Maryland Catholic Conference, Maryland AFL-CIO unite to fight for paid sick leave

While many of us see paid sick leave as a standard employment benefit, a surprising number of low-paid service workers have no such benefit (a number that likely includes the cooks and waitstaff who served you the last time you ate out – think about that for a moment). But no one, whatever their job, should be working when they or a child are seriously ill. The Maryland AFL-CIO, the Maryland Catholic Conference, and dozens of other labor and faith-based organizations are working to address this problem with an “earned sick leave” law.

Activists have been pushing for a sick leave law in Maryland for five years. The Maryland Catholic Conference made sick leave law a legislative priority this year, and area Catholic activists were a visible presence in Annapolis pressing for the bill. Both the House and Senate have passed bills requiring  employers with more than 15 employees to provide limited paid sick leave to their workers (up to one week per year). Maryland Governor Larry Hogan wants to limit coverage to firms with more than 50 employees, and has threatened to veto the current legislation if it reaches his desk.

Similar efforts to promote paid sick day laws have been seen in many cities and states across the cross the country. Have you been part of one? Tell us about it in the comment section!

Living Wage Movement Arriving in America’s Airports

Credit: SEIU

Do you remember the breakthrough Sea-Tac referendum in November 2013? Inspired by the fight for $15, voters called for a $15/hour minimum wage at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, delivering a living wage to thousands of underpaid airport baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, and wheelchair attendants. Last fall 1,000 of these workers cemented their gains by winning recognition of their union, SEIU Local 6. Since that time, America’s airports have emerged as a central front in the fight for a living-wage economy.

In city by city, union organizers have assembled local coalitions bringing together workers, community groups, faith leaders and elected officials. The coalitions have been pressing for both union rights and wage floors at airports across the nation, understanding that neither one alone is sufficient to secure lasting gains for many low-paid service workers. In recent months 8,000 workers at Newark, LaGuardia and JFK won their first union contract; workers at Boston’s Logan Airport won a raise; and 600 workers at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport won recognition for their union, SEIU Local 26. Organizing efforts and living wage campaigns continue in Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Washington DC.

Have you been part of one of these coalitions? Tell your story below in the comments section!

Benign Neglect

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

Nearly every business leader agrees with the idea of corporate responsibility, said Stefano Zamagni at a Catholic Social Tradition conference held at University of Notre Dame late this March. To the extent that they know about Catholic doctrine, every Catholic business leader accepts our social doctrine. It would be the rare executive or board trustee who says, “I oppose corporate responsibility.” Or the rare Catholic in business who says, “I dissent from Catholic doctrine.”
However, behavior is different from language, continued Zamagni, who teaches at University of Bologna and who advises the Vatican. Many companies and executives (with exceptions) practice “moral disengagement.” They know how to neglect or turn off true moral standards. In other words, “they know how to make excuses,” said Zamagni.

The default position for business is utilitarianism or simple efficiency. A decision is proper if at the end of each day (or at the end of the fiscal year), that decision has produced more good than bad. Good decisions are those that create the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
“Utilitarianism is not an economic theory,” said Zamagni. It is not an objective morality. A business leader who uses this default method presumes that she can mathematically calculate good and bad outcomes. She brings her subjective opinions to a moral matter.

Here is an example. According to our 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church, a just wage cannot merely be an “agreement between the parties,” between the employer and employee. Such an agreement, even when signed by the employee, “is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.”
Oh come on, many Catholic businesspeople will moan. The employee exercised freedom of choice. The agreement is binding. Not so fast, said Zamagni. In many situations, including in the restaurant industry or at a bank, the employee cannot freely consent to the consequences of the pay rate because the wage structure rules were made by someone else. Maybe it wasn’t the manager of this or that restaurant; maybe not the local bank manager. But someone else (a multitude of others) brought their subjective opinion about outcomes to the wage structure.
The justice of a wage must be objectively determined, the Catechism says. Even within “the provisions of civil law,” employers can be morally guilty of exploitation in paying less than a family wage.

Here is a second example of moral disengagement. A religious order sponsors a Catholic institution, administered by a board and some executives. None of these people would ever say, “We don’t believe in Catholic doctrine.” Now, let’s say, some employees within the institution express interest in a union. Many of the leaders of that institution suddenly express a negative opinion about unions: “The Catholic doctrine is fine, but the union you are considering is not a proper fit.” Or: “When Pope/Saint John Paul II (1920-2005) devoted an entire encyclical to labor relations, he meant Poland not the United States.” Or: “Our religious order supports workers in Latin America but we know best when it comes to our students or our patients in the United States.” Those leaders (who are exemplary people in their private life) know how to, in Zamagni’s phrase, “turn off deterrents” and assert their calculated yet subjective opinion.

