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


Anti-Labor Politicians Target Union Rights of Iowa Public Workers, Over Bishops’ Objections

Iowa teachers protest legislative attack on unions (courtesy Iowa AFL-CIO)

Iowa seems to be ground zero in an assault on worker rights in early 2017. US Representative Steve King of Sioux City — who identifies himself as Catholic — has distinguished himself both by sponsoring national “right-to-work” legislation and as a leading defender of the President’s executive actions targeting immigrants and refugees. At the state level, over the objections of Iowa’s Catholic Bishops, legislators have adopted legislation stripping public employees of most bargaining rights. The Iowa Catholic Conference reminded legislators that “workers retain their right of association whether they work for a private employer or for the government,” and urged that the state’s budget challenges be resolved through dialogue and negotiation, but were rebuffed.

The legislation is similar to Wisconsin’s “Act 10,” a 2011 measure by Governor Scott Walker that took away unions’ rights to bargain over health and pension benefits, limited raises to the rate of inflation and created administrative hurdles for unions in recruiting and retaining members. Bishop Jerome Listecki, writing for the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, advised that while the state’s budget problems called for shared sacrifice, “hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.” Bishop Stephen Blaire, on behalf of USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, quickly endorsed Bishop Listecki’s message.

Right to Work Heads to US Congress, but Hits Speed Bump in NH

Since last November, anti-labor politicians have made a concerted effort to bring “right-to-work” laws to new areas of the country – laws that aim to weaken unions by allowing individual workers to “opt-out” of paying dues after the majority has voted for a union. Despite heroic efforts by workers in Kentucky and Missouri, right-to-work has become law in both states. Things looked grim in New Hampshire as well, but in then end Granite State legislators rejected the proposal. Meanwhile, union workers in Missouri are gathering signatures for a referendum, hoping to overturn the legislature’s action.

Still, legislators in relative union strongholds like Pennsylvania and Oregon are filing similar anti-labor legislation, and in the US Congress Reps. Steve King (IA) and Joe Wilson (SC) are pushing a National Right to Work Act. If Catholics – in the unions, in the pews, and in the chanceries – do not stand up and testify for their values, our nation will soon have a much-diminished labor movement to defend the rights and welfare of American workers.

As Lexington’s Bishop John Stowe observed during the Kentucky legislative debate,

In Catholic teaching, unions are described as an indispensable element of social life.  Unions are to promote solidarity among workers.  They are essential for economic justice and to protect the rights of workers… The weakening of unions by so-called “right to work” laws, has been shown to reduce wages and benefits overall in the states where such laws have been enacted.  This cannot be seen as contributing to the common good.

The Working Catholic: Pure Faith

Fr. Isaac Hecker, CSP (1819-1888) founded the Paulist Fathers, the first United States-based religious order. His sermon on “The Feast of St. Joseph” gives a summary of Hecker’s spiritual outlook:

Our age is not an age of martyrdom, nor an age of hermits, nor a monastic age. Although it has its martyrs, its recluses and its monastic communities, these are not and are not likely to be its prevailing type of Christian perfection. Our age lives in its busy marts, in counting-rooms, in workshops, in homes and in varied relations that form human society, and it is into these that sanctity is to be introduced.

