ONE JOB SHOULD BE ENOUGH: What the Marriott Strike Is All About

Over the past two months, hotel workers in our nation’s major metropolitan areas have walked out of Marriott hotels in a nationwide strike. As of October 8, nearly 8,000 members of the hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE were on the picket lines in Boston, Detroit, Honolulu, San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area. What do they want? Well, it’s simple really. They are tired of working multiple jobs to earn enough to support their families. Their placards say it all: One Job Should Be Enough.

There was a time in this country when a man or woman who was willing to work hard and put in a forty-hour week would earn enough to live, modestly but comfortably Read more

When it comes to organizing, farmworkers face special challenges

Few U.S. workers face more challenging circumstances than farmworkers. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), passed in 1935 to guarantee workers the right to organize and bargain collectively without retaliation, excluded agricultural workers from its coverage – so these workers enjoy no protection from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) if disciplined or fired for their union activity. Add to this the fact that recent immigrants make up the bulk of the workforce, and that relatively few are U.S. citizens, and you have a recipe for exploitation. Despite the odds, organizations like the United Farmworkers (UFW), the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) continue to organize in the fields and dairies – and need solidarity from allies in the Church and the labor movement to back them up.

The UFW is probably the most familiar to readers. In their 1970s heyday, the largely Mexican and Mexican-American workforce that harvested California’s grapes organized under the leadership of the legendary Cesar Chavez. Chavez, deeply motivated by his Catholic faith, led a grape boycott and hunger strikes to draw attention to working conditions in the fields. With extensive support by Catholic clergy and laity and by the unions of the AFL-CIO, the UFW persuaded the state of California to adopt an “Agricultural Labor Relations Act” that gave farmworkers in the Golden State the basic rights guaranteed in the NLRA. In a current campaign among dairy workers, Washington State Darigold Workers who belong to the UFW demanded their legally mandated lunch breaks — and were fired for doing so. Starbucks Coffee is a major buyer, so the union is asking supporters to contact Starbucks and demand they meet with the workers.

Under the H2A visa program, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service permits growers in the United States to sponsor guest workers from Mexico (and elsewhere) who come to do the heavy work of planting and harvesting – then are sent home when the work is done.  Because these workers can be deported if they displease their sponsoring employer, they are highly vulnerable to exploitation. Nonetheless, some have been successful organizing through the FLOC, a union that has operations in both Monterey, Mexico where the workers are recruited and in the US tobacco fields where they work. FLOC is asking Reynolds tobacco to source their tobacco from farms adhering to a code of conduct. The workers are asking allies to boycott Vuse e-cigarettes  – and asking convenience stores like Circle K, 7-11 and Wawa to drop the product – until Reynolds takes responsibility for labor rights and working conditions on their contract farms.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is not a union at all but has achieved remarkable progress in the tomato fields of Florida. The farmworkers of Immokalee came together in the 1990s to fight for improved wages and working conditions, but soon learned that only the large buyers had the power to enforce lasting changes in the fields. Building a network of allies in the Church, labor and community organizations, the workers persuaded McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell to buy only from growers who have signed the CIW code of conduct. Today they are leading a boycott of Wendy’s, the stubborn holdout of the fast food sector, demanding that the chain do the right thing and use its market power to secure justice for farmworkers.

The men and women who harvest the food we eat need our support. Please pray for them, and make your voice heard by signing on to these campaigns.

Missouri voters reject “Right-to-work”

In a dramatic win for workers’ rights, Missouri voters rejected a law aimed at crippling labor unions by a lopsided 2-1 margin in an August referendum.

Though called “right-to-work” by supporters, these laws do not in fact create a right to a job. Rather, they create a “right” to be a free rider, to enjoy union wages and benefits while one’s co-workers carry the freight by paying their dues. “Right-to-work” laws undermine solidarity among workers, tilting the balance toward employers at the bargaining table.

In 2017 Missouri legislators – saying that they wanted to make the state a more inviting target for business investment – passed a “right-to-work” bill, which was duly signed into law by the governor. NOT SO FAST, responded Missouri’s working families. Missouri union members fanned out across the state, telling their friends and neighbors what “right-to-work” was all about and collecting 300,000 signatures to put the question to a voter referendum.

Missouri residents voted 63-37 against “Right to Work.”

US Bishops: “stand in solidarity with workers by advocating for just wages.”

“The plight of our brothers and sisters who work hard but struggle to make ends meet calls us all to reflect in a special way this Labor Day.” So begins Just Wages and Human Flourishing, the Bishops’ annual Labor Day Statement. Bishop Dewane of Venice, who chairs the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, calls us to consider what our Church teaches about just wages.

