AFL-CIO, USCCB Tell Immigrants “We are with you”

liuna-organizing-immigrantsAfter a year marked by ugly campaign rhetoric directed at migrants, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the AFL-CIO strongly reaffirmed their defense of immigrants this November.

The bishops, gathered in Baltimore for their fall annual assembly, endorsed a statement congratulating President-elect Donald J. Trump on his election while offering “a special word to migrant and refugee families living in the United States: be assured of our solidarity and continued accompaniment as you work for a better life.” They continued,

We will work to promote humane policies that protect refugees and immigrants’ inherent dignity, keep families together, and honor and respect the laws of this nation…. We stand ready to work with a new administration to continue to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans. A duty to welcome and protect newcomers, particularly refugees, is an integral part of our mission to help our neighbors in need.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka struck some similar notes in a post-election statement. He too congratulated the president-elect on his election win and anticipated working with him to fix an unjust and unfair global trade system. But he continued,

Make no mistake, we can never back down from our values. The presence of racism, misogyny and anti-immigrant appeals caused damage in this campaign and we must all try to repair it with inclusion, decency and honesty…. We hope to work with President-elect Trump to help him carry out this solemn responsibility. Regardless, America’s labor movement will protect our democracy and safeguard the most vulnerable among us.

Many of our brothers and sisters are hard-pressed, suffering from job loss or other economic setbacks, often traceable to the new global economy. They deserve our solidarity, but we cannot address their needs at the expense of the immigrant in our land. As the Lord commanded the Israelites,  “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).” And lest we forget, we too are strangers and aliens on the Earth whose true homeland lies elsewhere (Hebrews 11:13-14)

In the mid-20th century, Church and labor cooperated to advance critical elements of economic and social justice – things like the federal minimum wage, the social security system, and collective bargaining. Today, as Catholics and as trade unionists, we are suddenly called in a special way to the defense of the immigrant.

Go Home

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, OP of Peru is rightly receiving awards these days for his role in developing liberation theology. His 1973 book, A Theology of Liberation, signaled the end within Catholicism of the Western European theological monopoly. It is also now worthwhile to recall Ivan Illich (1926-2002). In early 1964 he gathered several Latin American theologians and church leaders in Brazil. It was there that the methodology and major themes of what would become libration theology took shape. Thus, Illich “played a major role in fostering liberation theology” and subsequently in its propagation, writes Todd Hartch in The Prophet of Cuernavaca (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Illich was born in Austria and was ordained to the priesthood in 1951. Later that year he was sent to Princeton University to do research. He served among Puerto Ricans in a Manhattan parish. Cardinal Francis Spellman (1889-1967) was impressed with Illich and so appointed him a rector to a university in Puerto Rico. Illich, at age 31, was made a monsignor—the youngest ever in the United States.
Today, the required reading list for a college class might include one or another book by Illich. The class will be in education, philosophy or social science. Hartch’s contribution is to put Illich squarely inside Catholicism and inside the priesthood. “He is best understood as a Catholic priest of conscious orthodoxy grappling with the crisis of Western modernity,” says Hartch. Thus, Illich’s later critiques of education, medicine and other institutions are but further examples of his prime example, the church.
The church loses its mission, said Illich, when it adopts a modern business model with its preoccupation with status, obsession with money, a fondness for measurable outcomes, a disposition to bureaucratic processes, an overuse of vacuous language and more. Illich devised an unusual way of reforming the church. He started, Hartch details, “an anti-missionary training center designed to discourage would-be missionaries” at the very moment that the Vatican and the U.S. bishops made a significant commitment to sending missionaries to Latin and South America.
Illich believed that the church’s mission effort had lost its original aspiration. Like many modern institutions, the unintended bad side effects outweighed the good intentions. Programs directed from North America to South America under the banner of development amounted to more colonialism, he said. Illich, to be clear, was not against the church and its essential missionary endeavors. Nor subsequently was he opposed to medicine, education, transportation and the like. He felt, however, that once a threshold of modern bureaucracy had taken hold, the church impedes faith, the schools hamper learning and hospitals discourage wellness.
Hundreds of missionaries attended Illich’s center in Cuernavaca because it offered the best language class, the best cultural analysis and on-and-off again the latest theological insights—all the while telling the missionaries, in effect “to go home.”