Of course, every society has moral defects, some of which are quite serious. Hecker believed, however, that faith grows and spreads when the achievements of a society and a culture (in his case the United States) are first appreciated. Start with the positive, Hecker said.
A different outlook is making its way around the internet. Called The Benedict Option, it starts with the negatives of society and tries to construct a so-called pure Christian lifestyle. The movement’s name, reports The Wall St. Journal (2/19/17), is in homage to St. Benedict of Nursia (480-547), who founded a dozen small communities or monasteries in Italy. Some people identify with the movement while maintaining their normal job and while residing in a normal neighborhood. They take care, however, to avoid so-called secular influences. They spend time with others who share their worldview. Other people, as WSJ profiles, move into an alternative community and worship in a monastic setting.
This anti-cultural option is nothing new within Catholicism. Recluses, monastic communities and religious purists are always part of the mix; they come and go. The admirable Catholic Worker movement, for example, judges our dominant culture to be indifferent and violence-prone. People join the Catholic Worker to give symbolic protest and to serve the poor in personal, non-bureaucratic fashion. The Catholic Charismatic movement, to give a second contemporary example, is countercultural to one degree or another.
A few expressions of Christianity (Amish, for example) are designed to stand apart from the dominant culture. Catholicism, while it always benefits from sincere countercultural witness, is not designed to be sectarian. Catholicism is for sinners, not for a pure remnant.
The danger for those who espouse the Benedict Option is self-righteousness. Withdrawing from a so-called corrupt society is not in itself a more holy way than staying in society while advancing the common good. Home-schooling is not more holy than reforming a public school. A Mass celebrated in Latin is not more pleasing to God than one celebrated in Spanish or English. Serving dinner in a Catholic Worker house is no more a corporal work of mercy than a social worker spending a frustrating day arranging for a family’s food and shelter benefits.
In traditional Catholicism the virtue of social justice is finding like-minded people within one’s workplace or neighborhood and then in concert improving a policy or an institution. Social justice is hard because it is incremental. Always more to do tomorrow. It is also hard because it requires tradeoffs. Is half-a-loaf too little to settle for? Are the allies on this week’s effort too morally objectionable or is temporary collaboration OK? Will the side-effects of this week’s improvement cause greater harm within a few months?
Each Catholic needs monastic time and space–a few minutes each day, an hour or more once a week (in addition to Mass, which is world-affirming) and ideally a weekend retreat once a year. Catholicism cannot, however, endorse monasticism for the majority.
Do you want to entice children and young adults with the power of our faith? Try bringing solid Catholic tradition and our sacramental imagination into contact with the positives in their life and in our culture—jazz, the Constitution, baseball, public libraries, solar engineering, affordable housing development, direct relationships that avoid social media, efficient plumbing and garbage collection (the front line against disease), the jury system, sophisticated adoption agencies, a relatively vibrant voluntary sector, religious freedom (though in need of democratic vigilance), newspapers, well-maintained parks and expansive forests, clean water (though jeopardized in Michigan and elsewhere), colleges (though pay restraint for head football coaches is needed), resilient families (though pro-marriage public policies are needed), the hospice movement, group homes for mentally disabled (though more responsible management is needed in some of them), daily mail delivery, non-violent protest, lasagna and many more manifestations of God’s grace.

Droel is the author of Patty Crowley: Lay Pioneer (NCL, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $2.75 donation)

EPA Union President Describes Dire Circumstances at the Environmental Protection Agency

In his day job, Catholic Labor Network Vice President John O’Grady serves as President of AFGE Council 238, the labor union representing EPA employees. O’Grady files this report from that embattled public agency:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reeling not only from the nomination of Scott Pruitt as the Agency’s next Administrator, but also from gag orders, the government hiring freeze, temporary holds on litigation and enforcement, as well as contracts and grants. While Mr. Pruitt states that the climate is changing, he believes our ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue. Hogwash! All you need to do is look at the changes in the polar ice caps to know something is not right at the North Pole.

In 1999 EPA had a staffing level of 18,110 FTEs (Full-Time Equivalents); by 2015, the FTE level was under 15,000. Sixty-five (65%) of EPA’s budget is passed through in the form of contracts, grants, inter-agency agreements, etc., to states, tribal authorities, municipalities and contractors. EPA’s budget has been relatively flat over the past ten years and cutting EPA’s budget would cut into the ability of states and others to properly enforce environmental laws. Most states are already under heavy budgetary pressure and due to low salaries, have trouble holding onto their experienced staff. EPA has over 50 major and minor laws passed by Congress that must be enforced (e.g., Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, etc.). The question is, “How much do we value the air you breathe and the water we drink?” What’s truly important – a little extra profit for the corporations (which will not be shared with the employees), or an America that we can pass on to our children and grand-children? Remember – there is no ‘Planet B!’

O’Grady was among several government employees quoted in a Washington Post article describing the challenges of federal employees trying to pursue the legislative mandates of their agencies, even as some new Cabinet appointees seem intent on the opposite. To read Resistance from within: Federal workers push back against Trump, CLICK HERE.

For more information on the AFGE campaign to protect the EPA…


The Church Responds to Executive Actions Targeting Immigrants and Refugees

Sadly, our new President has begun his term with a series of executive orders and memoranda targeting immigrants and refugees. Happily, the Church and organized labor are swiftly speaking out in defense of these vulnerable workers.

