In the wake of a headline-making scuffle between legislators, the whole nation has learned about “SB4,” the Texas legislation targeting “sanctuary cities.” But the Texas Catholic Conference and the Texas AFL-CIO have been fighting the proposal for months. SB4 would prohibit “sanctuary” policies adopted by police departments in cities across the Lone Star State to win trust and cooperation in immigrant communities. They assured even the undocumented that the police were there to fight crime, not enforce federal immigration laws.
by Bill Droel
Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (1928-1996) of Chicago urged his fellow Catholics to adopt a consistent ethic of life; to honor the inherent dignity of each person from conception to natural death. Some Catholic leaders harshly criticized him, arguing that some issues warranted more attention than others. “Bernardin deserves a fresh hearing,” writes Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago in Commonweal (6/2/17). Bernardin’s articulation of Catholic morality transcends “the partisan political framework” in which so much of today’s thinking is trapped, Cupich continues. In particular, the Catholic principle of solidarity draws together what are often treated “as discrete topics… Solidarity, consistently applied across a full range of issues that impact our human interactions, is required” at this moment.
Not everyone welcomes the implications of solidarity, Cupich admits. It “is a word that frightens the developed world. People try to avoid saying it. Solidarity to them is almost a bad word.” Thus if the word is the only hang up, Saint John Paul II (1920-2005) offers synonyms for solidarity, including social charity, civilization of love and friendship. Plus, as suggests Cupich and Bernardin, the phrase consistent ethic of life captures the same meaning. Whatever the preferred term, solidarity is a Catholic contribution to our fractured world; one which, according to Cupich, can evoke a sense of pride.
But, can it work? Is it possible for a Catholic to transcend our “partisan political framework” and be consistent on public policy?
Heath Mello, a Catholic and a Democrat from Cupich’s hometown of Omaha, recently ran for mayor. Mello happens to be consistently pro-life. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent, supported him. So did a couple of prominent Democrats. However, many Democrats stayed away from Mello, reports Peggy Steinfels in Chicago Catholic (5/14/17), as does Robert David Sullivan in America (5/15/17). Mello lost; his opponent received about 53% of the mayoral vote.
In late April Thomas Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, proclaimed that the party would not support any pro-life candidate. Perez made this comment fully aware that Catholics have for several years defected from his party in part because of its seemingly monolithic stance on abortion. Thankfully, Rep. Nancy Pelosi corrected Perez, saying that Democrats are allowed to have differing opinions. Pelosi, of course, is pro-abortion though she is Catholic.
There are Republicans who happen to be Catholic. They too are pressured to choose one over the other on the issues. For example, Catholic business leaders who support a family wage and who want to be Republicans must overcome the prevailing stance within their party. Some have joined Business for a Fair Minimum Wage to express their position. They and others point to surveys of executives and small business owners that back a wage increase, including those conducted by Luntz Global, Small Business Majority and American Sustainable Business Council.
A more accurate Republican counterpart to Mello of Omaha would be a consistent Catholic who, like Mello, is against current abortion policies and also supports the Catholic doctrine on labor relations. Such a person (if one could be found) would have great difficulty getting Republican support for any candidacy.
These examples are not meant to discourage anyone from the challenge of solidarity. Bishops and other Church employees must continue to advocate simultaneously for issues that are usually treated as one-or-the-other, or as one for now maybe the other at another time. It is, however, lay people who must prudently apply Catholic principles in complex settings. Mello gets along fine within the Democratic party with his stance on budget matters, social service delivery and more. Members of his party don’t care all that much if he now and then expresses his general opinion about abortion. His unique opportunity (and his perilous decision) occurred when inside his workplace as a state senator Mello voted for fetal ultrasounds—a small piece of a large debate. Such calculated opportunities can occur for ordinary lay people within their normal setting of family life, the neighborhood, professional association, local precinct, labor local, and—let’s be honest—parish clubs and committees.
Obtain Droel’s booklet on solidarity, Public Friendship, from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)
The Working Catholic: Wages
by Bill Droel
The living wage movement improves family life for targeted workers but has little spillover effect on wages, employment rates or poverty in the wider region, concludes researcher Benjamin Sosnaud in Social Service Review (1427 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637).
