Roundup of Labor Day 2016

How did those of us who weren’t voting in a union representation election celebrate Labor Day? Well, I joined the Labor and Income Inequality team at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington VA – they organized a special Mass with AFL-CIO President Emeritus Thomas Donahue serving as a lector. Later I read John Gehring’s thoughtful essay “A Catholic-Labor Revival?”  in CommonwealFr. Anthony Shonis (a CLN member) gave the keynote speech at the Owensboro, KY Central Labor Council. Ed Langlois wrote up a fine history of labor activity in the Archdiocese of Portland, OR in the Catholic Sentinel. (Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the diocese hosts one of the nation’s largest concentrations of unionized Catholic hospitals!)

Did you do anything interesting to put your faith in action this Labor Day? Tell us!

NJ, CA Catholic Conferences take action for worker justice

In each U.S. state, the Bishops have established Catholic Conference exists to coordinate faith-based advocacy at the state level. The conferences are not partisan organizations that endorse candidates, but issue-oriented groups that testify to our Catholic values in the public policy arena. This year has witnessed an important effort by the NJ Catholic Conference to support a minimum wage increase in the Garden State and the California Catholic Conference backing legislation extending overtime protections to farmworkers.

farmworkers-lobby-for-overtime-bill-courtesy-ufw

Farmworkers Lobby for Overtime Bill ( UFW)

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay premium wages for work beyond 40 hours per week – but many people don’t realize that the Act excludes some categories of workers, including agricultural workers. In California, the AFL-CIO and the California Catholic Conference have backed a determined effort to change that. It met with success this September when erstwhile Jesuit seminarian Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation making farmworkers eligible for overtime pay.

Meanwhile, in the Garden State, the New Jersey Catholic Conference joined with the NJ AFL-CIO and several state labor unions to bring the fight for $15 to the floor of the NJ State Legislature in Trenton. “We must always remember Pope Francis’ wisdom on the importance of the worker as he reminds us that labor is “not a mere commodity,” but has “its own inherent dignity and worth,” said Bishop Sullivan of Camden. NJ Catholic Conference representative James King brought the message to Trenton, testifying

On behalf of the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey, I ask the Senate Labor Committee to release Senate Bill 15 favorably. S15 would incrementally increase New Jersey’s minimum wage from $8.38 per hour to $15.00 per hour over four years while maintaining an annual increase based on the Cost of Living Index. Catholic Social Teaching supports workers’ rights for a just wage…. We realize that increasing the minimum wage will not eliminate poverty. However, Senate Bill 15 would  be an important step towards helping the working poor and providing the opportunity for them to enjoy a greater sense of self -worth and dignity.

Sadly, the bill was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie. Backers promise that the issue will return in 2017.

Labor Priests at their side, Boulder Station casino workers win union

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Bishop Pepe with Boulder Casino Workers

For workers at the Boulder Station Casino & Hotel in Las Vegas, Labor Day 2016 will always have a special meaning: after years of struggle, they won their union. By a margin of 2-1 the workers voted to join the Hotel and Restaurant workers’ union. And right by their side were their Bishop and a mission of Labor Priests organized by Fr. Clete Kiley, Director of Immigration Policy for their parent union, UNITEHERE. Fr. Bob Bonnott described their pastoral visit to the union hall:

I was privileged to attend the pastoral visit of Bishop Pepe to the workers in the Culinary Workers Union Hall. More than 200 workers gathered. They shared their stories –– their backgrounds, their work experiences, their labor with only two raises totaling 60 cents over six years, their lack of a contract, of benefits and of any pension after decades of work. Bishop Pepe listened. As he introduced Bishop Pepe, Deacon O’Callahan shared his own experience with labor and unions, starting with Cesar Chavez. Bishop Pepe then discarded his prepared text and spoke movingly from his heart. He shared his own immigrant story, concluding that “Catholic teaching affirms your dignity as persons and workers and supports your rights. The Church is with you and I am with you.” His words provoked tears and cheers from the workers, many if not most of whom are Catholic… Labor Day has always meant something to me, but never as much as it has this year. I invite my brother priests to consider becoming ‘labor priests’ themselves, and as well, ‘capital priests.’ We must help both workers and owners know Catholic Social Teaching.

