A memory to be honored and a legacy to be continued

On May 2, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler introduced a panel exploring the career and legacy of “labor priest” Monsignor George Higgins. She told the assembled:

Hello everyone! I’m Liz Shuler, President of the AFL-CIO, and it’s my privilege to welcome you to the House of Labor. We are honored to have you with us as we mark the 20th anniversary of Monsignor George Higgins passing and celebrate his legacy with today’s panel, “The Labor Movement and the Catholic Church Then and Now.”

On behalf of the AFL-CIO, I want to thank the Catholic Labor Network … for making this event possible.

Looking at everyone who has come together today – and I see a lot of familiar faces out there, like AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride – we can see the true impact Monsignor Higgins had on our movement.

He really was “Labor’s Priest.” He dedicated his life to bringing the labor and faith communities together. And … wherever working people were lifting their voices…from the vineyards of California to the coal fields of Harlan, Kentucky… Monsignor Higgins was there.

He brought his ministry to local union halls, to picket lines, and even right here to the House of Labor. And everywhere he went he fought for policies people now take for granted: workers’ compensation, overtime pay, health and safety laws, our rights to organize and so much more.

And his impact is still felt whenever working people find the courage to proclaim our dignity and worth as human beings and children of God, from athletic fields to production shops and from Mexcio’s auto plants to Starbucks coffee shops.

As we mark this anniversary, I’d like to read from the AFL-CIO Executive Council statement issued shortly after his passing:

Msgr. George Higgins was the unsurpassed standard-bearer of his Church’s solidarity with underprivileged and average working families … the 20th Century’s leading advocate of a religion/labor alliance on their behalf … and the inspiration for a new generation of faith champions of worker rights.

 [He] was consistently at the side of workers, be they farm workers, auto workers or hospital workers, when they needed a clear, strong, strategic voice calling for respect and dignity on the job…

We need to remember this lifetime carefully, not simply as a memory to be honored, but a legacy to be continued.

So today, we gather to recommit to carrying on his legacy – one that recognizes that solidarity is the core value of our movement and the root of Catholic scripture.

We are unified through not just an economic vision, but also a moral vision of justice for the greater good.

I am proud to say that here at the AFL-CIO, where we represent more than 12.5 million people in 57 unions, we are recommitting to our coalition between faith and labor by forging new partnerships in communities across the country.

We are going to follow First Thessalonians, and “encourage one another and build each other up.”

That is, in fact, what unions do. It’s what both of our movements do.

Together, the labor movement and our faith partners can be the most powerful forces for progress in the United States… not just for union members, but for everyone. And we’re going to talk all about how we can continue to join forces today.

We have a great line up for you, including our panel moderator  Father Clete Kiley of UNITE HERE and the Archdiocese of Chicago, and our panelists:

  • Father Evelio Menjivar from the Archdiocese of Washington
  • Meghan Clark, from St. John’s University
  • Chuck Hendricks of UNITE HERE and the Catholic Labor Network…and last but not least
  • Ingrid Delgado from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Thank you all for being here.

I am also honored to share the stage with my beloved sister Patti Devlin from the Laborers International Union of North America, who will speak on behalf of the Catholic Labor Network.

Patti, the floor is yours.

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