DC Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights Moves Toward Passage

DC Council votes unanimously for new law; second vote pending

The Washington DC Office of Human Rights is charged with preventing discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. But did you know that it has no power to protect domestic workers – nannies, housekeepers and others who work in the home?

That may be about to change. Although few workers are more isolated and in need of protection than domestic workers, many of our nation’s laws drafted to protect workers from exploitation and abuse have excluded them from coverage. But domestic workers have been organizing for years to change this, and in DC they are on the brink of success.

On Tuesday the DC Council voted unanimously in favor of the DC Domestic Workers Employment Rights Amendment Act. The Act would extend the DC Human Rights law to cover domestic workers; it would provide for their occupational health and safety; and it would also require employers of domestic help to prepare and sign a written agreement setting out terms and conditions of employment.

The Catholic Labor Network has been accompanying DC’s domestic workers on their campaign for justice for more than a year, starting with a “listening session” in which Catholic activists heard testimony from area domestic worker Antonia Surco. Last week CLN joined domestic worker advocates in a final round of visits with Councilmembers in support of the bill.

Passage of the Act requires a second Council vote on Dec. 20.

“Catholic Social Teach-In” at Loyola New Orleans

Connecting Catholic Social Teaching and Labor Relations on Campus

On November 17, UNITE HERE Local 23, the Catholic Labor Network, and student activists at Loyola New Orleans hosted a “Catholic Social Teach-In” attended by more than 100 students, faculty and dining hall workers. It was an opportunity for students and workers to connect and reflect on how labor should be treated at a Catholic university. The dining hall workers at Loyola’s Sodexo-operated cafeteria are seeking to join the union UNITE HERE.

Catholic Labor Network Executive Director Clayton Sinyai set the stage with a review of Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work from the time of Rerum Novarum to today, noting its witness in support of the right to organize in unions and the right of every worker to a living wage. But it was the dining hall workers whose testimony made the biggest impact. Cook Rob Johnson explained:

Hello, my name Is Rob Johnson I have been working for Sodexo at Loyola for one year in Simple Servings and I love my job and my coworkers. My role in simple servings is important, I cook to ensure that each student with a dietary restriction can be able to eat on campus. The students here are great and always have smiles on their faces and positive energy, I love the environment here.

By doing Simple Service I have built strong relationships with the students who I cook for every day. I make sure to talk to the students and check up on how they are doing and new things that they have going on. I’ve built strong relationships with students who have allergies, and I am invested in their growth and career. I’ll always be there for the students here because we are all a part of the same community.

I do not feel appreciated for the hard work that I do here. I sometimes have to work overtime to be able to pay for the things that I need. However, when I work overtime there is a bit of tension I feel because it takes away from the energy that it takes to do simple service during my regular shifts. I also feel the need to work overtime because we are understaffed, and I want students to be able to eat and the operation to run smoothly.

I want a union of Sodexo workers here at Loyola so that we can have more teamwork while working on this campus. I believe that with a union will make it so we all take pride in our work and stay in this community. I am asking the Loyola community to support the Sodexo workers the way that I support the Loyola community preparing safe and healthy meals.

Mr. Johnson and other workers who testified clearly love their work, but are burned out from working long hours at low wages, starting around $11/per hour – $22,000 per year for a full-time worker. Some mentioned working overtime to make rent even though the extra hours cut into time they would like to be with their families. Sodexo, which reported increased profitability in 2022, can do better than this.

Students and workers alike are waiting to see how the university administration responds. Many Catholic colleges and universities see labor relations on campus as part of their Catholic identity and expect contractors serving the campus community to honor Catholic social doctrine. Georgetown University in Washington DC has gone so far as to implement a Just Employment Policy that defines a living wage threshold, requiring contractors providing services to pay their workers accordingly.

The food service workers have been seeking to meet the university’s interim president to share their stories. So far he has refused to meet with the workers.