Catholic moral living is not easy because it is not based on what one feels or one assumes or one calculates. It is based on God’s objective revelation—which admittedly has to be applied with prudence in difficult situations.

For more on the Notre Dame conference, check out its Center for Social Concerns (www.socialconcerns.nd.edu).

Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work for NCL (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Lent Reading

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday this year. Thus, several Illinois bishops (though not all) and other bishops elsewhere “granted a dispensation” so that the faithful could thereby have corned beef on the feast. (Is there any evidence that workaday Catholics are incapable of making such decisions on their own? I met no such person during my evening out.)
By way of two bishops, here is an alternative to fretting about shamrocks and dispensations. Pope Francis suggests we read On Naboth by St. Ambrose (340-397), bishop of Milan. It is a 32-page commentary on a parable recounted in First Kings 21. St. Ambrose invites us to consider fasting in a more substantial manner than foregoing meat on seven days each spring—only six days if St. Patrick or St. Joseph intercedes.

St. Ambrose does not have to search far in Scripture to conclude that God is not interested in superficial fasting. “The fast that I have chosen,” as St. Ambrose paraphrases God, is to “undo every tie of injustice, loose the bonds of contracts made under duress, set free the broken and break every unjust obligation. Break your bread for the hungry and bring the needy and homeless into your house.”
St. Ambrose continues with a saying that is often reprinted: “Nature, then, knows no distinction when we are born, and it knows none when we die. It creates all alike, and all alike it encloses in the bowels of the tomb.” Go to any cemetery. “Open up the earth and [see] if you are able [to] discern who is rich. Then clear away the rubbish and [see] if you [can] recognize the poor person.”
As for the Old Testament story in First Kings, St. Ambrose cuts no slack for King Ahab, who perhaps had an advance copy of The Art of the Deal. Ahab seems to offer Naboth a deal for his vineyard. I’ll give you either a different vineyard or cash, says Ahab.
St. Ambrose is not fooled. It is arrogance, writes St. Ambrose. Give me, Ahab says. For what purpose? “All this madness, all this uproar, then, was in order to find space for paltry herbs. It is not, therefore, that you [Ahab] desire to possess something useful for yourself so much as it is that you want to exclude others… The rich man cries out that he does not have.”
The First Kings story, St. Ambrose concludes, “is repeated everyday” as we in our dissatisfaction covet other people’s goods.

It is not too late to adopt a Lent discipline. We can try to fast from envy and greed. We can try to be rich in contentment; not only between now and April 16, 2017. But we can practice contentment every day until that day when our last mortal possession is taken to a cemetery to join all the other look-alikes.
It wouldn’t hurt these Lent days and in the coming months to also give something away. Here St. Ambrose has a final piece of advice. “You are commonly in the habit of saying: We ought not to give to someone whom God has cursed by desiring him to be poor.” Or as this is expressed in the United States: We should refrain from helping the undeserving poor. There are no cursed poor, St. Ambrose concludes. There is no divine distinction between the deserving and undeserving. Read the Scripture: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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

Pope Francis: It’s a grave sin to lay off people carelessly

“Work gives dignity, and managers are obliged to do all possible so that every man and woman can work and so carry their heads high and look others in the eye with dignity,” the Holy Father told employees of Sky Italy at his weekly General Audience. The Italian broadcaster had announced plans to lay off 300 workers.

Pope Francis has addressed layoffs and restructuring in the past, always with the same message. While there are times layoffs are necessary to the survival of an enterprise, boosting profits is not sufficient justification to take away another’s livelihood. Contrary to what contemporary business theory would have us believe, the worker takes priority over the shareholder, not the other way around. For the full story, see Pope Francis: It’s a grave sin to lay people off carelessly on the Catholic News Service.

Loyola University Chicago Appoints “Just Employment Task Force”

We are pleased to report that Loyola University Chicago has established a Just Employment Task Force to examine university labor and employment practices in light of Catholic Social Teaching! Loyola has witnessed a number of labor disputes in recent years. Food service workers there, who belong to UNITE HERE and are employed by a university contractor, tangled with their employer over health benefits. Loyola’s adjunct faculty (right) voted to join the SEIU and are in the process of negotiating their first contract. And last month graduate teaching assistants voted to join the SEIU as well.