It’s a timely message. Nine years into our recovery from the Great Recession, many Americans are working again – but far too many are working for poverty wages, insufficient to support themselves and their families. In fact, even as the stock market has climbed to record levels, and incomes have rapidly climbed in our nation’s high-income households, real wages for blue-collar and service sector workers have now stagnated for an astonishing four decades. Nor can Christians remain indifferent to this injustice:

The struggle of working people, of the poor, as Pope Francis reminds us, is not first a “social or political question. No! It is the Gospel, pure and simple…” How are we as Christians, who are members of society, called to respond to the question of wages and justice?  First, we are called to live justly in our own lives whether as business owners or workers.  Secondly, we are called to stand in solidarity with our poor and vulnerable brothers and sisters.  Lastly, we should all work to reform and build a more just society, one which promotes human life and dignity and the common good of all…

So what are Christians called to do?

Practically speaking, in the setting of wages, there must be due consideration for what justly ensures security for employees to establish and maintain all significant aspects of family life, and care for family members into the future.  Likewise, those engaged in public policy and finance should consider the structural causes of low wages, especially in the way that corporations distribute profits, and respond by working to address unjust disparities. The rights of workers to organize should be respected, as should the rights of unions and worker centers to advocate for just wages, health benefits that respect life and dignity, and time for rest, and to guard against wage theft.

The laborer is worth his wages. Every worker has the right to a living wage sufficient to raise his or her family in dignity. As Bishop Dewane exhorts us in closing, “This Labor Day, let us all commit ourselves to personal conversion of heart and mind and stand in solidarity with workers by advocating for just wages, and in so doing, ‘bring glad tidings to the poor.’”

Fordham, Adjunct Union Link Landmark Union Agreement to Catholic Social Teaching

This July, Fordham adjunct faculty and other non-tenure track instructors ratified a landmark first contract. SEIU Local 200, which represents about 800 instructors, secured a three-year deal that giving most adjuncts between $7,000 and $8,000 per course by the end of the contract. Both the administration and the union expressed pride in the resulting contract, which they contended would not just improve salaries for underpaid instructors but better integrate them into university life, ultimately benefiting their students as well. And speakers representing each side linked the outcome to the unversity’s Catholic values and witness. Fordham President Joseph McShane, SJ said:

In addition to the more tangible benefits offered in the contracts, we believe that the new contracts will better integrate non-tenure track faculty into the Fordham community and foster a work environment that will continue to attract top faculty to Fordham. I have said before that organized labor has deep roots in Catholic social justice teachings, and that given its Jesuit traditions and historic connection to first-generation and working-class students, Fordham has a special duty in this area. But the benefits of these contracts do not only accrue to the non-tenure track faculty: a stronger connection to students, tenured and tenure-track faculty, and the rest of the academic community rewards all of us in ways great and small.

Fordham University Lecturer Ashar Foley, a Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies who served on the negotiating committee, agreed. “I’m so happy to have helped bring this change in our working conditions,” Foley said. “By unionizing, we play our part in the Jesuit University mission of alleviating poverty, promoting justice, and protecting human rights.”

500 Catholic Institutions That Live Catholic Social Teaching on Labor and Work

Catholic institutions, ranging from vast hospital chains to small parochial schools, employ approximately one million workers in the United States. When such institutions recognize and bargain with unions representing their employees, they model the principles of Catholic Social Teaching for lay business leaders and workers and  alike.

These institutions are a true source of Joy and Hope. The 2018 Gaudium et Spes Labor Report lists more than 500 such institutions with unions representing some or all of their employees. The list is separated into four major sectors (Healthcare, Higher Education, K-12 Schools, and Other), then broken out by State and Diocese.
Did you know that…

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Georgetown, Grad Student Union Set Aside Legal Fight, Opt for New Labor Relations Model

Also: Loyola University Chicago, Adjuncts Settle First Contract

For some time, it has looked like the Georgetown University administration and its graduate student teaching and research assistants were headed for a legal showdown at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The students said they were university employees and wanted to vote on union representation in an NLRB-certified election; the University said they were not workers but students and not covered by the NLRB. It had all the makings of an ugly labor dispute.

The university felt confident it had the stronger legal argument and would prevail. But then administrators realized: even if we win the legal case, we are still bound by Catholic Social Teaching, and CST is pretty clear about workers’ right to organize. Read more

Dignity, SEIU Settle Contract for 15,000 Catholic Healthcare Workers

Dignity Health – the hospital group formerly known as Catholic Healthcare West – has been preparing for a merger with another major Catholic healthcare system, Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI). Dignity is largely union; CHI isn’t. SEIU-UHW, representing about 15,000 health techs and support personnel at Dignity, has been pressing Dignity for a contract in order prior to the merger to protect their members – a campaign that included informational pickets outside Dignity hospitals.

CLN is pleased to report that Dignity and SEIU-UHW reached agreement on a contract, ratified by SEIU members in March. Terms extend to 2023 and will protect workers through the transition. The Catholic Labor Network congratulates both parties on reaching a mutually beneficial agreement!

