The Catholic Labor Network stepped up for vulnerable and low-income workers during the pandemic, and people are taking notice. That’s why our work is the focus of the recently released CCHD Quarterly Newsletter. Check out Catholic Labor Network: Defending Workers During and Beyond the Pandemic
On This Labor Day…
Insecurity, fear of the unknown, and anxiety have been heightened for many during this pandemic. Unfortunately, the debilitating impact of COVID-19 has especially weighed upon those at the frontline of making us feel welcome, at home, feeding us, and finding a place of rest- Hospitality workers.
The courageous efforts of hospitality workers across the state, led to the passing of the right to recall and retention by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Actions like this give me hope. Caravans of workers spent days at the State Capitol, taking their righteous cause to the streets, and eventually securing an opportunity to return to jobs they have dedicated decades of their life to, amidst opposition by some employers and members of the business community. Policy must now be put into concrete action by continuing to empower workers to be able to unionize, advocate for job safety and security, and hold employers who fail to implement the right to recall accountable.
On this Labor Day, we must recognize the dignity and labor of our frontline workers in the hospitality industry. We must walk alongside our courageous workers to exercise and build their power through advocacy and participation in unions.
On this Labor Day, we must hold employers accountable to the law.
On this Labor Day, we must celebrate and elevate these often unsung heroes whose life of service allows us to feel welcome, at home, and find rest in airports, hotels, restaurants, businesses and industry all across California and these United States of America.
In March 2020, Hollywood’s famous Chateau Marmont hotel responded to the pandemic by firing virtually its entire workforce, leaving workers who had dedicated decades of their lives to the hotel without job security or health coverage during the public health crisis. Many of the hotel’s workers have since spoken out about their experiences working at the hotel, including on issues of disrespect, mistreatment, and a racially stratified workplace – issues widely reported in the press. Perhaps that’s why, even as other hotels recall their workers and resume operations, the Chateau Marmont has been dragging its feet on rehiring the workers.
Under California’s right to recall law, the hotel is required to hire back these workers as it resumes operations. UNITE HERE Local 11, which has assisted the hotel workers, believes that’s why the Chateau Marmont remains largely dark while other hotels have reopened to accommodate the summer’s rebound in tourist and business travel.
As Catholics we believe that a properly ordered business is a partnership between capital and labor. The labor of these workers built the Chateau Marmont into the prosperous property that it is, and these workers deserve to be restored to their jobs.
You can help. end the Chateau Marmont a message today saying that YOU won’t patronize the hotel until the hotel has demonstrated a commitment to respecting its workers’ years of service by rehiring them in accordance with their legal rights and to ensuring that all workers — regardless of their race, sex, or background–feel treated with dignity and respect. CLICK HERE to send a message!
Did you know that more than 1 million American workers are employed by Catholic institutions? It’s true – our Church, in conducting worship, educating the faithful and engaging in corporal works of mercy has built a veritable empire of Churches, hospitals, nursing homes, colleges, schools and social service agencies. These institutions offer us the opportunity to exemplify Catholic Social Teaching in the management of our own organizations.
Workers at many Catholic organizations, especially Churches and K-12 schools, lack the protections of American labor law when they try to form unions. As religious institutions they are exempt from the interference of the government, including the National Labor Relations Board. But that doesn’t mean that Catholic Social Teaching doesn’t apply to these workers. On the contrary, the Bishops in their 1986 Pastoral Economic Justice for All observed that:
On the parish and diocesan level, through its agencies and institutions, the Church employs many people; it has investments; it has extensive properties for worship and mission. All the moral principles that govern the just operation of any economic endeavor apply to the Church and its agencies and institutions; indeed the Church should be exemplary… We bishops commit ourselves to the principle that those who serve the Church—laity, clergy, and religious—should receive a sufficient livelihood and the social benefits provided by responsible employers in our nation…. All church institutions must also fully recognize the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively with the institution through whatever association or organization they freely choose. (347, 351, 353)
We are pleased to report that we have identified more than 600 Catholic institutions that bargain with unions representing their employees. That’s a sign of joy and hope. Unions and management don’t always agree at these institutions, but the workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively is recognized, and they serve as an example for Catholic business leaders in the private sector who have to decide whether to heed or resist when their own workers seek union representation.
