Kingspan workers, clergy remember Grenfell Tower fire victims

A guest contribution from CLN Member John Murphy

This morning, before heading into work, Kingspan workers held a candlelight vigil in solidarity with thousands marching silently in London today on the 4 1/2 year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire.

At 4:30am, in the rain, we huddled under tents, holding tealight candles- the volunteer organizing committee at Kingspan, SMART-union organizers and Pastor Maribel, Pastor Joyce and Pastor Jack from CLUE Justice Orange County.

We celebrated life, and mourned the loss of life. We prayed that Kingspan and other companies listen to the health and safety concerns raised by workers and the community. For me it was all the more relevant as we hear the testimonies of warehouse workers in Kentucky who were threatened to be fired if they left their job for safety during the tornados.

Today we mourn for the 72 people who died in the Grenfell Tower Fire, for their families and for their friends. And tomorrow we fight like hell for all the people whose voices are ignored, diminished, repressed. Grenfell was avoidable. So were the deaths in the warehouses in the tornados. And at Kingspan Light + Air in Santa Ana, management needs to listen to Lucas Hernandez, a welder at the shop and resident of the Delhi neighborhood:

“Today, we as Kingspan workers stand united in solidarity with all those in London seeking justice for the 72 people who lost their lives in the horrific Grenfell Tower fire. Here in Santa Ana, we ask Kingspan to listen to our health and safety concerns for our own well-being, our families, and our community.”

For more on Kingspan at Santa Ana, CLICK HERE

CSPL and CLN Bring Catholic Workers’ Rights Training to UNITE HERE Members

Follows workshops at St. Benedict the African, St. Oscar Romero

In 2021, the Catholic Labor Network partnered with Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership (CSPL) to conduct a series of worker’s rights workshops rooted in Catholic doctrine – starting in Catholic parishes and culminating in a program for members of UNITE HERE Local 1 in Chicago.

That workshop, held at the Local union’s office headquarters, brought together 6 local union staff and members to learn about the history of Catholic Social Teaching and the role of Catholic Church in supporting the work of labor unions and the struggle for workers’ rights. The conversations at this workshop highlighted the deep connection between the workers’ faith and their efforts to organize for the respect of their dignity in the workplace. Cecilia Leiva – a Hyatt Regency Mini-bar attendant elected to the UNITEHERE Local 1 executive committee – observed:

This training was very effective in helping us better understand how to tap into our union members’ faith when we work to get workers engaged in the struggle for their rights. We need to invite a lot of people to stand up and to unite behind our faith and our desire for our rights and dignity to be respected as people of God and as workers. We have to tap into our spiritual lives to give us the love, passion and courage that we need to stand up for humanity. We need everyone to come together and this training helped us imagine ways that we can do that.

In an earlier iteration of the workshop, CLN Vice President Adrienne Alexander helped lead discussions at her parish, St. Benedict the African. In this largely Black Catholic parish on Chicago’s South Side, many parishioners were union members or retirees and enjoyed exploring the connection between their faith, the labor movement and the fight for justice today. During the workshops, participants explored the experience of Jesus from scripture, teaching an oppressed people in ancient Palestine about the Kingdom of God. Tiombe Eiland of St. Benedict the African reflected:

Are the inequalities that confront people today, the same as the ones that existed during the life of Jesus Christ?  During this seminar, my team was quick to explain that class boundaries were very active over 2,000 years ago.  People were limited by family and financial status, the region you lived in, the area in which you were born or came from.

Participant Simone Wright saw the workshop as a prompt to activism.

The workshops reaffirmed for me the breadth of Catholic theology on respect for life. I realized that I must move from the sidelines and figure out what contribution I could and wanted to make.  The workshops guide one to action, not just discussion.