Is Sisterhood Powerful? Vatican newspaper questions church treatment of women religious

In an interesting March story, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published a thoughtful article on the work of women religious in the church. “The (almost) free work of sisters” posed difficult questions about the wages, working conditions and respect given those who perform so much of the church’s labor. Reporter Marie-Lucile Kubacki interviewed some of the religious sisters who teach in schools, tend the sick in hospitals, and even cook and clean for senior prelates. Sister Marie (a pseudonym) told Kubacki:

I often receive sisters in situations of domestic service that are definitely given little recognition. Some of them serve in bishops’ or cardinals’ residences… Does an ecclesiastic think about having himself served a meal by the sister who works for him and then leaving her to eat alone in the kitchen once he has been served? Is it normal for a consecrated man to be served in this manner by another consecrated person? And knowing that consecrated people destined for domestic work are almost always women religious?

Sr. Paule added that unlike most other Italian workers, often

the sisters do not have a contract or an agreement with the bishops or parish priests for whom they work… they are paid little or nothing. This happens in schools or doctors’ offices and more often in pastoral work or when the sisters take care of the cooking and housework in the bishop’s residence or in the parish. … The greatest problem is simply how to live in a community and how to enable it to live, how to provide the necessary funds for the religious and professional formation of its members, how to establish who pays and how to pay the bills when sisters are ill or need treatment because they are incapacitated by old age, as well as how to find resources to carry out the mission according to their charism.

CLICK HERE to read “The (almost) free work of sisters”

Catholic leaders call on Supreme Court to preserve union rights for public employees

On February 26 oral arguments began in Janus v AFSCME, the most important Supreme Court case in decades for American labor unions. A majority of employees in the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services have voted for union representation by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the AFSCME contract with the state requires all employees covered by the contract pay union dues or “agency fees” to cover the costs of bargaining and grievance handling. Mark Janus, a Department employee, wants to opt out of paying these agency fees and is asking the Supreme Court to rule that the First Amendment gives him the right to refuse. If Janus wins, he will bring “right-to-work” to every state and local government agency in the United States. That will almost certainly be catastrophic for public employee unions – after all, why pay dues if you can get all the benefits of the union’s contract without it?

The case has inspired an outpouring of Catholic support for labor. In January, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops weighed in with an amicus brief in support of AFSCME. The remarkable brief cited the long history of Catholic Social Teaching defending the right to organize and pointed out that Janus, like Roe, was asking the Court to declare Catholic Social Teaching unconstitutional. (The Catholic Labor Network joined an interdenominational alliance that filed an amicus brief of its own, also supporting the union.)

In the weeks since, numerous bishops, priests, and Catholic lay leaders have spoken out to defend the union. Don’t miss, for instance, Michael Sean Winters’ excellent essay in the National Catholic Reporter, Don’t Let ‘Janus’ Case Axe Root of American Labor.  Fr. Michael Seavey, speaking at a rally before the Supreme Court building, reminded listeners, reflected on reports describing the network of deep-pocketed pro-business interest groups that financed and promoted Janus’s challenge:

In our nation’s history, there has been one institution and only one institution that has consistently advocated for, defended and promoted working people. That institution is not the government, it is not any political party, nor is it any think tank or corporation. The only institution that has consistently stood by working women and men at all times and under all circumstances are labor unions….The dark forces of economic exploitation, condemned by Pope Leo in 1891 and consistently condemned by popes ever since still face us today. They are fueled by amassed wealth and power; and move against the forces of justice, true community, and true freedom. Their true identity, covered by a veneer of concern for liberty and individual rights, becomes readily apparent when the real agenda comes to the forefront.

Fr. Clete Kiley, a Catholic Labor Network board member, addressed the issue at a solidarity rally in Chicago.

Because solidarity is at stake today the Catholic Bishops of the United States stand with AFCSME, with the Labor Movement and with the millions of union members across this country. The Catholic Bishops of the United States have filed an amicus curiae brief in the Janus case in support of AFCSME. The brief draws upon more than 125 years of Church Doctrine that supports workers, upholds their right to form unions and to bargain collectively… Unions are a positive good for society in Catholic Doctrine.

My personal favorite was the intervention by Bishop David Zubik, who penned an insightful column in the Pittsburgh Catholic. He recalled how his father’s union membership had provided a family-supporting wage during his youth, as it does for many today. He concluded,

 “Solidarity!” is the great rallying cry of organized labor, and one of the most important theological principles of the church. We are all in this together. Those of us who are strong need to stand with those of us who are weak, so that we can all thrive together. We in the church need to support our sisters and brothers in unions, as together — in both private sectors and public sectors — we work for a more just, pro-life and pro-family society.

Have any Catholic leaders in your community impressed you with their witness for public workers’ rights in the face of Janus v. AFSCME? Please email clayton@catholiclabor.org with the details, or share them in the comment section below!