOP sought help from Brinshore Development (www.brinshore.com), Local Initiatives Support Corp. (www.lisc-chicago.org), Neighborhood Housing Service (www.nhschicago.org) and the local affiliate of Industrial Areas Foundation, United Power (www.united-power.org).
In late May of this year my family, along with about 120 of our neighbors and some visitors from other areas around Chicago, gathered in the well-kept St. Adrian Catholic church in SWOP’s initial target area. The purpose was to launch an expansion of the rehab project to eventually total 70 blocks. SWOP estimates a need for $10million to complete this second phase. There was excitement at the meeting when LISC Chicago immediately pledged $1million.

Eviction has spillover effects, as Matthew Desmond compellingly details in Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Penguin Random House, 2016). The foreclosure crisis in SWOP’s target section of our neighborhood, for example, was accompanied by private school closings, an uptick in crime statistics and general transience. Thus, SWOP’s challenge of finding $9million is in a sense not the top priority. Hardware alone does not get us ahead; in itself it does not make for neighborly conviviality, for safety, or for educational attainment. SWOP wisely makes a priority of one-by-one relationships and consequently reports some reduction in crime in its original target area and somewhat improved standard test results in nearby public schools. Can the software side of neighborhood rehab continue along with the hardware side? And, is there some way SWOP’s success can be replicated elsewhere in our city? To be continued…

Droel edits a printed newsletter about faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629). To offset misinterpretation about our neighborhood, allow me to quickly share that over the first 20 years after our purchase, the value of our home increased three-fold. This period included the run up to the recession; then we took a hit. Now, the property value is back again to more than two and one/half times our original purchase.

Pope Francis addresses Italy’s AFL-CIO

On June 28, Pope Francis addressed Italy’s CISL/Confederation of Trade Unions, an umbrella organization of labor unions much like America’s AFL-CIO. The pope had much to share, especially for those of us called to pursue justice in the labor movement. The Holy Father observed that today’s market economy is anti-union precisely because it has cast off ethical and social responsibilities.

The capitalism of our time does not understand the value of the labor union, because it has forgotten the social nature of the economy, of the company. This is one of the greatest sins. Market economy: no. We say social market economy, as Saint John Paul II taught us.

Read more

Ohio AFL-CIO, Catholic Conference help beat back move to deny workers’ comp to immigrants

This year some Ohio legislators proposed excluding undocumented workers from workers’ compensation protections. Not so fast, said the Ohio AFL-CIO and the Buckeye state’s Catholic bishops. Both joined the chorus community groups, immigrant organizations, safety advocates and others fighting this unfortunate and counterproductive proposal. (Since workers’ compensation insurance premiums are based on a company’s claims history, forbidding undocumented workers from filing claims would create an incentive to hire more of them!) Congratulations to the Ohio labor movement and Church for this important act of witness.

Unions bargain for “sanctuary workplaces”

Catholic social justice advocates are well familiar with the concept of “sanctuary,” from its ancient expression in Mosaic Law, to the Sanctuary movement of the 1980s that protected refugees fleeing violence in Latin America, to the present movement for “sanctuary cities” that prioritize protecting immigrants over deporting the undocumented. Now labor journalist David Bacon has published an article about how unions are working to make the workplace a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

Perhaps most interesting are the efforts to bargain protective language into contracts. Bacon describes how the hotel workers’ union in Oakland, UNITE HERE Local 2850, is seeking contract language requiring employers to notify the union immediately in the event of an immigration raid – and to deny ICE agents access to the premises if they lack a warrant. CLICK HERE to read Fighting for the Sanctuary Workplace: Unions Mobilize to Protect Undocumented Workers in its entirety.