Breakthrough for Worker Justice at Fordham U.

The big news in Catholic employment relations this month: Fordham University President Joseph McShane, SJ announced that out of respect for Catholic social teaching on the rights of workers the university would not oppose their adjuncts if they wished to form a union and bargain collectively.

Adjunct faculty at universities across the United States, Catholic and secular, have sought to form unions in recent years to remedy low pay, poor benefits, and job insecurity. Some Catholic universities, such as Georgetown and Trinity Washington, have adopted a neutral stance, leaving the decision to the workers themselves – a stance conforming with Church teaching on the right of workers to join trade unions. Others, however, such as nearby Manhattan College, have refused to recognize and bargain with adjunct unions – and then invoked First Amendment protections to escape legal consequences, seeking to associate “union avoidance” practices with the preservation of religious freedom.

Fordham adjuncts and administrators spent the spring in tense confrontations over the instructors’ union aspirations, and it often seemed that Fordham would follow the example of Manhattan, Duquesne and other schools denying employees their right to organize. But instead, after a long process of discernment, Fr. McShane announced in an email:

After much consultation and reflection, I have decided that the University will not oppose the unionization of adjunct faculty. As you receive this email, we have initiated discussion with the union over the University adopting a stance of neutrality regarding the organization of our adjunct faculty.

I have become convinced of the rightness of this course of action over the last few months by conversations with my fellow Jesuits. After all, organized labor has deep roots in Catholic social justice teachings. And though this is an issue that many universities are facing—not all of which have come to the same decision—given its Jesuit traditions and historic connection to first-generation and working-class students, Fordham has a special duty in this area.

(The complete text of the email can be found online courtesy of Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative.) We at the Catholic Labor Network applaud Fr. McShane and the Fordham administration on this important decision, and the witness it offers to Catholic business leaders nationwide. We fervently hope and pray that this begins a new chapter in labor relations at the university, one of mutual respect and cooperation for the common good.

In other news: The NLRB has announced that Manhattan University adjunct faculty voted 59-46 for union representation! Well, it may not be “news” news – the faculty voted in 2011, but the Manhattan administration’s legal arguments kept the ballots impounded for six years. Now that Manhattan knows that its adjunct instructors want union representation, will they honor their employees’ choice? Perhaps the vote results, and events at Fordham, will provide the Manhattan administration aids to discernment as well.

Pope Francis speaks on business and work at Genoa steel mill

On May 27, Pope Francis visited Genoa’s ILVA steel works, addressing managers, steelworkers, and unemployed members of the community about Christian values and business operations. Francis praised Christian business leaders who treated workers with justice and respect, but feared that creative entrepreneurship was giving way to speculation. Crux reported:

“An illness of the economy is the progressive transformation of businessmen into speculators,” Francis said. “A speculator is a figure similar to what Jesus in the gospels called “money-changers” as opposed to pastors. He doesn’t love his company or his workers, but they’re solely a means for making profits. He fires people, relocates the company, because it’s instrumentalized and eats up people and products.”

The Pope also insisted that work is essential to human flourishing, so we must address technological unemployment in a way that preserves work for all, not just income. As Vatican Radio summarized:

“It is necessary, therefore, to look fearlessly and a sense of responsibility on the technological transformations of the economy and of life, he said, “without resigning ourselves to the ideology that seems to be gaining a foothold wherever one looks, which envisions a world in which only a half or maybe two-thirds of employable people actually work, and the others maintained with a welfare cheque.”

“It must be clear,” Pope Francis continued, “that the true objective to reach is not ‘income for all’ but ‘work for all’.”

Texas AFL-CIO Video: No to SB4 “Show Your Papers” Law

The Texas AFL-CIO has spent months trying to stop SB4, a bill forbidding local police departments from following “sanctuary” policies. They prepared this video to explain why:

 

Texas Targets “Sanctuary Cities” over Labor, Church Objections

In the wake of a headline-making scuffle between legislators, the whole nation has learned about “SB4,” the Texas legislation targeting “sanctuary cities.” But the Texas Catholic Conference and the Texas AFL-CIO have been fighting the proposal for months.  SB4 would prohibit “sanctuary” policies adopted by police departments in cities across the Lone Star State to win trust and cooperation in immigrant communities. They assured even the undocumented that the police were there to fight crime, not enforce federal immigration laws.

Both the Church and the labor movement vocally opposed SB4.  Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin testified that Read more

Common Good

The Working Catholic by Bill Droel

“Your sad story doesn’t obligate me or anybody else to pay for somebody else’s health care,” says a former Congressman from Illinois. He has apparently forgotten the definition of insurance (a hedge or cushion against risk), which is normally achieved by spreading the cost of a problem (a car accident, a fire, a surgery) among a more-or-less random pool of people. More importantly, this former legislator (now a radio commentator) and many others like him have forgotten an crucial part of moral philosophy.

Our United States culture prizes liberty. It is marvel the way our country’s founders and its citizens to this day have woven liberty into our laws, our civic affairs, our business practices, our expressions of faith and more. This is something new in the long history of civilization. We correctly invoke the virtue of liberty or freedom at sports events, in schools, in discussions of military deployment, in TV commercials, in policy debates and more. Frequently, however, we forget that liberty is a social virtue and that it is part of a constellation of other virtues. Instead, we too often equate liberty with ragged individualism.
Individualism is now the default position of our culture. It says that goodness is achieved when at the end of the day (or the end of the financial quarter or fiscal year) the greatest number of people gets the best results possible. The mechanism is individual choice. The maximum number of choices, says individualism, will somehow yield maximum benefits—though not for all people, but for the most people. This is a philosophy for lazy thinkers. It reduces liberty or freedom to choices or options. Should we install a dish or connect with cable? Should we marry or simply live together? Should we help one another with health insurance or allocate for our own family exclusively?
Individual liberty is an achievement, but individualism, particularly as currently presented by some ideologues in our society, is destructive. Yes to communitarian individuals; no to extreme individualism.

