Theologian: Catholic Social Teaching Could Break Impasse on Paid Family Leave

Paid family leave is a major policy priority for both the Catholic Church and organized labor. “Every other industrialized country has a policy ensuring that parents can have a paid break whenever they have a child, and polls suggest widespread support for such a policy. Yet competing paid-family-leave bills introduced in this year’s Congress have stalled, continuing almost a decade of legislative impasse,” explains Catholic University of America theologian David Cloutier in a compelling recent Commonweal essay. What’s more, he argues, each political party is promoting a solution rooted in one element of Catholic Social Teaching while neglecting another.

Republican proposals for family leave, Cloutier says, generally allow individuals to borrow from their own social security or retirement accounts to care for a new child – but that means delaying retirement or reducing benefits later. This imposes a real hardship for low-income workers; the proposals contain no element of solidarity, no cost-sharing in which those of us who are more fortunate help those who are less so. The Democratic proposals, in contrast, vastly expand the type and number of “qualified caregiving” costs (arguably including “self-care”) eligible for subsidy up to sixty days per year and is funded by taxpayers generally – there’s not a lot of evidence of subsidiarity in the program. Cloutier concludes,

In their current approaches to paid family leave, our two major political parties display their failure to understand that solidarity and subsidiarity work in tandem. Democrats try to impose solidarity, while Republicans try to escape it. Republicans confuse subsidiarity with atomistic individualism, while Democrats ignore the appropriate complexity of shaping a civil order in pursuit of genuinely shared goods. It is not that Democrats are the “solidarity party” and Republicans the “subsidiarity party”; each misunderstands not only the other’s principle but also the one it pretends to own. The overall result is a lack of action that hurts the most vulnerable. Catholic social teaching might suggest a way out of this impasse, but it would require a fundamental reorientation on the part of both sides of our polarized country.

CLICK HERE to read The Paid Family Leave Impasse: How Catholic Social Teaching Can Help.

More than 600 Catholic Institutions with Employee Unions

One way the Church can evangelize the world is by modeling virtuous behavior in our own lives. Approximately one million Americans are employed in Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, colleges, K-12 schools, and other Catholic institutions. When managers and administrators in these organizations demonstrate fidelity to Catholic Social Teaching by bargaining constructively with unions representing their employees, lay Catholic business leaders – and workers – take notice. That’s one reason why the Catholic Labor Network publishes an annual report listing Catholic institutional employers with unions representing some or all of their employees. This year’s Gaudium et Spes Labor Report lists more than 600 Catholic institutions and organizations that bargain collectively with their employees. CLICK HERE to read the report, and check out the listings for your Diocese!

Union, Church Join Forces to Support Families Upended by Mississippi ICE Raids

On Wednesday, August 8, people across the country saw the terrible scenes on their television: hundreds of ICE agents raiding several poultry plants in Mississippi, leaving crying children in their wake. The response from Church and labor was immediate. The state’s Catholic Bishops condemned the raid, and Catholic Charities set up headquarters in parishes near each plant. The United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union (UFCW) also rushed to the aid of the workers and their families Read more

Airline Food Service Workers Sit-in at American Airlines, Demand Living Wage

On Tuesday, 58 airline food service workers and their supporters were arrested for blocking the entrance to the American Airlines headquarters at their Dallas-Fort Worth area hub, calling for a living wage. American Airlines has subcontracted food preparation there to LSG Sky Chefs, which pays entry-level workers less than $10 per hour – that’s an annual salary of less than $20,000 for a full-time worker, below the poverty level for a parent with two children. Meanwhile, American Airlines is running billion-dollar surpluses. Read more

National Farm Workers’ Ministry leaders gather in DC

As a hot August began, leaders from the National Farm Workers’ Ministry gathered in Washington to explore ways to extend solidarity to the men and women who harvest our food. The NFWM is an interdenominational Christian organization that supports farmworker unions and alt-labor formations with prayer and action. Their work supports the United Farm Workers, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, to name a few.