Illich, like all prophets, was contradictory. For example, here was a missionary of sorts who came from Europe to New York, then went to Puerto Rico and onto Mexico saying that imported religious education and devotions are types of disabling help. No surprise then that his anti-missionary effort had contradictory results. The number of Western European and North American missionaries to Latin America indeed dropped well below the goals set by bishops. At the same time, members of religious orders and other missionary types went back into their North American and European settings with a passion for opening the whole church to its global mission, particularly its solidarity with the poor.
As for Illich, his influence on many Catholic leaders was significant but his footing within Catholic structures was unfixed. He was for a time in regular conflict with one or another bishop and with the Vatican bureaucracy. “Many have assumed that [Illich] was forced out of the priesthood or even that he renounced Catholicism,” writes Hartch. Not true. Illich knew and believed “that priestly identity was permanent.” During 1967 to 1968 Illich gradually withdrew from active priesthood so that he would not be a source of embarrassment. His precise status defied the usual categories—not exactly a leave of absence, not at all a suspension.

Illich was a radical thinker; a person willing to experiment. He was churchman, always “trying to understand the nature of the church and its relationship to his age,” Hartch concludes.

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

What sins constitute a firing offense for Church Employees?

Our nation’s Catholic parishes, diocesan offices, K-12 schools and related organizations employ hundreds of thousands of lay men and women. Since none of us is without sin, this puts a difficult charge on the bishop, pastor, principal or other administrator: which sins disqualify one from employment? The editors at America magazine recently took a swing at this daunting topic. In “Unjust Discrimination,” they write:

The church in the United States is living in a complex and challenging time. Regrettably, on a variety of subjects—from views on the death penalty to support for contraception and same-sex marriage—the teachings of the church and the practices of its members often do not match. Meanwhile, the church relies on a large number of lay employees to help administer parishes, schools and hospitals across the country. Very few of them subscribe to the totality of Catholic teaching. How can the church continue to sustain its ministries while bearing witness to the timeless truths of its teaching when its own employees do not accept them all?

The editors’ immediate concern is a wave of high-profile firings of employees in same-sex unions. While defending church teaching on marriage, the editors also remind readers that the catechism forbids “unjust discrimination” against homosexuals persons, including in employment. They suspect that employees entering gay marriages are being singled out, while the same administrators turn a blind eye to other violations – for instance, divorced Catholics who remarry outside of the Church. The editors fully support Church teaching on the nature of marriage, but fear that a personnel policy focusing on this violation to the exclusion of others creates an impression of hypocrisy.

Catholics are called to preach difficult truths about a range of subjects, including but not limited to marriage and sexuality. But what is the best way to do that? It is true that sometimes an employee of a Catholic institution can cause scandal by his or her public words or deeds. But it is also true that treating employees unfairly, by holding them to different standards or dismissing them abruptly or without consultation, can itself cause scandal.

Although employees in same-sex unions are this year’s flashpoint, the real issue is more fundamental. We are sinners all: if Church institutions fire everyone who violates Church teaching in some fashion, they will have no employees. At the same time, Catholic institutions must demonstrate their fidelity to the faith, or they are no longer Catholic. Administrators must make difficult decisions about what violations are severe enough to justify dismissal. Should people be dismissed for violating Catholic social teaching as well as teaching on marriage and family? What about doctrinal issues? Or should we reserve enforcement on those who publicly challenge any element of the faith? There are no easy answers to these issues, but they call for careful reasoning followed by consistent practices.