The principle of the common good recognizes that many important things cannot be obtained by individuals. Many good things can only be obtained in common: public safety, effective fire-fighting in urban areas, roads and airports, libraries (including all cyber-research), clean water and access to health care. No matter how wealthy the former Congressman might be, he cannot have all these good things unless he cooperates. In fact, many people never use an airport but their taxes subsidize the airport that the Congressman uses. Many never go to college, but taxpayers underwrote his education. His tuition did not fully cover the costs of running those schools.
The common good, which was always part of the United States experiment in democracy, complements the so-called free market and in fact it makes the market better. The common good is not reducible to the sum total of individual choices. It imposes considerations on those who are expressing an opinion and acting on a calculated choice. If we forget about the common good, we sooner or later lose society.
Of course, the common good does not give wholesale endorsement to the Affordable Care Act. It does not endorse Trump/Ryan Care. Reasonable citizens can reasonably differ about the delivery of health care. In fact, the common good does not even necessitate a health insurance system. Theoretically, normal health care (the requirement of the common good principle) could be inexpensively available to all if pharmaceutical executives, doctors, hospital administrators and others were paid the same wage as their patients.

The former Illinois Congressman, who lists himself as a Catholic, puts the matter of health care delivery under the virtue of compassion. “It is compassion for me to voluntarily help someone else,” he says. It is not a virtue for the government “to forcibly take the money I make.”
Here again, he and many others don’t realize that compassion or love is a commandment or a requirement. It is not merely optional. Likewise, he forgets to put compassion into the constellation of social virtues. For example, distributive justice is the virtue that obligates an authority, like the government, to allocate resources so that all have the common goods.

Extreme individualism is bad for our culture, bad for business, bad for United States image abroad and bad for legitimate debate about government meddling in health care, about tax incentives for domestic job creation, about improvements in education outcomes, about women’s reproductive health, about enforcing the civil rights of gays and lesbians, about reform inside civil service unions, about extraction and use of domestic natural resources. Extreme libertarians on the right and on the left are hurting our society.
From its earliest days, visitors to our country have been impressed with our teamwork, our sense of community, our voluntary associations, our inclusiveness and our collective dedication to the common good. We prosper and pursue our happiness to the extent that we pull together and that we refute mindless comments about “my own health care.”

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

May 1 – Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

America’s official Labor Day falls in September, but the world’s Labor Day is May 1. That includes the Church, which celebrates this day as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. This year’s Mayday is shaping up to be an especially active one, because immigrant workers have organized a day of walkouts, rallies and demonstrations to respond to recent executive actions targeting immigrants. The AFL-CIO and several national and local labor organizations have endorsed this action and provided critical support. How are you celebrating the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker? Share your plans in the comment section below!

Loyola University Chicago Appoints “Just Employment Task Force”

We are pleased to report that Loyola University Chicago has established a Just Employment Task Force to examine university labor and employment practices in light of Catholic Social Teaching! Loyola has witnessed a number of labor disputes in recent years. Food service workers there, who belong to UNITE HERE and are employed by a university contractor, tangled with their employer over health benefits. Loyola’s adjunct faculty (right) voted to join the SEIU and are in the process of negotiating their first contract. And last month graduate teaching assistants voted to join the SEIU as well.

Too often, employers and administrators become defensive when workers organize and turn to professional union-busters for advice. Loyola, it seems, is instead consulting Catholic social doctrine to determine how to move forward. Jo Ann Rooney, Loyola’s new President, said: Read more

Retracing Francis’ footsteps among the Argentine poor

pilgrimage-bookMark Shriver, inspired by Pope Francis’ life and ministry, traveled to Argentina and retraced the footsteps of our surprising Pontiff – and writes of his journey in a new book, Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis. As Mark Zimmermann reports in the Catholic Standard,

The future pope, who encouraged his seminarians and priests to have “muddy shoes” in their service to their people, especially the poor, did just that, catching the bus, even on his vacation days, to visit the priests and people at the parish in the slums, joining processions and taking part in Masses held outside train stations and under a tent in a city plaza, bringing to life what some call a “theology of the people.”

Shriver also meets a man named Sergio Sanchez, the leader of a Buenos Aires cooperative of thousands of workers who make their living by picking up cardboard and plastic bottles for recycling. He said Cardinal Bergoglio first got to know the workers by baptizing their children and later supported them in their organizing efforts. Sanchez sat in a seat of honor at Pope Francis’s inaugural Mass and has attended Vatican conferences on ending poverty.

John Carr of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life will host Mark Shriver for a book talk Monday, Dec. 5. If you would like to attend, click here to RSVP.

UAW-Ford partners with Pope Francis Center to assist area homeless

The Michigan Chronicle reports that UAW-Ford, a charitable endeavor that brings together labor and management at the automaker, is sponsoring meals this winter at the Pope Francis shelter for the homeless:

This holiday season, warm meals await area homeless men, women and children at Pope Francis Center in Detroit. Thanks to a generous donation from UAW-Ford, the non-profit is now launching its Nutritious Food Program. It serves hot meals to 80-100 people daily and is expected to now serve up to 20,000 healthy meals annually, including a meal for Thanksgiving. “We’ve found that homeless men and women have extremely limited access to healthy food, which causes and exacerbates serious health problems; consequently, we started our nutritious food program,” said Jesuit Fr. Tim McCabe, executive director of the Pope Francis Center.

God bless the men and women of Ford, and the staff of the Pope Francis Center, for their important work!

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.