To read Father Bob’s complete account, CLICK HERE

Now it can be told: Seattle Adjuncts say union yes

After two years, we have learned that Seattle university adjuncts voted 73-63 to join SEIU 925. Why the delay? The University was unwilling to bargain collectively with its contingent faculty voluntarily, and when the adjuncts turned to the labor board for help, the administration fought the board by invoking freedom of religion. The university, like Duquesne, St. Xavier and a handful of others, is trying to suggest it’s in the same situation as Catholic employers told to provide contraception under the Affordable Care Act – though unlike those employers, the colleges are not being asked to do anything in conflict with their faith.

The NLRB did modify its initial determination in deference to religious freedom issues. At both St. Xavier University and Seattle the NLRB announced that religion and/or theology instructors are not subject to the National Labor Relations Act on First Amendment grounds. It is indeed essential to preserve our freedom of religion, and to a layman this certainly sounds like a reasonable application of the law.  Still, I hope that these and other schools will choose to bargain with religion and theology faculty who want a union – not because of legal sanctions, but just to lead by example and conform with Catholic social teaching.

Major Settlements in Catholic Healthcare

Recent weeks have seen the end of two long-simmering contract disputes in the Catholic hospitals, one on each coast. After a year of tense negotiations, Buffalo’s Catholic Health system reached an agreement with workers at three area hospitals. The two sides stated that the agreement represented a sound basis to deliver quality care and retain good employees, and anticipated more positive labor relations going forward. “We’re proud to have come to an agreement that will promote patient care, offers the wages to retain staff and maintains important healthcare benefits,” said Dennis Trainor, Vice President of Communications Workers of America District 1. “I want to thank the bargaining teams for their extraordinary efforts and commitment to work through the complex issues we face in healthcare and find a positive way forward,” said Joe McDonald, President & CEO of Catholic Health. “We are committed to forging a new relationship with the union, built on mutual goals that reward and recognize our dedicated associates.”

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, in July Providence Health and Services and St. Joseph Health merged to form a huge health care system stretching from Southern California to Alaska: Providence St. Joseph. Providence has long been known for good labor relations and fair treatment of workers; St Joseph, not so much. Which management style will characterize the new system? A positive sign: within weeks of the merger, Providence St. Joseph and the California Nurses Association settled a long-running contract dispute that had embroiled four former St. Joseph hospitals.

Unfortunately, it seems the spirit of teamwork hasn’t reached St. Jude hospital in Fullerton. When nurses there sought to form a union, the hospital hired a “union avoidance” consultant and used heavy-handed tactics to fight the organizing campaign. They are facing unfair labor practice charges before the NLRB for surveillance and intimidation of union supporters.

Demographic news reflects decline of labor in USA

infographic georgetownTwo apparently unrelated demographic stories caught my eye in recent weeks — because they both described the declining place of labor in modern America. Out of Georgetown came a study showing that high-school graduates have been virtually locked out of the economic recovery. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control reported on suicide rates by occupational group: while most white-collar occupations fell well below the national average of 20 suicides per 100,000 population, characteristic blue-collar occupations such as agriculture, construction, and mining workers topped the rankings.

The suicide numbers appeared in the July 1, 2016 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. (Being both mortal and morbid, I subscribe to this.) While the suicide rate for American men overall was about 40 per 100K, it was 48 per 100K for those in installation, maintenance and repair  occupations, 52 per 100K in the construction and mining sectors, and a frightening 91 per 100K in farming, fishing and forestry.

Perhaps some of the explanation can be found in the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce report America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have-Nots. Today’s workforce is divided roughly in thirds: one-third with a 4-year college degree or more, one third with some college education, and one-third with a high school diploma or less. The economic recovery has now generated more than 11 million new jobs, but only 1% went to workers without any college education.