Report from Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, 2016

In 1986, six Jesuit priests in El Salvador known for their bold social justice advocacy were murdered in their home by a right-wing deaignatian-family-teach-inth squad. For decades, Jesuit colleges, universities, high schools and other institutions have organized an annual teach-in for social justice. At this year’s teach-in, November 12-14, some two thousand students, staff and faculty in the Ignatian family have gathered for a weekend of workshops on Catholic Social Teaching and current events, to be followed Monday by visits with their representatives on Capitol Hill.

CLN President Phil Tabbita and I represented the Catholic Labor Network at the event. Criminal justice reforms addressing mass incarceration and protection for immigrant workers and families lead the agenda this year, but the teach-in also touched on themes gtown-workshopthat should be of interest to Catholic institutions seeking to model Catholic social teaching in their labor relations and purchasing decisions.

Alexandrios Taliadoros and Nick Wertsch from Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor held a workshop sharing information about Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy. The policy guarantees all workers on the campus a living wage and the right to join a union if they wish; it applies to both workers directly paid by Georgetown or paid through a contractor providing campus services. The workshop drew a lively crowd of students interested in promoting justice for workers at their collethicsmerchege.

We also met the team from Ethix Merch, a firm promoting union made T-shirts and other gear for Church and student groups that want to display their commitment to fair wages and decent working conditions.  (They produce for many local unions as well.) Does your parish organization, local union or other advocacy group need to outfit your team? Feel free to contact me for more info!

Catholic activists target Macy’s, Kohl’s on sweatshop garments

human-thread-logoThe horrible Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh threw a spotlight on labor conditions in the world’s garment factories. More than 1100 workers were killed when the building full of tenement factories collapsed in 2013, but unsafe working conditions are hardly the only hazard these workers face. Perhaps no other modern industry is so closely associated with poverty wages and child labor. In the wake of the tragedy, Pope Francis condemned the “slave labor” conditions that obtained there and called on people of conscience to take action. A group of Catholic activists in Wisconsin are taking up the challenge with The Human Thread.

In the mid-twentieth century, cutting and assembling ready-to-wear clothing was one of the first industries shipped from the developed world to the global south to take advantage of lower wages. But the retailers and brands — not to mention the customers they covet — remain largely in Europe, North America and Japan. Companies and consumers here can take action for fair wages and workers’ rights there.

How can you help? Currently the Human Thread is running a postcard campaign calling on Macy’s and Kohl’s to offer clothing produced under fair working conditions, giving consumers a chance to choose “no sweat” garments. If you are seeking “clothing with a conscience” you might also be interested in a report ranking clothing lines by their labor practices.

New Cardinal has Keen Interest in Worker Justice

blase_joseph_cupichEarly in October, Pope Francis announced his intent to create 17 new cardinals. The Catholic Labor Network was pleased to learn that Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago was among them – the Archbishop’s deep commitment to Catholic social teaching on labor and work is quite evident.

Archbishop Cupich is surely familiar to readers of the Catholic Labor Network newsletters and blog. When the Illinois legislature was considering so-called “right-to-work” legislation, the Archbishop challenged its political supporters to reconcile their proposal with Catholic social teaching – which calls for “the promotion of workers’ associations.” This summer he adopted a paid parental leave policy for Archdiocesan employees – in a single gesture, acting to advance worker justice, setting a good example for Catholic business leaders, and promoting Catholic teaching on life and the family.

Please keep our newest Cardinal in your prayers!

Seattle U.: Give me unions and give me social justice, but not yet


A Jesuit university with an Augustinian approach to worker rights

The adjunct faculty at Seattle University voted 73-63 for union representation by SEIU 925. The Seattle University administration has announced its willingness to recognize and bargain with an adjunct faculty union outside the NLRB process. Hooray! Problem solved, right? The administration and the union can sit down and bargain an agreement and agree to disagree about the NLRB matter.