Unfortunately the story is not entirely joy and hope. While teachers at approximately 300 Catholic K-12 schools have union representation, there are about 5,500 Catholic schools where teachers lack unions. When Catholic schoolteachers seek to form a union, too many Catholic administrators take their cue from the secular law instead of consulting Catholic Social Teaching, and dismiss their desire out of hand – or even threaten them with discipline. And in recent years several Catholic colleges and universities have taken similar action when their adjunct faculty sought to organize.
Gaudium et Spes (68) reminded us that the right of workers to organize is a natural right that comes from God, not a gift from the labor board. ALL Catholic institutions should be prepared to honor that right.
CLICK HERE for the 2021 Gaudium et Spes Labor Report
The Working Catholic: Labor Day
By Bill Droel
International Workers Day (May Day), the counterpart to our September Labor Day, was inspired by an 1886 event here in Chicago. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor obtained a city permit for a May rally/demonstration in the Haymarket area (now a trendy restaurant spot). Late in the evening someone at the rally threw dynamite. Police began to fire wildly into the dwindling crowd. Soon seven officers and four workers were dead.
Eight workers were quickly rounded up, including a lay minister, a printer and others. Seven were found guilty by August. Two got life sentences (one of whom was killed in jail); one was given 15 years. The remaining four were hanged in November.
A couple years after the Chicago event European countries designated May 1st as Labor Day to honor the Haymarket Workers. For that reason, May 1st became the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
And what was the issue that brought the workers to the Haymarket rally? Shorter work hours.
This was hardly the first effort in our country to reduce the working day. The 1830s saw an Eight-Hour Day Movement, details Mike Konczal in Freedom from the Market (The New Press, 2021). As part of that movement, Boston Trade Unions issued the “Ten-Hour Circular.” (Presumably they thought eight was unachievable.) This statement prompted six months of rotating strikes and protests across Boston. It was used in Philadelphia to start a general strike. There was a big parade after which the city passed a ten-hour workday law. In Baltimore the city mechanics, drawing on the same statement, won a ten-hour day. “Demands for time could unify workers facing different working circumstances,” writes Konczal.
By 1868 Pennsylvania had suggested “an eight-hour workday as the default.” When it came to enforcing this suggestion or any other work-related law, the obstacle was overcoming the prevailing attitude that contracts are “a foundational form of freedom and government should never interfere with markets,” says Konczal. The contract need not be a written document. The worker knew the score when she or he took the job. The freedom of contract assumption, then and now, is a fallacy because “government and courts intervened in important ways,” but not in the interest of workers. Laws and court decisions were for the most part intended “to boost the power of bosses and owners while limiting and stymieing the actions of workers.”
The notion of an eight-hour day gained traction during the Great Depression. In 1930 W. K. Kellogg (1860-1951) changed the work schedule at his cereal company. Production went to three shifts per day, six hours each. An employee normally clocked 30 hours per week. Wages were increased by 12.5%. “This will give work and paychecks to the heads of 300 more families in Battle Creek,” Kellogg said.
The union at Kellogg proudly issued progress reports, documenting improved efficiency, decreased unit cost and dramatic reduction in injuries. Other well-known companies (Remember Hudson Motor Car?) joined the experiment. However, after World War II workers and their unions wanted to participate in the consumer boom. They pushed for more hours in order to get more pay, including overtime. Kellogg gradually phased out the 30-hour week and completely eliminated it by 1985, writes Benjamin Hunnicutt in Kellogg’s Six Hour Day (Temple University Press, 1996).
Covid-19 presents an opportunity to experiment with remote work, flex time and other work arrangements. The topic of shorter hours is also in the mix because our Covid-19 economy has meant a shortage of competent workers in some key sectors. Thus, some business executives see reduced hours as a tool for recruitment and retention.
To be continued…
Droel is associated with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).
Sandra Mendoza (center), a parishioner at St John the Evangelist, worked at the hotel for 29 years before the pandemic temporarily closed the facility. When it reopens she hopes to resume her work, but but the owner is seeking to replace the entire workforce.
With the pandemic receding, most hotels are resuming operations and beginning to call back their idled employees. Many report struggling to find workers. But one hotel is promising NOT to call back its 80 longtime employees: the Merriweather Lake House Hotel in Columbia, Maryland. Last week the Catholic Labor Network joined the workers and a host of faith and community organizations in calling on the owner, Costello Construction, to recall the long-serving staff to their jobs.