CLN Executive Director Clayton Sinyai joins NWFM activists to urge Sen. Mark Warner (VA) to support pro-farmworker legislation

Hill visits in 2019 focused on two critical pieces of legislation. The Fairness for Farmworkers Act seeks to redress a historic wrong: when New Deal reformers passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, which establishes overtime wages and other protections, farmworkers were excluded from coverage. Fairness for Farmworkers would extend overtime and other standard labor protections to these workers, and currently has 14 co-sponsors. The Agricultural Worker Protection Act, which the UFW has made a special priority, would offer undocumented farmworkers the opportunity to obtain a “blue card” giving them legal work status – and eventually to earn a green card. The bill has 13 co-sponsors.

The Catholic Labor Network is exploring opportunities to expand our work with NFWM and the nation’s farm worker organizations.

Labor Priest Elected to AUSCP Leadership Team

Fr. Andy Spitzer (left) was elected to the AUSCP leadership team.

In late June, hundreds of priests from across the country gathered in St. Louis for the annual meeting of the Association of US Catholic Priests (AUSCP) and elected Fr. Andy Switzer, a prominent West Virginia labor priest, to join the organization’s leadership team.

Fr. Switzer introduced himself to the assembly in a speech reflecting on his upbringing as the son of a coal miner and his ongoing commitment to bring the good news to West Virginia workers. Switzer first came to the attention of the Catholic Labor Network when he was arrested alongside more than two dozen retired mineworkers and union activists in a civil disobedience action. (The mine operators were attempting to use restructuring and bankruptcy proceedings to escape health care obligations for some 23,000 retirees.)

Other high points of the conference included a keynote address by Cardinal Blase Cupich exploring how both lay and ordained Catholics share a common priesthood through their Baptism, and a colloquium led by Bishop John Stowe on the topic of “Prophetic Obedience and Prophetic Action.” Finally, Fr. Rich Creason, recently retired Pastor of Holy Trinity Church in St. Louis and a longtime member of the Catholic Labor Network, was honored for his life’s work at an award banquet (alongside Sr. Norma Pimentel, whose work caring for migrants in McAllen, TX, has brought her national recognition).

The AUSCP’s Labor Working Group has supported Catholic Labor Network initiatives for several years, and today the organization is providing valuable assistance in our new Church-Labor Partnership Project.

Tenth Anniversary of “Respecting the Just Rights of Workers”

Today, June 22, marks the tenth anniversary of a remarkable document. Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for Health Care Workers and Unions was released on June 22, 2009, signed by a roster of 10 Bishops, union leaders, and Catholic hospital administrators.

Throughout US history, nuns belonging to a variety of religious orders had made care for the sick a focus of their work in the world, and their institutions came to account for some 15% of the nation’s hospital beds. The sisters became a model of Catholic and Christian charity known especially for their care for the poor – unlike many competitors, their nonprofit institutions could focus on the needs of patients rather than the demands of shareholders.

The last years of the twentieth century witnessed an explosion of organizing in the nation’s hospitals and nursing homes. Had nuns still been staffing the Catholic hospitals this movement would surely have had little effect: the sisters, who took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, did not pursue personal wealth, had no families to support, and a vow of obedience that made strikes unlikely. But by the 1980s and 1990s, the dwindling number of sisters in these communities dictated that most employees were laypeople, who had taken no such vows and were supporting spouses and children.

I suspect that this experience gap between the sisters who still dominated the hospital corporate boards and the new lay workforce — many of whom were not Catholic in any event – explained much of the bitterness that accompanying some of the organizing campaigns. (Adam Reich’s 2013 study examining one of these organizing campaigns, With God on Our Side: The Struggle for Workers’ Rights in a Catholic Hospital, is illuminating on this issue.)

Catholic Social Teaching on the right to organize offered a framework for the two sides to begin a dialogue in 1997, hosted by the USCCB. In 1999 the group issued a Working Paper describing their shared principles, “A Fair and Just Workplace: Principles and Practices for Catholic Health Care.” But it would be another decade before the discussants issued the final product, Respecting the Just Rights of Workers. The guidance document urged that management and labor debate the issue of collective bargaining in a spirit of charity, each assuming the goodwill of the other party – and stressed that under Catholic Social Teaching the right to organize or not to organize in a union belongs to the workers alone.