In June 1993 BUILD (2439 Maryland Ave., Baltimore, MD 21218; www.buildiaf.org) launched what is considered the first living wage campaign. It came out of frustration over the federal minimum wage; fixed at $7.25 since 2009. Many leaders in BUILD, active in their churches, observed growing use of church-based soup kitchens and pantries by the working poor. These church members concluded that minimum wage jobs at $7.25 were not sufficient to escape poverty. Since the 1993 campaign, several cities, towns or counties have enacted an ordinance that requires a living wage for its own employees and those of its contractors. However, a living wage ordinance leaves the federal minimum in place for other workers and, as Sosnaud details, it does not encourage other employers to improve wages.
Thanks to Fight for $15 (www.fightfor15.org) and to several other groups the positives of the living wage campaign are now extended. A national restaurant chain, for example, can agree to raise the minimum for all its workers. And notably, there are campaigns to raise the minimum across the board in specific locales. In fact, at least 37 cities or counties, plus California and New York have a local minimum wage that supersedes the federal. Similar legislation is pending in four more states.
Contrary to the Republican philosophy of local control, several Republican-dominated state legislatures are blocking state or municipal wage ordinances with what is called preemption bills. The pushback includes attempts to reverse existing wage ordinances.
Add a longstanding Catholic term to this discussion: a family wage. This concept somewhat differs from federal minimum wage, living wage and local wage. Saint John Paul II (1920-2005), among several Catholic commentators, defines a family wage as “a single salary given to the head of the family…sufficient for the needs of the family without the spouse having to take up gainful employment outside the home.” Interestingly, even though the family wage principle is found in official Church documents, it is mostly a contribution from the United States. It was promoted by Msgr. John A. Ryan (1869-1945) of Minnesota. See for example his book, A Living Wage, MacMillan, 1906.
Nowadays, Catholic moralists have backed away from the family wage in favor of calls for job training, tax reform, affordable day care and wage increases. That’s because proposals for a family wage sound sexist. In itself the principle does not say only men should work outside the home and women must be full-time homemakers. It does not say that a family wage cannot be supplemented with the earnings of the second parent. Further, it applies equally to single-parent families. In some applications of the family wage certain allotments count toward the total. For example, several countries have a family allowance program in recognition of children as a social resource. These allotments are not related to the family’s regular income; they are not like welfare.
Those who desire justice might focus on one or more issues: real estate practices, civil liberties for gays, social service delivery, criminal court reform, treatment of mentally ill and many more topics. In Catholicism justice begins and ends with wages. “In every case a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system,” writes John Paul II.
Take a hospital as one example. Its managers and board members are good people who contribute to the wider community whenever possible. Its workers sign-on with eyes wide open. Communication throughout the hospital flows as openly as possible. Employee birthdays are routinely celebrated. The hospital matches employee contributions to a pension plan to a degree. Grievances are treated seriously. There is, all things considered, a minimum of gossip. The wages for some workers, however, do not meet the criteria of a living wage or a family wage. Keep in mind: everyone has good intentions—administrators, supervisors, janitors, technicians, security guards, everyone. That hospital, Catholicism says, is operating unjustly and contributing to an unjust economy… Wait a minute.
Moralizing is counter-productive. The hospital in this example is part of insurance reimbursement systems with rates that don’t always cover the hospital expenses. In fact, our hypothetical hospital serves many poor patients whose insurance is minimal. The excellent doctors and nurses at our hospital are free to take their services to a “competitor.” Our hospital does not control costs for new equipment. In other words, to achieve just wages many sectors of the economy must improve. One executive here and another there can lead by example, but each is powerless without efforts across the industry and maybe around the globe.
Moralizing is worthless. Justice starts this afternoon with a small group. The ripples of justice gradually find one another to eventually form a tidal wave. Meanwhile, tomorrow afternoon another small group devises a plan for improvement and likewise seeks other groups interested in their plan.
Droel is editor of John Paul II’s Gospel of Work (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $8)
The adjunct instructors at St. Martin’s University have made clear that they want to be represented by a labor union and bargain collectively with their employer, a right expressly protected in Catholic social teaching. The university administration has refused to do so, arguing that bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act would constitute an assault on their religious liberty.
Although many other Catholic colleges and universities, such as Georgetown, Trinity Washington and Saint Louis University, have bargained with adjunct employee unions under these conditions without incident, the adjuncts — not wishing to place a stumbling block (1 Cor 8:9) in the administrators’ path — offered to bargain outside the framework of the Act as many Catholic K-12 schools do. Sadly, the administration has refused to do this as well.
The Catholic Labor Network recently addressed a letter to President of St. Martin’s, urging him to reconsider. CLICK HERE to read the letter.