Not so fast. Readers of the Confessions will recall how the young and randy Augustine asked God, “Give me chastity and give me continence… but not yet.” Seattle administrators, likewise, say they are willing to honor Catholic social teaching on the rights of labor…after the litigation is finished and their claim to immunity from NLRB jurisdiction is resolved.

Meanwhile, the long-impounded votes have been counted at St. Xavier University. (The adjuncts voted on union representation in 2011 but SXU legal objections have delayed the count for five years.) The contingent faculty, by a vote of 29-25, have chosen to join the Illinois Education Association.

The most important union you’ve never heard of

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Clayton Sinyai (CLN) with NACST President Rita Schwartz

On October 8, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual convention of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers (NACST) as a guest. The teachers were interested in learning more about the Catholic Labor Network, and after offering a few words on our work I was kindly invited to witness the proceedings.

The NACST is a union of Catholic schoolteachers with nearly 4,000 members. Wait a minute, you are probably asking… didn’t the supreme court rule in NLRB v. Catholic Bishop (1978) that the National Labor Relations Act didn’t apply to Catholic elementary and high schools because of the first amendment?

Well, yes. But the court didn’t rule that the teachers couldn’t have a union, just that the Labor Board couldn’t get involved. In 1986, America’s bishops affirmed that, Supreme Court jurisprudence notwithstanding, we answer to a higher law. Catholic social teaching required that “all church institutions must fully recognize the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively with the institution through whatever association or organization they freely choose.” Hundreds of Catholic schools bargain with unions representing their teachers.

The local unions of the NACST stretch from Massachusetts to Missouri. They include major school systems such as those in Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, and single-school bargaining units that dot the Northeast and Midwest. Their members are deeply committed to their Catholic faith. They must be: wages and benefits are substantially lower than those offered in the public schools. At a surprising number of Catholic schools, teacher salaries start below $25,000 per year. These teachers have chosen significant material sacrifice to deliver our children a quality education rooted in our faith.

Indeed, the union was established by teachers who found it difficult to reconcile their faith and commitment to Catholic education with the politics of the national teachers’ unions. Although powerful unions like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) could provide resources and support, they are firmly opposed to tuition voucher programs and have adopted positions on social issues (such as contraception and abortion) putting them at odds with Catholic teaching. In 1978, a group of local unions representing Catholic schoolteachers broke away from the AFT to form the NACST.

Without the protection of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), this was no small matter. The officers of NACST locals are working teachers who pursue union business on their own time; without the resources of a large union like the AFT or NEA they lack powerful political friends or large strike funds. For survival they rely in large measure on their employer’s fidelity to Catholic social teaching. If a bishop or school system decides to bust the union – as happened in the Diocese of Scranton, in 2006 – they have few tools at their disposal to resist.

Catholic schools may not have the resources that public school districts do, but they can certainly recognize their employees’ right to organize and bargain collectively. Surely that is the least we owe our teachers.

The Working Catholic: Holy Capitalist

by Bill Droel

A small number of Catholics more or less believes that capitalism is evil. On the other extreme an even smaller number of neoconservative Catholics believes that humanistic capitalism is God’s preferred system.
Most Catholics implicitly take a micro-position, confining judgment to particular cases. Thus these Catholics might see holiness in the work of a hospice nurse or a special-education teacher. These Catholics, if they thought about it, also see goodness in some small business owners, but probably not in a big-time financier.

John Raskob (1879-1950) was “an architect of the capitalist system,” his biographer David Farber details. He was also a serious Catholic.
Raskob was involved with many tycoons of his time. His name, however, is lost to popular history, Faber writes, because he “never ran a major corporation. He never invented a noteworthy product.” Rather, Raskob was passionate about credit markets and leveraged financing. He was fluent in asset valuation, bond divestures, real estate markets, stocks and the like. He put together the deal that made DuPont Company a major business. He then did something similar for General Motors. Yet, according to Faber, “Raskob was driven not by greed or avarice or by the desire for adulation and power.” He disliked awards and avoided recognition. For example, Raskob financed a skyscraper in Manhattan. It is not called Raskob Tower, but rather The Empire State Building. “He was the anti-Trump of his time,” says Faber.