The Church is emerging as a major voice of opposition to the new policies. On January 30, 2017, USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Vice President Archbishop Jose Gomez issued a statement on the executive order blocking Muslim refugees from entering the United States, reading in part:

We call upon all the Catholic faithful to join us as we unite our voices with all who speak in defense of human dignity… Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life. It is the very form of Christianity itself.  Our actions must remind people of Jesus. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity.  Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him.

Our desire is not to enter the political arena, but rather to proclaim Christ alive in the world today. In the very moment a family abandons their home under threat of death, Jesus is present.  And He says to each of us, ‘whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’ (MT 25:40).

The USCCB is circulating an Action Alert asking Catholics to petition the president and their elected representatives to end the ban and resume refugee resettlement. (CLICK HERE TO PARTICIPATE)

This action by the USCCB leaders followed a series of statements from Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, in his capacity as chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, opposing presidential moves to stop refugee resettlement, suppress sanctuary cities, and start construction of a wall on the  US-Mexico Border.

For detailed information and additional resources, the bishops maintain a web page filled with Catholic Social Teaching links and resources addressing immigration and another concerning migrants and refugees.

What’s happening in your Diocese, Parish or Catholic organization? Drop me a line at clayton@catholiclabor.org or add your story in the comment field below!

The Labor Movement Responds to Executive Actions Targeting Immigrants and Refugees

Sadly, our new President has begun his term with a series of executive orders and memoranda targeting immigrants and refugees. Happily, the Church and organized labor are swiftly speaking out in defense of these vulnerable workers and families.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has issued a statement on the executive actions, which begins:

President Donald Trump has announced three executive orders addressing immigration that are an affront to core union and American values. Building a wall on our border, scapegoating immigrants and refugees, and shutting out people of Muslim faith will do nothing to uplift working people in our country. To the contrary, these orders sow fear of raids among workers, promote racial profiling and erode core constitutional protections. As such, they are a clear attack on our members, and elevated fear is a direct obstacle to workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. We call on President Trump to revoke these orders.

We are better than this. Our nation must never turn its back on people fleeing violence and oppression based simply upon where they are from or the religion they practice. We call for our nation’s leaders to stay true to our long and proud tradition of providing safe harbor to those seeking to build a better life. We offer our solidarity and support to the working families harmed by this discriminatory ban.

The AFL-CIO has a page of resources for union members and other workers threatened by the administration’s actions.

Leaders of several major labor unions have issued similar statements, among them:

  • Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), representing many immigrant workers in healthcare and cleaning services
  • D Taylor, President of UNITEHERE, representing many immigrant workers in the hotel and hospitality industry
  • Art Pulaski, President of the California Labor Federation (AFL-CIO)
  • Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

What’s happing in your local union or labor federation? Drop me a line at clayton@catholiclabor.org or add your story in the comment field below!

Kentucky Bishop on Right to Work: “This cannot be seen as contributing to the common good”

Last month in this space I wrote about anti-union “right-to-work” legislation circulating in three states — Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire. As the legislation hit the floor in Kentucky, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington issued a remarkable appeal to state legislators defending Catholic social teaching on labor and worker justice, and indicating how that teaching illuminated the issue before them. Although legislators in the Bluegrass State pushed the bill through anyway, this issue is still under debate in MO and NH, and some union opponents hope to bring it to the US Congress. The message is recommended reading for Catholics, lay and clergy, who want to understand this issue: Read more

Bishops, AFL-CIO President discuss “Dignity of Work” at Catholic University

Cardinal Sean O’Malley (Courtesy CUA)

January witnessed an impressive gathering at the Catholic University of America, where labor and Church leaders came together for a dialogue on the Dignity of Work and the dangers of an “erroneous autonomy” – the libertarian, free-market vision that shatters solidarity and imagines “looking out for number one” as the summum bonum. San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, writer and pundit Tom Frank, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka were among the many astute critics of economic inequality who addressed attendees. It’s safe to say that “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is NEVER the right answer when God asks you a question, whether he is asking you about the poor, the unemployed, or the refugee. For coverage of the event, check out:

San Diego bishop warns against nationalism, market rule, overconfidence in technology (NCR)

Lack of just wages, benefits a threat to human dignity (NCR)

Getting ready for Trump: Catholic leaders condemn the ‘imperialism’ of free markets (America)

Social doctrine is about solidarity, Catholic leaders insist (Crux)

Trump’s rise and GOP economics may shift Catholic Church’s priorities (Religion News Service)