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.”

125 years of Rerum Novarum

Rerum Novarum- Internet ArchiveMay 15, 2016 marked the 125th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, widely considered the foundation of modern Catholic social teaching. In this 1891 Encyclical, Pope Leo XIII examined the industrial revolution in light of Christian teaching on justice. Finding that the traditional economy of small property owners (farmers and artisans) was giving way to an economy dominated by a few property owners and a large working class, the Holy Father criticized the laissez-faire economy and gave a strong endorsement to trade unions. But where contemporary socialists anticipated ever-increasing class struggle, Leo believed that labor unions could play a positive role Read more

Dorothy Day Sainthood Cause Takes a Step Forward

Dorothy_Day_1934So far 2016 has been a good year for the legions of social justice activists inspired by Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement. In April came news that the cause of Day’s canonization had taken an important step forward as Cardinal Dolan of New York had begun to review evidence from her life and actions to determine if she lived a life of “heroic virtue” and merits recommendation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.

The year has also seen Patrick Jordan, a former editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper – and later, of Commonweal magazine – pen a new life of Dorothy Day. David Cloutier of Mount St. Mary’s University reviews Dorothy Day: Love in Action in the June issue of Commonweal

Jordan, whose voice remains admirably muted throughout, concludes by suggesting that Day be seen as an “American prophet”—with prophecy understood not only as offering an urgent message but also as embodying a whole “way of being in the world.” Day’s prophetic message, Jordan writes, sought “a closing of the gap between private and public morality…and questioned both our materialism and militarism.” She was, he concludes, “someone who kept pushing us.”

Grateful Employer

by Bill Droel

There is the world of meritocracy and the world of grace. There is the world of: I worked hard and I deserve what I have. And there is the world of: There but for the grace of God and others I could be.

Once upon a time a landowner hired some day laborers for his vineyard. Going about his daily business the landowner thrice saw idle day laborers in the plaza parking lot. Each time he hired them for the vineyard job. That evening he paid all the workers the standard daily wage; the same total wage for those who worked a couple hours as for those who toiled all day. (See Matthew 20: 1-16)

In 2005 Hamdi Ulukaya founded Chobani Yogurt in Norwich, NY. He hired five workers. Chobani is now the top-selling yogurt brand with over 2,000 employees at its New York and Idaho plants. Ulukaya, a Kurdish immigrant, is quite wealthy. Late last month Ulukaya told his employees about a gift. He is giving each of them shares in the company, totaling about 10% of the company’s worth. The initial math estimates the gift on average to be $150,000. Some workers will get more and the final calculation may well increase the average. “I cannot think of Chobani being built without all these people,” Ulukaya told the N.Y. Times (4/26/16). Ulukaya has long said that a company’s moral conduct, including better pay, leads to success. Companies, he told another interviewer, must look beyond the so-called bottom line. “Business is still the strongest, most effective way to change the world,” Ulukaya said.

Matthew does not tell us the precise motivation of the vineyard owner. Ulukaya, like all of us, does everything for multiple motives. The two employers though share a world view. They have a similar conviction about the nature of reality. And this is important: their business disposition comes irrespective of life’s ups and downs. The vineyard owner and the yogurt executive both suspect that inexplicable generosity haunts the world. They believe that the proper response to the gift of life and to all of life’s gifts is to give the gift away.
Neither executive denies suffering. Misery is part of the human condition. Specifically, Ulukaya has experienced business and personal failures. The same was probably true for Matthew’s agricultural executive.
Neither executive thinks that a gratitude attitude means acquiesce to injustice. Nor is there evidence that either thinks business is for saps. They are realists whose take on things includes appreciation for the powerful but unpredictable spirit of benevolence.

A world centered on meritocracy is always filled with cynicism and resentment. Those who live only by the art of the deal are always incomplete people who usually cannot sustain their ventures.
Belief in a grace-filled world will not result in constant, pervasive toe-tapping, hand-clapping happy times. It does, however, instill confidence. It disposes people to abiding joy that percolates all around. Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), a president of Czechoslovakia and first president of Czech Republic, reminds us that haughtiness is deceiving. Real hope, he says, is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Adjuncts active at Fordham, Seattle, St. Louis U

adjuncts in action seiu faculty forward

(Credit: SEIU Faculty Forward)

This spring, once again, adjunct faculty are on the move at Catholic Colleges around the United States! On April 14, as fast-food workers across the nation demonstrated for living wages as part of the “fight for $15,” several Catholic campuses witnessed events drawing attention to the poverty wages earned by too many non-tenured college instructors. In New York, Fordham Faculty United sponsored an event on “Labor Justice at Jesuit Institutions.” At Seattle University – a Jesuit institution that refuses to recognize its adjuncts’ right to organize – instructors and students held a march and a “fast for justice.”

On the brighter side, instructors at St. Louis University filed for a union election. The adjuncts are voting now on whether to join SEIU Local 1; ballots are scheduled to be counted May 23.

More than 1,000 Catholic Hospital Workers in Oregon Ratify First Contract

sacred heart image unionNearly 1100 CNAs, housekeepers and others employed at two Catholic hospitals in Oregon ratified their first contract in late April, a contract that included an 8% across-the-board raise. Labor and management had fostered a climate of mutual respect in the period since the 2015 union vote. PeaceHealth VP Debra Miller said told the local Register-Guard newspaper that she was “pleased with the outcome and the collaborative spirit the bargaining teams brought to the process.” she said. SEIU Local 49 President Meg Niemi said, “our members and management took the process very seriously. Our members felt this was urgent, so we were able to get to a first agreement quicker than usual.”

Does your parish secretary have unemployment insurance protection?

MoWILL WORK FOR FOODst people don’t realize it, but in many states some or all nonprofit organizations can opt out of paying state unemployment insurance – and many do. Unemployment is an insurance fund against job loss, not a welfare program — so if no one is paying your premium, you’re out of luck. A Catholic schoolteacher in St Louis found this out the hard way when he turned up at the unemployment office after a layoff, and was turned away. Tony Messenger in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch describes what happened, and cites a survey that found nearly half the Dioceses had opted out in order to save money, leaving employees unprotected in the case of job loss. What’s the practice in your Diocese or Parish?