Additional workshops were held in the newly formed parish of St. Oscar Romero in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. At this workshop, 23 participants representing the four united parishes in Back of the Yards under the banner of St. Oscar Romero came together and heard from CSPL’s Director of Organizing Training and Economic Justice Organizer, Gabriel Lara, about how the teachings of the church on the rights of workers and the process of “See, Judge, Act” can provide a path for Catholics to put their faith into action when it comes to workers’ rights and economic justice.

CLN and CSPL aim to continue these training sessions and look forward to presenting workshops in both English and Spanish at the upcoming virtual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in January 2022.

 

 

 

Dorothy Day Sainthood Sending Mass Dec. 8

guest contribution from Jeffry Korgen of the Dorothy Day Guild

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, was a friend to workers throughout the 20th Century. Her promotion of worker justice extended from the IWW back in the early 20th Century, to her efforts, after her conversion to Catholicism, to promote Church support of unions and low-wage workers–from seamen in the 1930’s to farm workers in the 1970’s.  She is currently  a candidate for sainthood.

On December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, at 7:30 p.m., Cardinal Timothy Dolan will complete the seven-year collection of evidence supporting her Cause for Sainthood and seal the boxes of evidence, bound in red tape, at a special Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Please note that this Cathedral Mass  will be live-streamed (https://saintpatrickscathedral.org/live) for those who cannot attend in person. We hope you will be able to join us.

150 Ohio Faith Leaders Tell Wendy’s: Respect Farmworkers!

Of all America’s workers, farmworkers are among the most poorly treated. That’s why the Catholic Labor Network, the Diocese of Columbus and Ohio Faith in Public Life organized a letter from faith leaders across the Buckeye state urging Wendy’s to clean up its supply chain by joining the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) Fair Food Program.

For two decades the CIW has urged fast food chains to take responsibility for the workers who harvest their tomatoes by signing up for the Fair Food Program. One by one, giants like Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Burger King have joined the program, which ensures that they purchase tomatoes from growers who have signed on to a fair labor code of conduct and provides a supplement to workers’ wages. Only Wendy’s refuses to participate.

For that reason, the CIW has sponsored a boycott of Wendy’s and urges consumers to avoid the Ohio-based fast food chain. Each year in November, the CIW organizes a week of action targeting the hamburger giant.

For this year’s week of action, the Catholic Labor Network joined with several other organizations, including the Diocese of Columbus and the National Farm Worker Ministry, in collecting signatures from Ohio faith leaders on a letter to Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor. The letter was delivered on Friday, Nov. 19. (CLICK HERE to read the letter and see the signatories.)

Santa Ana workers exposed to toxic environment, seek union

It’s not always wages and benefits that drive workers to organize. In the Kingspan factory in Santa Ana, California workers are seeking to form a union and bargain collectively because the company was taking risks with their health.

Kingspan, an Irish multinational, produces materials for green building construction and says on its website that “buildings should be healthy and inspirational, optimizing the benefits of daylight and fresh, clean air.” Unfortunately, the company’s own factories are failing this test.

Without proper exhaust ventilation, sanding, grinding and welding often generate hazardous airborne particulate matter, putting workers at risk of respiratory illness. Of particular concern is PM2.5 (particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers) because they can bypass the natural filters in your nose and mouth, penetrating deeply into the lungs.

Several concerned workers teamed up with SMART (the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers’ union) and U. California Irvine scientist Dr. Shahir Masri to test the air quality in the Santa Ana facility. Dr. Masri equipped them with personal air monitors they wore on the job for three days, and analyzed the results. Their concerns were founded: in several work locations they were being exposed to unhealthy concentrations of PM2.5.

Why should we, as Catholics, be concerned about this? According to Catholic Social Teaching, every worker deserves safe and healthy working conditions. As Pope John Paul II wrote in Laborem Exercens (1981): “Among these rights there should never be overlooked the right to a working environment and to manufacturing processes which are not harmful to the workers’ physical health [19].”

The company asserts that these problems have been addressed, but the workers are skeptical. They are campaigning to join SMART and gain a right to bargain over wages, working conditions and especially safety and health on the job.