Not long ago America was a place where anyone who graduated high school and was prepared to work hard could expect to earn a salary sufficient to support a family. There are a lot of reasons that this has changed, but one of them is the decline of unions – a shift that has reduced the bargaining power of the worker vs the other economic actors in society. The economists tell us that today’s free market economy, unencumbered by unions, is more efficient. Be it so: is efficiency the only criteria by which we judge an economy? Or is it worth paying a few dollars more for your smartphone, car or movie ticket if it enables one-third of our nation’s men and women a vocation and life with dignity?

Trading Up? Labor, Catholics and the TPP

The election – with both major party candidates expressing a critique of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) — has our friend Michael Sean Winters over at the National Catholic Reporter thinking about trade and the global economy. Winters recently attended “Trading Up,” a conference at the AFL-CIO exploring how the global trade system affects workers, communities and the global South, and offered this interesting observation:

What usually strikes me when I go to one of the conferences downtown is how starkly different is the language of most policy experts from the language of Catholic social doctrine. But, when you go to an event with organized labor, that difference shrinks. They may not use the same language, but the language they use is deeply moral, suspicious of abstractions at the expense of real world consequences, focused on the human person more than on the “laws of the market” or, for that matter, the laws of the state. There is a more honest admission of what we would call original sin and they call power, greed and self-interest, than you find in other progressive circles. I feel at home.

Click HERE to read Winters’ piece in its entirety.

Dorothy Day, Servant of God and Worker Justice

(courtesy of Jeffry Korgen)

I used to think the word “worker” in “Catholic Worker Movement” referred to the Works of Mercy accomplished by its members. But a new encounter with the thought of Dorothy Day, Servant of God, and Peter Maurin, through staffing the Archdiocese of New York’s canonization Inquiry into her life, taught me that the Movement has a historic, multi-layered relationship with low-wage workers and their struggles.

Dorothy_Day_1934The Catholic Worker emerged in the 1930’s against a backdrop of worker movements. The Catholic Worker name itself is a play on the communist Daily Worker newspaper. Like Pope Leo XIII, Dorothy Day believed the Church needed to offer an alternative to workers caught between accepting exploitation in the workplace and adopting atheistic communism. Day lifted up the Gospel and Church teaching against the abuses of the times, but in 1949, she targeted the Church itself.

In January of that year, the Archdiocese of New York rejected gravediggers’ demands for a significant pay increase and a five-day workweek. A bitter strike ensued. Cardinal Spellman called the gravediggers’ union communist-dominated and brought in seminarians (!) as scabs to bury the dead. Dorothy Day spoke out in favor of a living wage for the gravediggers and penned editorials in support of the strikers. She wrote Cardinal Spellman personally, and asked him to “meet their demands; be their servant as Christ was the servant of his disciples, washing their feet.”

The strike was settled two months later, after an appeal from the gravediggers’ wives, a change in union representation, and a fractional increase in the archdiocesan offer. The six-day work week stayed. But Dorothy Day had made a point that the Church as an employer is not exempt from its own teaching—an argument which still arises, on the one hand to castigate Catholic universities for miserly payment of adjuncts, on the other to congratulate Society of St. Vincent de Paul stores for making a new commitment to pay a living wage.

But the Catholic Worker commitment to low wage workers goes farther than simply supporting unions. Dorothy Day, influenced by Peter Maurin, went a step further—advocating for worker owned businesses and farm cooperatives through an economic philosophy called distributism. Distributism salutes capitalism by insisting that its enormous ability to create wealth go to work to enrich the lives of ordinary people—not just the rich—through worker-owned enterprises.

As the Church sorts through questions of Dorothy Day’s sanctity, we would all do well to embrace the holiness of her many efforts on behalf of and with low-wage workers.

 

Jeffry Korgen is assisting the Archdiocese of New York prepare evidence for the cause of Day’s canonization. He can be reached at jkorgen@korgenassociates.org.