Too often, employers and administrators become defensive when workers organize and turn to professional union-busters for advice. Loyola, it seems, is instead consulting Catholic social doctrine to determine how to move forward. Jo Ann Rooney, Loyola’s new President, said: Read more

Urban Holiness

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

Children in a generally peaceful home can acquire virtue more readily than those in a disruptive home—though moral growth or sin are possible in both situations. The same is true of a city. A vigorous city makes holiness more likely; a chaotic and corrupt city requires extraordinary individual moral striving. Again, sinners can be found everywhere, as can the saintly.
Urban holiness starts with its architecture, zoning and construction. A city’s shape can enhance or limit the moral lives of its inhabitants, explains Wade Graham in Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas (Harper Collins, 2016). But bulldozers, construction cranes and surveyors cannot guarantee moral outcomes. It cannot be assumed that salvation comes by bricks alone. It is a mistake, says Graham, to simply put “faith in things to transform our souls and spirits.”
For example, Graham explains the invention some years ago of the concept of blight. The remedy for which was urban renewal. These projects, however, addressed poverty and deterioration entirely “in terms of buildings (the hardware), not in terms of people, jobs, wages and the economy (the software).”
Today, there are those who see the city’s response to poverty in the same terms they use for prosperity. They propose more hardware or more money, maybe for policing or for education. Last week, for example, a plan was floated to rehab certain strip malls as an antidote to Chicago’s gang violence. A reasonable argument is made to increase funding for city schools. But again, new facilities and more computers do not in isolation improve student test scores or lower the dropout rate. Detached from the software side of life, hardware solutions are distractions—at least to some degree.

Much of what makes a city a good place to live has less to do with money and buildings than it does with the person-to-person relationships that are formed. Cities provide unique ways of relating to others, to the world and to God, says Pope Francis. Presuming, that is, our dedication to “a connective network” through which “people share a common imagination and dreams.” Connecting is not automatic. Segregation, violence, corruption and neglect are, as Pope Francis is aware, the default positions of urban life. Urban holiness requires, in his terminology, “a culture of encounter,” which no longer happens randomly.

Just as in the old fable of the “Town Mouse and the Country Mouse,” there are people today who assert the moral superiority of nature over the city. The city is for survival, they say. It is for making money. Nature, the fable continues, is for companionship and contemplation. A spiritual life, this fable says, requires a retreat from sidewalks and alleys to meadows and sunsets.
This fable is wrong. So too is the disparaging prattle about Chicago currently emanating from our White House. Chicago is great with its magnificent architecture and fine museums and many tourist venues. A city’s greatness is not its hardware, though. No, a city’s greatness arises from its hospitality to immigrants, to refugees seeking a new life, to students and workers, to the elderly and dispossessed, to young parents and to the poor. From an unlikely mix of urban characters come poets, taxi drivers, teachers and citizens. Cities are incubators and repositories of culture and civilization. The city is the place where women and men come to make their way in the world and where they encounter others, thereby creating something greater than the sum of the parts.
Chicago is great—and Philadelphia, St. Paul, Austin, Buffalo and your city. Great that is, to the extent that each of us takes responsibility to nurture relationships and give meaning to the next generation. A great city emerges when we urban humanists make a practice of meeting people one-by-one; when we treat a lunch conversation or an office appointment as sacred; when another person’s story is the text for our spiritual reflection; when we abandon our opinionated generalities and instead make a premium of each privileged encounter.
Noble humanity flourishes in a city. In fact, because culture is densely concentrated there, urban spirituality is quite rich.

Go Black Hawks.

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

St. Martin’s adjuncts conduct Ash Wednesday walkout, call on university administrators to “give up union-busting for Lent”

courtesy SEIU 925

As our regular readers know, American universities have cut instructional costs by shifting an ever-growing share of teaching duties from costly tenured faculty to part-time adjunct instructors with low salaries and few (if any) employment benefits. In response, adjunct faculty at several universities, including Catholic ones, have formed unions to bargain collectively.

It should be easier for them to do this at Catholic colleges than it is at secular ones – after all, Catholic social teaching is quite explicit in supporting workers’ right to join unions. In some cases that’s exactly how it works. Adjunct faculty at Trinity Washington who voted to join SEIU 500 recently became the latest such group to ratify a union contract after relatively amicable (if long) negotiations. Details of the contract can be found on the SEIU 500 website.

Unfortunately, when a Catholic university decides to ignore Catholic social teaching and refuses to recognize a union chosen by its adjunct faculty, it can actually be harder for the adjuncts to secure their rights at a Catholic institution than a secular one. Some colleges, such as St. Martin’s in Seattle, are trying to use their religious identity as a shield for unfair labor practices – arguing that the first amendment grants them impunity.

That claim is being litigated as I write, but the adjuncts at St. Martin’s who voted 2-1 to join SEIU 925 are not waiting idly. On Ash Wednesday, 75 adjuncts and their supporters walked out for a one-day strike and rally on the university grounds. “Give up union busting for Lent!” they chanted.