Labor Unions and Google (Part I)

Google’s old corporate slogan was “Don’t be evil.” And in recent conversations with two Catholic Labor Network members – Stephen McMurty of the Alphabet Workers Union and Chuck Hendricks of UNITE HERE – who have firsthand knowledge, I’ve been pleased to learn that Google’s labor relations practices seem more enlightened than some other companies I’ve heard about. Unfortunately, in a time where union-busting has become ubiquitous, the bar that other companies have set is pretty low. Workers at every company need a union – even companies that proclaim “Do the Right Thing” as their current motto.

Direct employees of Alphabet, the parent company, often enjoy good salaries – recent college grads earning six digits are not unusual. They are less likely than workers at Amazon and other tech companies to complain of long hours and a high-pressure work environment. So why do they need a union? Even well-paid workers want a voice on the job – that’s why a number of them, including CLN member Stephen McMurtry, banded together in the Alphabet Workers Union, affiliated with the Communication Workers of America.

McMurtry says that workers at Google want, in short, to hold Google to its slogans – they want to know that they are creating socially useful products. In recent years, Google has seen workers organize a petition opposing Google contracts with ICE and the Customs and Border Patrol – and has engaged in unlawful retaliation against ringleaders. Others have objected to military contracts, both foreign and domestic. Joining together in a union would help protect workers engaged in such advocacy.

That doesn’t mean there are no economic issues in play at Google. Some employees who have relocated from the Bay Area are now facing pay cuts from a company saying that their pay packet assumed a Bay Area cost of living. And many workers on a Google campus are in fact temps or contractors, who generally are paid less, even when performing similar work.

McMurtry describes AWU as “open and experimental.” In most cases, a union rushes to a union election (or sometimes a “card check”) to be certified as THE representative of employees in a bargaining unit, compelling the employer to bargain a contract with them covering wages and benefits for all employees. AWU is content, at least for now, to operate as a “minority union” which represents the workers who join and delving into issues that are outside the usual scope of American collective bargaining. (Although many people don’t realize it, the National Labor Relations Act protects “concerted activity” by workers whether or not they claim to represent a majority of the employees.)

The future of unions in the tech sector is still being written, and part of it is being written by the pioneering members of the AWU.

Georgetown Breaks Worker Justice Ground with New Construction Procurement Policy

One way Catholic institutions can demonstrate their faith – and evangelize the world – is by honoring Catholic Social Teaching in their labor relations practices. Many do this by recognizing and bargaining with unions representing their employees and by paying a living wage to workers in all job classifications; some do so by obliging their service contractors to do the same. Georgetown University has now broken new ground in this field with a construction procurement policy targeting abuses common in that industry. Read more

County Employees in Virginia Fight for the Right to Organize

The right of workers to organize and bargain collectively has been fundamental to Catholic Social Teaching since Pope Leo XIII issued his Encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891. But in Virginia, public employees have long lacked that right. The Catholic Labor Network is supporting workers in Virginia’s Fairfax and Loudoun Counties who are fighting to change that.

Workers in both counties who have organized with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have recently held rallies calling on these county boards to pass an ordinance permitting collective bargaining. This would have been impossible until recently: in 2019, the state legislature overturned a long-established law forbidding cities and counties from bargaining with unions representing their employees. But that was just the first step – now the employees need to persuade the county boards and city councils to take that step.

Arlington County and the City of Alexandria have done this; now, workers in Loudoun and Fairfax are fighting for these same rights. For county workers at these rallies, pay is only one of many issues that brought them out. For many workers, dignity at work, staffing levels, and a voice in county services are equally important. Loudoun County psychiatric nurse Patti Nelson (pictured) talked about taking home less pay, working longer hours, and having less staff. She said for years she would take home work without overtime and little appreciation from management.

For Nelson, collective bargaining would give workers a voice in how Loudoun County delivers services, saying:

“This has been a long time coming and now we have a board who shares our values for healthy families, and good services, and increasing our staffing rate so that we can provide the work that we are called to provide for the least among us, and every other citizen of Loudoun County.”