Congratulations to Saint Louis University and its adjuncts! A little more than a year after adjunct instructors voted for union representation by SEIU Local 1, the two sides negotiated a tentative contract in late April. Saint Louis University has joined Georgetown, Trinity Washington and other Catholic colleges and universities that demonstrate their commitment to Catholic Social Teaching by bargaining with unions their employees have chosen. Some other schools, however, seem to look for ways to avoid compliance with Catholic teaching on the rights of workers.
SLU, Georgetown and Trinity have found no contradiction between exercising their faith and bargaining with unions under the National Labor Relations Act, but St. Martin’s has expressed concerns that doing so would endanger their religious liberty. The adjuncts, so as not to place a stumbling block in the administrators’ path (1 Cor 8:9), offered to bargain outside the framework of the Act as many Catholic K-12 schools do. The university has steadfastly refused.
The Catholic Labor Network recently addressed a letter to President of St. Martin’s, urging him to reconsider. You can find the letter posted HERE.
The Bergen County Record reports that St. Mary’s hospital is laying off 20 nurses and techs, members of JNESO, a regional healthcare union affiliated with the IUOE (International Union of Operating Engineers). The Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth established the Passaic NJ hospital more than a century ago, but in recent years it had struggled financially, paving the way for a sale. The controversial corporate hospital chain Prime Healthcare acquired ownership in 2015. Prime committed to honor the Ethical and Religious Directives guiding Catholic healthcare as a condition of the sale. As the Record reported:
News of the cuts comes during National Nurses Week, the largest event recognizing nurses and their contribution to health care. “It’s kind of like saying, ‘Thank you, you’re fired,’ ” said Doug Placa, executive director of JNESO District Council 1, the union representing more than 400 nurses and technicians at St. Mary’s.
The hospital blamed the state of New Jersey, saying that the state had reduced its support for the hospital’s Charity Care provided to the poor and uninsured.
(Hmm — I always thought when hospitals reported “charity care” on their balance sheets it was because they were providing care to the poor without payment, not that they were getting paid by the taxpayers. I guess at least at Prime that’s not the way it works.)
The Working Catholic by Bill Droel
“Your sad story doesn’t obligate me or anybody else to pay for somebody else’s health care,” says a former Congressman from Illinois. He has apparently forgotten the definition of insurance (a hedge or cushion against risk), which is normally achieved by spreading the cost of a problem (a car accident, a fire, a surgery) among a more-or-less random pool of people. More importantly, this former legislator (now a radio commentator) and many others like him have forgotten an crucial part of moral philosophy.
Our United States culture prizes liberty. It is marvel the way our country’s founders and its citizens to this day have woven liberty into our laws, our civic affairs, our business practices, our expressions of faith and more. This is something new in the long history of civilization. We correctly invoke the virtue of liberty or freedom at sports events, in schools, in discussions of military deployment, in TV commercials, in policy debates and more. Frequently, however, we forget that liberty is a social virtue and that it is part of a constellation of other virtues. Instead, we too often equate liberty with ragged individualism.
Individualism is now the default position of our culture. It says that goodness is achieved when at the end of the day (or the end of the financial quarter or fiscal year) the greatest number of people gets the best results possible. The mechanism is individual choice. The maximum number of choices, says individualism, will somehow yield maximum benefits—though not for all people, but for the most people. This is a philosophy for lazy thinkers. It reduces liberty or freedom to choices or options. Should we install a dish or connect with cable? Should we marry or simply live together? Should we help one another with health insurance or allocate for our own family exclusively?
Individual liberty is an achievement, but individualism, particularly as currently presented by some ideologues in our society, is destructive. Yes to communitarian individuals; no to extreme individualism.
The principle of the common good recognizes that many important things cannot be obtained by individuals. Many good things can only be obtained in common: public safety, effective fire-fighting in urban areas, roads and airports, libraries (including all cyber-research), clean water and access to health care. No matter how wealthy the former Congressman might be, he cannot have all these good things unless he cooperates. In fact, many people never use an airport but their taxes subsidize the airport that the Congressman uses. Many never go to college, but taxpayers underwrote his education. His tuition did not fully cover the costs of running those schools.
The common good, which was always part of the United States experiment in democracy, complements the so-called free market and in fact it makes the market better. The common good is not reducible to the sum total of individual choices. It imposes considerations on those who are expressing an opinion and acting on a calculated choice. If we forget about the common good, we sooner or later lose society.