The title of Raskob’s biography is taken from one of his slogans, Everybody Ought To Be Rich (Oxford University Press, 2013). Though the slogan can be misinterpreted, he meant that the economy’s wealth should be open to more people, including hourly workers. Raskob believed that, given the appropriate instruments, the market can help stabilize families. It was Raskob, for example, who created the consumer credit that is taken for granted today. William Durant (1861-1947) had a small company called General Motors. Raskob got involved with it, envisioning competition with Ford Motor. His innovation was car-buying on the installment plan with GM and other entities floating the credit. Likewise, all of today’s 401K plans have a Raskob lineage.

Raskob was generous toward Catholic causes, both stateside and through the Vatican. It is no surprise that Raskob eschewed public recognition for his donations.
Raskob tried to donate in ways that would yield more predictable income for Catholic institutions. For example, he instituted the first endowment fund for a diocese. Hundreds of Catholic institutions today use Raskob’s plan. He also pioneered the separate incorporation of auxiliaries to Catholic institutions, which is also common now. He popularized the idea of matching-grant fundraising drives.
Raskob’s most significant contribution to internal Church operations was his insistence that lay people should assume responsibilities for which their character and training is better suited than those trained primarily in theology, Faber writes. He fought to give laypeople a greater role inside the church and to a degree his life reflected the role of the layperson in the world.

One more area of Raskob’s life is worth mentioning and retains relevance. Day-to-day he was not affected by prevalent and overt anti-Catholicism and by hostility toward immigrants. Raskob hung out with the elite and had an upper-class lifestyle. But he was opposed to the second-class treatment given to immigrants. He saw right through Prohibition; that it was disguised anti-Catholicism.
At some point Raskob met Al Smith (1873-1944) through a club. When it came time for Smith to launch his 1928 presidential campaign, he chose Raskob as campaign manager and chair of the Democratic National Committee. All of Smith’s advisors opposed the choice. First, the advisors knew that Raskob had no prior political experience. Second, the advisors were sure that the opposing campaign, already using Smith’s Catholicism against him, would claim that Catholics are taking over the government. (Today, the Ku Klux Klan is associated with racial bigotry. But the Klan began as a mostly anti-Catholic movement. True to their hatred, the Klan vilified Smith as a “papist puppet.”)

Some time ago, I participated in a conference for Catholic leaders. One of the presenters made a startling announcement: “I find no spiritual nourishment in the United States. I am moving to England.”
I was baffled as to why she would pick England as a spiritual oasis. But more importantly, I was disturbed that a Catholic would give a wholesale condemnation to our society. Obviously, our culture has serious defects. But isn’t it better for a Christian to start with society’s achievements and to faithfully engage the ebb-and-flow of daily life?
Raskob was not perfect. He could be judgmental toward others. He made some poor business decisions. And there are huge structural downsides to the capitalist system. Raskob is simply one U.S. Catholic who lived his spirituality in the context of finance.

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

Who is Linna Eleanor Bresette?

Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact

CUA Archives

I didn’t know either until a few days ago. Our friends at the Catholic University of America Libraries have put together a fascinating profile of this early twentieth century labor activist who worked as a factory inspector in her home state before joining the Bishops’ Social Action Department. CUA archivist William Shepherd writes:

Linna Eleanor Bresette (1882-1960) was a teacher and pioneering social justice advocate in her native Kansas for nearly a decade before serving for thirty years as the field secretary of the Social Action Department (SAD) of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). It was with the SAD that she worked with legendary labor priests John A. Ryan, Raymond McGowan, and George G. Higgins as a tireless field worker on behalf of the working poor regardless of race or gender…

Visit the CUA Archivists’ Nook to read the whole story!