Based on the response of county board members, the workers are optimistic. They expect to see an ordinance passed sometime next month.

Catholic Labor Network hosts “Listening Session” for Displaced Hotel Workers

Workers ask participants to boycott hotel until they are returned to work

For decades these workers, from housekeepers to banquet servers, had made the Sheraton Columbia the premier venue for weddings, meetings and conferences in Maryland’s Howard County – that is, until a new owner purchased the hotel and decided to throw them out like yesterday’s rubbish. Now the workers are fighting for their jobs, and asking the public not to patronize the renamed “Merriweather Lakehouse Hotel” until they get their jobs back.

Earlier this month, the Catholic Labor Network joined with community organization PATH (People Acting Together in Howard) to host a “listening session” where local clergy and faith activists could hear the story from the workers themselves.

During the meeting, clergy and parish social ministry leaders listened intently to the testimony of three workers who were seeking to return to their jobs. Angela Carrillo (pictured, in blue), a parishioner from nearby St John the Evangelist who had worked at the hotel for more than 20 years before the pandemic interrupted her career, was at a loss to understand why the new owner was refusing to rehire experienced employees. But she found some comfort learning that Marge Trenkle from the St John the Evangelist Social Ministry Team was listening closely to her testimony and bringing her story back to the parish.

This could not have happened in Baltimore, for instance, because the union and an alliance of community organizations – including the Catholic Labor Network – successfully pressed for a “right to recall” ordinance. Under the ordinance, city hotels that reopened after the pandemic were required to offer jobs to their laid-off employees before hiring replacements. But Howard County has no such law.

Fr. Ty Hullinger of Baltimore’s St Anthony of Padua Church observed,

I was deeply affected by something that one of the workers, Mr. Ty Hughes, shared at our table. As he talked about how the workers were finding their voices and building power through the boycott, he also described some of the suffering and loss that the workers have gone through, including ‘the loyalty that was stolen from the employees.’ When he shared this, it reminded me of when Pope Francis uses that same exact language of ‘robbery’ to describe the effects of unjust economies on persons and communities in The Joy of the Gospel. Here workers are being robbed of their loyalty. To know that this company has used the pandemic as a ruse to lockout workers with 5, 10, 15 years and more of experience that the hotel is unjust, immoral and it causes tremendous pain and suffering. It is also like stealing their loyalty and so much more. But the power, voice and solidarity that workers are building is what gives this boycott and movement hope. Hope that they will be given their jobs back, and that this same hope will help build power and support for workers in other places who have also lost their jobs when unjust employers use the pandemic to do the unthinkable.

Eternal Rest Grant to Her: The Passing of a Great Labor Advocate

by Fr. Sinclair Oubre, JCL, Spiritual Moderator of the Catholic Labor Network

Earlier this month, Robert Kambic called me with the sad news that his loving wife of 51 years and life-long workers and union advocate had passed away. Mary Kambic’s life was one of total commitment to her Catholic Faith and our Catholic Social Teaching regarding workers and unions.

There are so many labor stories that it would take a book to list them all. However, she and I worked together on one labor struggle that connected Pasadena, Texas and Baltimore Maryland. In 1996, Crown Petroleum lockedout their 252 Local 4-227 Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) workers (now USW workers). The lockout lasted 5 years, and while I joined workers on the picket line in Pasedena, Mary lobbied the Jesuit priest, Fr. Hap Ridley, who sat on the Crown Petroleum Board of Directors. Sadly, she was not able to move him.

Mary and Robert always came to our CLN meeting during the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in D.C., and on a number of occasions, they showed me hospitality and warm Baltimore welcomes.

Even when Mary was struggling her health, she continued to work to organize adjunct professors at local Baltimore community colleges.

Mother Jones and Dorothy Day, you have a new heavenly sister.

Fr. Sinclair Oubre, J.C.L.

CLN Spiritual Moderator