Of course, the common good does not give wholesale endorsement to the Affordable Care Act. It does not endorse Trump/Ryan Care. Reasonable citizens can reasonably differ about the delivery of health care. In fact, the common good does not even necessitate a health insurance system. Theoretically, normal health care (the requirement of the common good principle) could be inexpensively available to all if pharmaceutical executives, doctors, hospital administrators and others were paid the same wage as their patients.
The former Illinois Congressman, who lists himself as a Catholic, puts the matter of health care delivery under the virtue of compassion. “It is compassion for me to voluntarily help someone else,” he says. It is not a virtue for the government “to forcibly take the money I make.”
Here again, he and many others don’t realize that compassion or love is a commandment or a requirement. It is not merely optional. Likewise, he forgets to put compassion into the constellation of social virtues. For example, distributive justice is the virtue that obligates an authority, like the government, to allocate resources so that all have the common goods.
Extreme individualism is bad for our culture, bad for business, bad for United States image abroad and bad for legitimate debate about government meddling in health care, about tax incentives for domestic job creation, about improvements in education outcomes, about women’s reproductive health, about enforcing the civil rights of gays and lesbians, about reform inside civil service unions, about extraction and use of domestic natural resources. Extreme libertarians on the right and on the left are hurting our society.
From its earliest days, visitors to our country have been impressed with our teamwork, our sense of community, our voluntary associations, our inclusiveness and our collective dedication to the common good. We prosper and pursue our happiness to the extent that we pull together and that we refute mindless comments about “my own health care.”
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a print newsletter about faith and work.
April 28, 2017 is observed across much of the world as Workers’ Memorial Day. On this day we pause to remember the millions of workers who give their lives each day planting and harvesting our food, building our homes and cars, paving our roads and shipping our goods. The International Labor Organization has estimated that more than 2 million workers each year die in traumatic accidents or from occupational diseases such as black lung, asbestosis and cancers caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Four years ago Pope Francis fixed our eyes on this issue with his sharp response to the Rana plaza disaster, when more than one thousand Bangladeshi garment workers were killed in a building collapse. But we don’t need to go to South Asia to find examples of this injustice. In America every year nearly 5,000 workers die from traumatic workplace injuries, and an estimated 50,000 from occupational diseases (cancers, heart disease and respiratory disorders caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals or other unhealthy working conditions).
Want details? Check out Death on the Job, the AFL-CIO’s annual report on worker safety and health.
America’s official Labor Day falls in September, but the world’s Labor Day is May 1. That includes the Church, which celebrates this day as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. This year’s Mayday is shaping up to be an especially active one, because immigrant workers have organized a day of walkouts, rallies and demonstrations to respond to recent executive actions targeting immigrants. The AFL-CIO and several national and local labor organizations have endorsed this action and provided critical support. How are you celebrating the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker? Share your plans in the comment section below!
America is being treated to another unedifying spectacle on the religious freedom v. worker justice front. Some Catholic hospital chains that have systematically underfunded their employees’ retirement plans are before the Supreme Court invoking religious freedom protections to evade accountability.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) protects the retirement of most private sector workers, requiring employers to set aside funds to cover their employees’ promised retirement benefits, so employees aren’t suddenly left destitute in their old age if the company runs into financial trouble. But Congress exempted church employee retirement plans from ERISA coverage – and for the past couple of decades, the IRS has permitted Catholic hospitals to claim this exemption.
If all Catholic hospitals had properly funded their retirement plans anyway – just because it’s good corporate governance and the right thing to do for your employees – there’d be nothing to see here. Unfortunately, some succumbed to the temptation to balance today’s budgets by reducing pension contributions or assuming unrealistic returns. Now Dignity Healthcare (formerly Catholic Healthcare West) has more than $1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and employees have sued, demanding to be made whole. Dignity and two smaller religious hospital groups are in the Supreme Court arguing that religious freedom renders them untouchable.
Religious hospitals are hardly the only institutions to exhibit this weakness. Public employee retirement programs are also excluded from ERISA, and many state and local governments made similar irresponsible moves. And our efforts as Catholics to protect the boundaries of religious freedom are valid and important. But for heaven’s sake, this is poor evangelization. When Catholic employers invoke religious freedom to deny their employees the right to organize, or to bargain, or to receive promised retirement benefits, certainly no one in America is saying “see how they love one another.”