By Mark Pattison for the Catholic Labor Network
It’s not every day that you see a labor guild of any type, much less one that accepts managers – and even lawyers – as members.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Boston Labor Guild.
“The Labor Guild is actually a neutral organization,” says Lisa Field, the Guild’s president and board chair. “We promote and foster good labor-management relations, and we honor both sides for that. We applaud management who follow the collective bargaining agreement and who honor the collective bargaining process.”
Field, a Catholic, is associate director in the legislative division of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. But as an AFSCME member, she was a steward — then president — of a local in public higher education. “The Labor Guild ran our elections,” said, adding, “Many of our members attended labor school at the Labor Guild.”
The Labor Guild also has a fundraising awards dinner named after both Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston, who headed the archdiocese in the 1940s when the guild was founded, and Fr. Mort Gavin, a guild chaplain and one of two Jesuit priests who were instrumental in furthering the guild.
At each dinner, four people are honored, according to Field. “One comes from labor, one comes from management,” she said. “One is an attorney,” and that prize alternates annually between labor and management, “and the fourth person is an auxiliary – a neutral.”
Field added, “We promote and foster good labor-management relations, and we honor both sides for that. We applaud management who follow the collective bargaining agreement, who honor the collective bargaining process.”
What the Boston Labor Guild is most known for, though, is its labor school.
“The Labor Guild has always been there for the working people through its school,” said Paul McCarthy, who has served continuously on its board for 47 years, although he plans to step down later in 2024. “From its ranks of students, numerous ones went on to become leaders in their right, both at the local level and the national level. It’s won a lot of national leaders.”
McCarthy likes to include current Teamsters president Sean O’Brien among that group. “He’s a Boston-area guy, a Medford guy,” he said.
While the Labor Guild’s purpose is worker education, “these are leadership skills that are being taught,” McCarthy said. “We have moved ahead by utilizing Zoom formats. We are now reaching a nationwide catchment area of people who are interested in Labor Guild programs.
“I’ll be teaching my negotiations workshop this term. And, God willing, I’ll be teaching my conflict resolution workshop in the fall. We have a tremendous array of wonderful teachers,” all of whom volunteer their time, he added.
Field teaches a class on “burning issues” in the labor movement. “It’s whatever‘s hot at the moment. I’ve had the UPS strike, privatization. I’ve had people from the Women’s Bureau from the (U.S.) Dept. of Labor come in and talk about issues, health and safety,” she said.
Beyond this form of education, the Labor Guild conducts workshops on worker rights and workers that are not in a union, to cite two examples.
“We work a lot with workers’ centers. We provide some training and give some support. We also work locally with Boston Building Pathways Program, which is a pre-apprenticeship program,” Field said.
The Guild also seeks out members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) community to get them into apprenticeship programs in the trades. The Guild’s program “gives them some knowledge into math in the trades, making sure they have some basic literacy to be successful in the trades. And to let them know the different jobs in the trades – and provide them some leadership training as well,” Field said. When they graduate from the program, it gives them the best possible exposure – so they know what they’re getting into.”
The Labor Guild has been on the move – literally. As the Boston area becomes more attractive, hitherto vacant Catholic properties that the Guild made its home have been sold to developers. The Guild’s current home for the past six years is the Archdiocese of Boston’s pastoral center. Field sees this as a plus.
“It helps ground us in our Catholic foundation, a social justice Catholic foundation,” she said. “I think it accentuates the fact that we are a neutral. We do provide meeting space. Some of the contracts that are up, they’ll come and rent out space from us, and they’ll do their collective bargaining at the pastoral center. It’s a positive that it’s seen as a neutral space.”
“Our office space is on the top floor right down the hall from the cardinal, Cardinal (Sean) O’Malley. Saving grace,” McCarthy said. “The saving grace is the labor movement itself.”