The document has not put an end to bitter union organizing fights in Catholic hospitals – to work, both hospital administrators and unions must agree to honor its principles. Today, most Catholic hospitals in the Northeast and on the West Coast are organized, but the situation in the Midwest is mixed, and few Catholic hospitals in the South engage in collective bargaining with unions representing their employees. As workers in nonunion hospitals continue to seek union organization, and hospital management must decide how to respond, Respecting the Just Rights of Workers offers an important resource for both parties to consider.

 

One year after Janus

Supreme Court decision opposed by Bishops, unions impacting labor movement

Last year, in a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck a critical blow against social solidarity in Janus v. AFSCME. The conventional practice of American labor relations holds that workers in a particular place of employment are a community with shared concerns, so they choose as a group whether they wish to form a union and engage in collective bargaining. If a majority of the workers vote yes, the union represents everyone in the shop in bargaining and grievance handling, and everyone may be required to pay dues for its support. If the workers become dissatisfied with their union, they may vote to dissolve it – again, by majority rule. The workers go in together, and out together. Besides fostering social solidarity, this method addresses a practical issue that economists call the “free rider” problem: the union contract benefits everyone in the shop, whether they pay dues or not.

Mark Janus didn’t much care about social solidarity or the desires of his co-workers. An Illinois state employee covered by a union contract, he argued that his personal freedom of speech was violated if he had to pay any fees for the union’s services and maintenance. Naturally, the AFL-CIO and AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) opposed Janus. Moreover, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed an “amicus brief” reviewing the history of Catholic Social Teaching on labor unions and supporting the union. The brief even compared the case to the notorious Roe v. Wade ruling, in that a decision for the plaintiff would in essence rule Catholic teaching unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the Court sided with Janus, and overnight so-called “right-to-work” policies were imposed on every public workplace.

Predictably, the year saw the number of “free riders” multiply. AFSCME and other unions representing public employees vowed to redouble their efforts to persuade “free riders” to join the union, with some success. A recent Politico story indicates that these “internal organizing” efforts, combined with (member-authorized) dues increases, prevented expected financial losses for the affected unions, at least in the early running.

Nevertheless, the spirit of individualism — the spirit of the “free rider” — is abroad in the land, and we are the poorer for losing one of our remaining frameworks for social solidarity.

Win on Wage Theft in Minnesota

The Minnesota State legislature is on track to make wage theft a felony in the North Star state, thanks to efforts by unions, community groups and support from the Minnesota State Catholic Conference. Workday Minnesota reports that

The Jobs, Economic Development, and Energy omnibus budget bill will include provisions to make wage theft a felony, penalizing employers who retaliate against employees who report it. The bill also provides funding and investigative power so that MN Attorney General Keith Ellison and the Department of Labor can enforce the new law.

Wage theft is surprisingly prevalent in the United States. In some cases it can be as blunt as refusal to pay for work performed or having a paycheck returned “insufficient funds.” In other cases, it involves harder-to-detect schemes: demanding that employees do extra work after they have clocked out, paying at straight time for overtime work, or paying an employee as an independent contractor so that the employer can duck required social security contributions.

Hats off to the Minnesota AFL-CIO and CTUL (Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha, a CCHD-supported workers’ center) for their leadership on this issue – as well as to the Minnesota Catholic Conference for supportive testimony on the issue.

Fight for $15 Rolls on in Connecticut

In May, Connecticut became the latest state to move toward making the minimum wage a living wage. Legislators passed a bill phasing in a $15 minimum wage by 2023. Commonweal editor Rand Richards Cooper, a Connecticut resident, reviews the debate and explains why this issue is important to Catholics in Why the Fight for Fifteen Must Succeed:

The Catholic Church has provided a strong voice in support of a living wage for well over a century. Since Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum (“Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor”), popes have called for wages sufficient to sustain working families… John Paul II asserted in Laborem exercens (On Human Work) (1981) that the fundamental soundness of any economic system—and indeed its legitimacy—depends in large part on its ability to provide a living wage. “[A] just wage is the concrete means of verifying the whole socioeconomic system and, in any case, of checking that it is functioning justly,” John Paul wrote. “It is not the only means of checking, but it is a particularly important one and in a sense the key means.”