The Working Catholic: Signs of the Times by Bill Droel

How do we become aware that a new age has dawned?
Did anyone in November 1492 proclaim that the modern age began the previous month when Native Americans discovered Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)? Did anyone in November 1517 realize that the modern age began the previous month when Rev. Martin Luther (1483-1546) challenged the Roman Catholic bureaucracy? Yet looking back to those events we trace global commerce, exploration, cultural imperialism, a turn to individualism and soon enough new forms of governance.
Did anyone in December 1947 say that modernity has been superseded by a post-modern age because the transistor was invented at Bell Labs the previous month? Did anyone in August 1954 mark the beginning of postmodernism because Elvis Presley (1935-1977) recorded That’s All Right in a style fusing country with rhythm and blues? Yet those events and others were forerunners to a youth culture, to a pervasive cyber-dimension of life, to a view of the earth from outer-space, to instant and world-wide communication of prices, weather patterns, celebrity gossip, political conflict and more.
The same lack of awareness and ambiguity applies to naming generations. After all, someone was born yesterday and someone tomorrow. So, can we really demarcate and easily differentiate Baby Boomers from Gen X from the Millennial Generation?
Yet we need markers to understand our place in history, to understand the forces that shape our lives and contour our agency in our place and time.
Gary Gerstle explores the signs of the times in The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order (Oxford Press, 2022). Gerstle calls each of his stages a type of liberalism. He admits confusion in terminology. For example, today’s neoliberals are usually called conservatives. But whatever the labels, every modern society accepts the basics of classic Liberalism. For example, according to classic Liberalism individuals are not bound by heredity and knowledge (science and reason) is better than superstition. Though the British and others still like the trappings of monarchy, citizens in all classic Liberal societies have a right to participation in governance. Classic Liberalism, no matter the labels of the moment, insists that the rule of law replaces vengeance and property acquired legitimately (including intellectual/creative property) is a protected possession.
Classic Liberalism was influential in the late 1700s and somewhat in the 1800s. It had an intellectual comeback after World War I, says Gerstle, because of economists like Friedrich Hayek (1899), Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and others.
Gerstle applies the label New Deal liberalism to the second stage of liberalism. He associates this worldview with President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945), to a degree with President Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) and with President Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973).
New Deal liberalism differs from the classic type of liberalism in that government, labor unions, associations and consumer groups play a role in society and the economy. The shift recognizes that without countervailing forces individual liberty and laissez-faire capitalism make for “an economic disaster.” The market needs an umpire to enforce contracts, to use the military to stabilize trade, to enforce tariffs and the like. Society also needs government to restrict businesses that disregard the public good, to employ workers when hiring slows, to soften the blows of poverty, to purchase when inflation dampens consumer activity, to tackle big projects (health care delivery, utility delivery, infrastructure construction and the like) when private enterprise is incapable.
Gerstle’s third type of liberalism is called neoliberalism. It harkens back to classic Liberal themes and is thus a reaction against the socially-minded New Deal liberalism of Roosevelt and others. Gerstle associates neoliberalism with Presidents Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and with others.
Neoliberalism promises to recover imagination and serious aspirations in contrast to the deadening bureaucracies of the 1960s and 1970s. It says that private enterprise can be efficient and therefore government should use contractors for toll way collections, public transportation, garbage collection, some overseas military operations, space exploration, schools and more. Neoliberalism favors deregulation, free trade and information technology.
In the neoliberal view all encounters are monetized; that is, everything is for sale—even health care, recreation, personal information and water. Its centers of interest are Wall St., Silicon Valley, Hollywood and tech hubs in the Boston and Seattle areas. For neoliberals “cosmopolitanism [is] a cultural achievement,” writes Gerstle. Regardless of their rhetoric, neoliberalism applies to most Democrat and Republican politicians. Neoliberalism perpetuates an old strain of moralizing common in the rugged individual days. It assumes that some liberty can be denied those who are unable to handle responsibility. Neoliberals distinguish the deserving poor from the undeserving poor.
Gerstle hints that neoliberalism has lost luster and that we might be entering a new phase. The crash of 2008, the disruptions from Covid-19, the incompetence of President Donald Trump’s administration, a brutal war in Europe and more raise doubts about the neoliberal promise. What might be signs of a new era? Reports are welcome.

Droel is affiliated with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629). It distributes two encyclicals that critique neoliberalism; one by Pope Benedict XVI, the other by Pope Francis ($15 for both).

Delta Flight Attendants Launch National Organizing Campaign

The airlines are one of the most unionized economic sectors in the United States. Whether you are boarding a United, American or Southwest flight, you can expect that the workers you encounter have the protection of a union contract – whether they are pilots, mechanics, flight attendants or ramp workers.

Then there’s Delta.