Before the pandemic the hotel was known as the Sheraton Columbia, and its employees – some of whom had worked there for decades – were represented by UNITE HERE Local 7. Costello closed and renovated the hotel during the pandemic and apparently hopes to reopen the hotel under its new name with a new, non-union workforce.
Catholic Social Teaching regards a properly formed business enterprise as a partnership between capital and labor. The labor of these hotel workers created the hotel’s value in the first place, and they have already suffered great economic hardship during the pandemic. They are depending on a return to work for their livelihood and economic future, and deserve to be recalled to service.
Please keep these workers in your prayers and stay tuned for opportunities to support their campaign for just employment.
US Bishops endorse PWFA
On August 3, in a bipartisan 19-2 Health, Employment and Labor Committee vote, the Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act (PWFA) was sent to the floor of the US Senate. On August 9, the US Bishops’ Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Pro-Life, and Defense of Marriage sent an unusual joint letter of support to Congress urging passage of PWFA.
Too often, women workers must choose between the demands of their jobs and the health of their unborn babies. The Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act would require employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant women in the workplace – for instance, assigning light duty to women in later stages of pregnancy if available. It’s a commonsense pro-life, pro-worker and pro-family measure. The measure passed the House in May but remained bottled up in committee on the Senate side until just a few days ago.
For much of the year, the Catholic Labor Network has been organizing its members and friends to conduct zoom calls with US Senate staffs in support of PWFA.
The Bishops’ letter begins:
On behalf of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we write in support of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, S. 1486, which will make the workplace a safer environment for nursing mothers, pregnant women, and their unborn children.
Catholic teaching is clear that policy choices around work should be made to support the family because “family life and work mutually affect one another.” The Catholic bishops of the United States have repeatedly called for circumstances of employment that better support family life, especially in the challenges associated with having children…
To read the Bishops’ letter in its entirety CLICK HERE
The Catholic Labor Network mourns the loss of AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka last week.
Trumka was a champion of working families and a friend of the Network. As a Catholic union leader, his faith and his vocation pointed in the same direction: solidarity, the key concept bridging the world of labor and Church.
A third-generation mineworker from Western Pennsylvania, Trumka rose to become president of the United Mineworkers of America, a legendary labor organization, leading the union through the bitter 1989 Pittston strike. In 1995 he teamed up with another union leader motivated by his Catholic faith, John Sweeney of the Service Employees International Union to win the leadership of the AFL-CIO Read more
Readers of this newsletter probably know that the Catholic Church endorsed the right of workers to organize as a basic element of Catholic Social Teaching in 1891, when Pope Leo XIII issued his Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum. But did you know that the Church in the United States played an active role in preparing workers to exercise that right?
In 1935 the U.S. Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act, guaranteeing workers the right to organize and bargain collectively, leading to a burst of organizing activity by workers in factories, shops and warehouses. New unions like the United Auto Workers and the United Steel Workers sprung up – and so did a network of Catholic “labor schools.” In these labor schools housed in Catholic colleges and universities and even Parish social halls, Catholic workers learned the basic skills of union organizing and administration – parliamentary procedure, handling grievances, negotiating contracts. Through the 1940s and 1950s thousands of Catholic working men and women were formed in these labor schools and became active in the labor movement.
It happens that one of these labor schools is still in existence: the Labor Guild of the Archdiocese of Boston. The late Fr. Ed Boyle, SJ, Executive Secretary of the Guild in the 1980s and 1990s, was one of the founding members of the Catholic Labor Network. Today the Guild continues to offer courses in union skills and administration to working men and women in the Boston Area under the leadership of Executive Director Dave Kowalski of the Utility Workers Union of America.
This week faith activists delivered a letter to all 50 U.S. Senators calling on them to pass the PRO Act, making it easier for workers to form a union. The letter, signed by 400 faith leaders nationwide representing dozens of denominations and traditions — including Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv, of Lexington KY — urges Senators to pass the Act and protect the dignity of workers.
“Because we believe in the sacred worth of both work and workers, we support the “Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO)” Act, which will strengthen and expand the right of workers to form unions, bargain collectively, and engage in collective action without fear of retaliation by their employers,” the letter states. Read more