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.
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.
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!
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
Mark 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.
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!
The 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.
Early in October, Pope Francis announced his intent to create 17 new cardinals. The Catholic Labor Network was pleased to learn that Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago was among them – the Archbishop’s deep commitment to Catholic social teaching on labor and work is quite evident.
Archbishop Cupich is surely familiar to readers of the Catholic Labor Network newsletters and blog. When the Illinois legislature was considering so-called “right-to-work” legislation, the Archbishop challenged its political supporters to reconcile their proposal with Catholic social teaching – which calls for “the promotion of workers’ associations.” This summer he adopted a paid parental leave policy for Archdiocesan employees – in a single gesture, acting to advance worker justice, setting a good example for Catholic business leaders, and promoting Catholic teaching on life and the family.
Please keep our newest Cardinal in your prayers!
The adjunct faculty at Seattle University voted 73-63 for union representation by SEIU 925. The Seattle University administration has announced its willingness to recognize and bargain with an adjunct faculty union outside the NLRB process. Hooray! Problem solved, right? The administration and the union can sit down and bargain an agreement and agree to disagree about the NLRB matter.
Not so fast. Readers of the Confessions will recall how the young and randy Augustine asked God, “Give me chastity and give me continence… but not yet.” Seattle administrators, likewise, say they are willing to honor Catholic social teaching on the rights of labor…after the litigation is finished and their claim to immunity from NLRB jurisdiction is resolved.
Meanwhile, the long-impounded votes have been counted at St. Xavier University. (The adjuncts voted on union representation in 2011 but SXU legal objections have delayed the count for five years.) The contingent faculty, by a vote of 29-25, have chosen to join the Illinois Education Association.
On October 8, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual convention of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers (NACST) as a guest. The teachers were interested in learning more about the Catholic Labor Network, and after offering a few words on our work I was kindly invited to witness the proceedings.
The NACST is a union of Catholic schoolteachers with nearly 4,000 members. Wait a minute, you are probably asking… didn’t the supreme court rule in NLRB v. Catholic Bishop (1978) that the National Labor Relations Act didn’t apply to Catholic elementary and high schools because of the first amendment?
Well, yes. But the court didn’t rule that the teachers couldn’t have a union, just that the Labor Board couldn’t get involved. In 1986, America’s bishops affirmed that, Supreme Court jurisprudence notwithstanding, we answer to a higher law. Catholic social teaching required that “all church institutions must fully recognize the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively with the institution through whatever association or organization they freely choose.” Hundreds of Catholic schools bargain with unions representing their teachers.
The local unions of the NACST stretch from Massachusetts to Missouri. They include major school systems such as those in Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, and single-school bargaining units that dot the Northeast and Midwest. Their members are deeply committed to their Catholic faith. They must be: wages and benefits are substantially lower than those offered in the public schools. At a surprising number of Catholic schools, teacher salaries start below $25,000 per year. These teachers have chosen significant material sacrifice to deliver our children a quality education rooted in our faith.
Indeed, the union was established by teachers who found it difficult to reconcile their faith and commitment to Catholic education with the politics of the national teachers’ unions. Although powerful unions like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) could provide resources and support, they are firmly opposed to tuition voucher programs and have adopted positions on social issues (such as contraception and abortion) putting them at odds with Catholic teaching. In 1978, a group of local unions representing Catholic schoolteachers broke away from the AFT to form the NACST.
Without the protection of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), this was no small matter. The officers of NACST locals are working teachers who pursue union business on their own time; without the resources of a large union like the AFT or NEA they lack powerful political friends or large strike funds. For survival they rely in large measure on their employer’s fidelity to Catholic social teaching. If a bishop or school system decides to bust the union – as happened in the Diocese of Scranton, in 2006 – they have few tools at their disposal to resist.
Catholic schools may not have the resources that public school districts do, but they can certainly recognize their employees’ right to organize and bargain collectively. Surely that is the least we owe our teachers.