The airline with historic roots in the Mississippi delta has successfully fended off multiple attempts to organize its workers. To date, only Delta pilots and dispatchers have succeeded in forming a union and securing a contract.

That may soon change. Delta flight attendants are on the move, in one of the nation’s largest current organizing campaigns. These 25,000 workers want a voice on the job and are turning to the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA). And you can help.

Normally, the Catholic Labor Network encourages members to patronize unionized businesses – it’s the only way you can guarantee that the workers who provide your goods and services have a voice on the job. But in this case, the flight attendants are asking supporters who fly Delta to use the opportunity to voice support for their cause.

The union has set up a website where allies can sign up to receive a button to wear supporting the campaign and palm cards to hand to your flight attendants to tell them you stand in solidarity with them. A friendly note from you can go a long way for a flight attendant summoning the courage to resist management’s pressure tactics. CLICK HERE to sign up now!

Religious Orders Use their Assets to Promote Worker Justice

Catholic religious orders are known for their works of mercy, often running hospitals, nursing homes and schools. But in the course of their activity, many of these orders accumulated substantial assets, including stock holdings in major US corporations. That gives them power, and, increasingly, they are using this power to advance worker justice.

This work is coordinated by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), where Catholic and other religious organizations come together and use their power as activist shareholders to promote justice. The ICCR came together in 1971 and was originally focused on fighting apartheid in South Africa. Today ICCR members control some $4 trillion in assets work in a variety of program areas, including – since June of this year – “Advancing Worker Justice.” They are engaging some of the nation’s leading corporations about living wages, freedom of association, occupational health and safety, paid sick leave, and other essential topics.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, a community of more than 300 in Southeast Pennsylvania, have been on the front lines of this work. As Sr. Nora Nash explained,

“The old adage ‘an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay’ is still at the heart of worker’s rights and responsibilities. A just wage reflects equality, opportunity, transparency and a decent life for the worker which includes a safe working environment, paid time off for sickness, personal days, vacation, etc. We’ve spent many years working with major corporations to draw attention to the extreme inequality between the CEO and the lowest paid worker.”

The process usually begins with a letter to the corporate target asking for a dialogue on the topic of concern. If dialogue is rejected or proves fruitless, they may file a shareholder resolution. For the activist shareholder, it’s not enough to object to a corporate practice – you need to make a “business case” for resolving it. Fortunately that’s not an insuperable obstacle: for instance, it’s perfectly plausible to argue that eliminating known occupational hazards or reducing occupational injury rates is good for the bottom line.

The Sisters have an active agenda this year. In the worker justice field they are looking to engage Darden Restuarants (think Olive Garden or Longhorn Steakhouse) and FedEx. At Darden they are concerned about low wages for restaurant workers; at FedEx they are seeking information about paid sick leave policies.

Labor unions have long leveraged pension fund investments to initiate similar dialogues with major corporations in order to promote worker justice. It’s great to see religious orders stepping up their activity in this field!

Senate Cafeteria Workers Win First Contract!

The cooks, cashiers, dishwashers and others working in the Senate Cafeteria have finally secured their first union contract – complete with living wages (starting at $20/hour) and affordable family health care. Banquet Server Paulo Pizarro said:

I just went from paying $120 per week on health insurance to $7 per week—and there’s no deductible. It is such an incredible feeling to know that it was me and my coworkers that won this. It feels so great to know that this whole fight was worth it in the end.

The union contract also gives workers a grievance procedure to settle future disputes, paid time off to vote, immigration protections and more.

The Catholic Labor Network has been accompanying the Senate Cafeteria workers on their march toward justice for more than a year. Read more

Richmond Hotel Workers Take First Steps toward Organizing

A guest contribution from Catholic Labor Network member Tony Miller

When the Richmond Times Dispatch asked Marty Barnett about why she supports the effort to unionize, she said, “We are not peons. We are human beings” and “We need to be respected — and that doesn’t just go for me or [the people who work at] this hotel — it should be a global thing.”

Think about the last time you or your family stayed at a hotel.  Most hotels in America are charging anywhere from $150 to $300, some more, per night.  In today’s economy, that is a lot of money to spend for 48 hours in a hotel room you barely use.  You probably checked into a hotel room that was far cleaner than your room at home, housekeeping is tough work.