A California Catholic Speaks out on Right-to-Work

from Dave Oddo, member, Catholic Labor Network

As part of a prolonged assault on labor rights, U.S. Representatives Steve King (R-Iowa) and Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) have recently introduced the deceptively titled “National Right-to-Work Act” (H.R. 785.)    H.R. 785, which applies exclusively to U.S. private sector workers, has been referred to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and the Workforce.

In response, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka stated: “Right-to-work is a lie dressed up in a feel-good slogan. It doesn’t give workers freedom. Instead, it weakens our right to join together and bargain for better wages and working conditions. Its end goal is to destroy unions.” 

 

According to Dave Jamieson of the Huffington Post, “right–to-work laws give workers the option to stop supporting unions, while still enjoying the benefits of representation.” Passage of this legislation would deliver “a severe blow to the labor movement.”

                       

As the American Catholic Bishops have previously written in their Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, “No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself.  Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers from organizing.”

A 2011 report from the Higgins Labor Studies Program (University of Notre Dame) revealed that, in “right-to-work” states, both union and non-union workers received lower wages and benefits than their counterparts in non-right-to-work states.

Dave Oddo has been a supporter of labor unions since 1968. He was a member of the California Teachers Association from 1983-1992. He resides in San Diego, California.

World Meeting of Popular Movement Gathering in Modesto

Labor unions, community groups, and other grassroots worker justice organizations assembled in February for a widely reported regional gathering of the World Meeting of Popular Movements. Pope Francis sent a message of greeting and encouragement to the assembly. The event, organized by the Vatican, the USCCB, and the PICO Network, was also attended by members of the hierarchy who called on participants to be “disruptors” and talked about how to extend sanctuary to immigrants and refugees put at risk by the president’s recent executive actions.

The meeting drew up a Message from Modesto including 8 action proposals:

We propose the following actions:

1. Sanctuary

We urge every faith community, including every Catholic parish, to declare themselves a sanctuary for people facing deportation and those being targeted based on religion, race or political beliefs. Being a sanctuary can include hosting families at-risk of deportation, accompanying people to ICE check-ins, organizing to free people from detention, holding Defend Your Rights trainings and organizing rapid response teams. All cities, counties and states should adopt policies that get ICE out of our schools, courts and jails, stop handing over people to ICE and end practices that criminalize people of color through aggressive policing and over-incarceration.

As Pope Francis has said to us: “Who is this innkeeper? It is the Church, the Christian community, people of compassion and solidarity, social organizations. It is us, it is you, to whom the Lord Jesus daily entrusts those who are afflicted in body and spirit, so that we can continue pouring out all of his immeasurable mercy and salvation upon them.”

2. Disrupting oppression and dehumanization

We must put our bodies, money and institutional power at risk to protect our families and communities, using tools that include boycotts, strikes, and non-violent civil disobedience.

As Bishop Robert McElroy said to us, “We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our communities to deport the undocumented, to destroy our families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men & women as a source of threat rather than children of God. We must disrupt those who would take away healthcare, who would take food from our children.”

3. Bold prophetic leadership from faith communities

At this moment of fear and anxiety, we urge our clergy and faith communities to speak and act boldly in solidarity with our people. As Cardinal Tobin shared with us, sometimes our faith leaders need to walk out in front and show that they are not afraid either. We ask our Catholic Bishops to write a covenant that spells out specific actions that dioceses and parishes should take to protect families in the areas of immigration, racism, jobs, housing, and the environment.

4. One People, One Fight

We commit to break down the walls that divide our struggles. We will not let corporate and political elites pit us against each other. We are in one fight to rebuild a society in which every person is seen as fully human, has a full voice in the decisions that shape their lives and is able to thrive and reach their human potential.

5. International Week of Action May 1-7, 2017

We are calling on people in the U.S. and across the globe to stand together against hatred and attacks on families during a week of action May 1-7, 2017.

6. State and regional meetings of popular movements

We propose meetings of popular movements in each of our states over the next six months to bring this statement, the vision of the World Meetings and the Pope’s message of hope and courage to every community in the United States.

7. Popular education

We propose to develop a shared curriculum and popular education program to equip people with analysis and tools to transform the world. We will focus on the development and leadership of young people. We will draw on the wisdom of our faith and cultural traditions, including Catholic Social Teaching. We recognize that our spiritual and political selves are inseparable. We have a moral obligation to confront and disrupt injustice.

8. Political power

To defend our families and protect our values we must build political power. We must change the electorate to reflect our communities, through massive efforts to reach out to tens of millions of voters who are ignored and taken for granted by candidates and parties. We must hold elected officials accountable to the common good and encourage people in our communities to take leadership themselves, including running for office, so that we can govern the communities in which we live.

Modesto, California
February 19, 2017