For more information about efforts to canonize Dorothy Day, visit the Dorothy Day Guild website

The Working Catholic: 125 Years

The Working Catholic: 125 Years  by Bill Droel

As anniversaries go, the 125th of modern Catholic social thought is a non-starter except perhaps in a small circle of specialists. Yet Catholic social thought offers a timely perspective on our society’s clash between what some people call our nanny-state and the libertarian free-for-all favored by others. Catholic social thought also suggests a way out of the paradox presented by a rejection of more taxes coupled with the desire for more services. Further, it has interesting things to say about the environment, wages, eldercare, parental responsibility and lots more.

It was 1891 when Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) issued the first modern social encyclical. It is published in English under several titles; On the Condition of Labor being the most popular. It is also still referenced by its Latin title, Rerum Novarum.
Catholicism says that short of the Garden of Eden, each society should approximate “the kingdom on earth.” That is, given the sin of the world, there is still an opportunity to apply realistic though general social principles to economics, culture and politics—first locally and eventually between countries. These principles are derived from Scripture and from the long reflection of Christians in hundreds and hundreds of settings.
These principles are not doctrinally binding on non-Catholics. They are, however, deliberately framed in civic language so that they can be persuasive in any setting. And, not surprisingly, other religious traditions have the same social principles.
Not all religious traditions, it should be noted, use the same method as Catholicism on social ethics—on, for example, issues related to labor relations, medical intervention, social service delivery and more. The difference in method often goes unappreciated when parties disagree on an issue, or agree for that matter.

There is no definitive list of Catholic principles. Most lists include: the inherent dignity of each life, social justice, subsidiarity, the common good, participation through bona fide labor unions and other mediating structures, and preferential option for the poor. Others are: preferential option for youth, gratuitousness, distributive justice, solidarity, family wage, universal destination of goods and a few more, topping out at, let’s say, 25 principles. The principles overlap and one should not be pulled too far from the others.
Finally and with emphasis, these are general social principles. Their specific application is the job of informed Catholics in concert with like-minded people inside their company, hospital, college, labor local, community group, professional association or legislative hall. Two equally moral parties can disagree once the application comes down to a specific policy.

This important point is why I use the term Catholic social thought, rather than top-down social teaching. While the papal encyclicals, beginning with the 1891 On the Condition of Labor, are the backbone, the full complement of Catholic social thought must include other ecclesial statements, some position papers from Catholic lay groups and the collective reflection of Catholics around the world on their experience. Of course, the social thought of the laity has to be consonant with the encyclicals and all the other pieces. One individual does not act or speak for the church. A prominent member of Congress, for example, says he is informed by Catholic thought and that his policy ideas flow from there. Not so, however, in his case. He is libertarian, even flirting with the extreme ideas of Ayn Rand (1905-1982).

Next up: Pope Leo XIII’s themes.

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

The Catholic Case for Donald Trump?

For the length of the campaign season, Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump has been embroiled in a major fight with workers at his Trump International Hotel and casino in Las Vegas. First he was trying to prevent them from forming a union; now, having failed that, he strives to deny them a good contract. If I were trying to make a Catholic case for Trump’s presidential run, Catholic social teaching on labor and work would probably not be the avenue I’d take. Yet that’s exactly the counterintuitive approach taken by former US Ambassador to the Vatican Francis Rooney in Catholic case for Trump is about jobs and wages. “Catholic thought is in sync with what Trump has brought forward,” argues the Ambassador.  “Perhaps less nuanced than some would like, he has tangibly and succinctly brought forth the urgent need to bring more good jobs back to America and to get wages rising again.”

Count Villanova Theology Professor Gerald Beyer unconvinced. Beyer responded, “Catholic social teaching certainly affirms the need to create jobs, as Rooney contends… However, Catholic social teaching has never affirmed that an “invisible hand” can work its magic through the market economy to promote the well-being of workers and their families.” Reviewing Trump’s record, Beyer concludes, “Catholics should ask themselves if Donald Trump really shares the vision of their tradition — for American workers and their brothers and sisters globally — regardless of their gender, race, immigration status or nationality.”