If I told you that for $300-$600, the lady who cleaned that room back to excellence only got $6-$7, how would you feel about that?  Worst of all, she was probably forced to clean that room in under 30 minutes, and then told to clean up to 20 more before her day was over.  Hotel owners generate tons of cash, but they typically pay their hardest working folks very low wages.  How can a housekeeper with children afford to live on $6 per room cleaned?

On Thursday Sep 29, Hotel Workers United successfully filed their Petition for Certification with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  Our first hotel we seek to organize is the Hampton Inn Richmond West Innsbrook in Glen Allen, VA.  The hotel has about 18 total employees.  We have gathered cards from many members of the team including housekeeping, front desk, and breakfast hostess.  Marty, pictured above, is a breakfast hostess. We not only hope to win an election, but to negotiate with ownership for better wages and working conditions.

We know the owners of large hotel portfolios can afford to pay more, and we want to continue to raise awareness and support around our organizing efforts.  For more information, please visit www.hotelworkersunited.com or email us at [email protected].

JustFaith Catholic Program offered Online

9 Weeks on Zoom

Starting Monday, Oct. 10, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Central

What tools does my Catholic faith tradition have to offer as we address poverty and struggle for the rights of workers? Faith and Poverty: A Biblical Response explores God’s call to respond to poverty in our local communities, equipping participants to take action in effective and sustainable ways. The program helps people to engage more deeply with Catholic social teaching and to engage in grounding spiritual practices A 9 week small group program will start on zoom on Oct. 10 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. For more information go to https://justfaith.org/faith-and-poverty-a-biblical-response-jfc/, To register go to https://justfaith.org/faith-and-poverty-a-biblical-response-st-louis-fall-2022-small-group-catholic/.

Big Wins for California Workers

Chateau Marmont workers get union; Farm workers get vote by mail

Recent weeks have witnessed some big wins for California workers! Employees of Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont hotel have secured union membership, while farm workers won the right to vote by mail in union certification elections.

Workers at the Chateau Marmont, famous as a hideaway for Hollywood celebrities, had been seeking to join UNITE HERE Local 11 (the Los Angeles area hotel workers’ union) for years. In a blistering 2020 story, The Hollywood Reporter painted a picture of a toxic work environment in which ill-mannered guests harassed and abused staff, and management treated workers with disrespect. As workers began to organize they encountered mass layoffs attributed to the pandemic. This led to a boycott of the hotel. In December 2021, workers told their story to area faith leaders in a “listening session” hosted by the Catholic Labor Network and LA CLUE at nearby Blessed Sacrament Parish.

On August 25, the union reported:

We are thrilled to announce that UNITE HERE Local 11 and the Chateau Marmont have agreed upon a fair process that determines whether a majority of workers in certain classifications have chosen the union as their representative. A few days ago, after a neutral arbitrator validated the results, the Chateau Marmont promptly recognized UNITE HERE Local 11. All prior disputes have been laid to rest. Both UNITE HERE Local 11 and the Chateau Marmont are pleased with this new relationship. Our bargaining committee will soon commence negotiations for our first contract.

Meanwhile, for years the United Farm Workers have pressed for reforms of union election procedures under California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act. (While most private-sector workers won the right to organize in 1935 under the National Labor Relations Act, farm workers were excluded from NLRA jurisdiction. California is one of the few states that has passed legislation giving farm workers the express right to organize in unions and bargain collectively.) Under the existing law, farm workers were obliged to vote for or against union representation in-person on the grower’s property – conditions ripe for intimidation.

The United Farm Workers called for allowing farm workers to vote by mail in union elections. Last year Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have permitted this. He threatened to take similar action this year, leading the union to organize a farm worker march from Delano to Sacramento under the blazing August sun. The marchers received extensive support from both the California Federation of Labor and the California Catholic Conference, and the Catholic Labor Network organized its Golden State members to write Governor Newsom in support of the bill. In late September, Newsom relented and agreed to sign the bill.

Congratulations to both the Chateau Marmont workers and to California’s farm workers on their hard-fought victories!

Archdiocese of Washington Hiring

One of our CLN members, Lisa Calla-Russ of the Archdiocese of Washington, has alerted us that the Archdiocese of Washington is hiring for several positions, some of them related to social concerns – such as Director of Family Life and Program Director for Campus and Young Adult Ministry. CLICK HERE to check out the opportunities at the Archdiocese of Washington.