Social Doctrine Part II

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine Part II

Modern Catholic social doctrine dates from May 1891 with the publication of On the Condition of Labor by Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903). Customarily, social encyclicals are subsequently released on significant anniversaries of On the Condition of Labor.
In May 1981 Mehmet Ali Agca, a criminal from Turkey, shot Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) in St. Peter’s Square. Thus John Paul II’s anniversary encyclical was delayed until September 1981. It is titled On Human Work.
Every worker is equal in dignity, says John Paul II. That’s because the dignity of work originates with the person doing the work; the person who raises children, instructs students, assists homebuyers, manages portfolios, takes orders at the drive-through window, crafts legislation, develops affordable housing or supervises a manufacturing plant. A boss cannot confer dignity. An executive secretary is no more dignified than the night janitor. Every worker is equal—not necessarily in pay or expertise, but equal in dignity prior to, during and after the job or task.
The word work, according to John Paul II, is any activity that comports with God’s on-going creation and redemption. A homemaker is a worker. Unemployed workers, volunteer tutors and chief executives are all workers. A gun trafficker is not a worker because she or he detracts from the plan of God. A predatory lender is not a worker. An adult who abuses children is not a worker.
The design of an economy, the policies of a specific business, or the management style of a boss or the level of cooperation among fellow workers make it easier or harder to experience holiness through work. On Human Work says that the first purpose of any economy or business is the fulfillment of its workers. Fulfilling work is some combination of putting bread on the family table, benefitting society with a needed service or product, participating in a team effort and growing in self-knowledge. If a company first has regard for its workers, it will likely also respect its suppliers and customers or clients. (Remember, its workers include the shop hands, janitors, executives, nurses, top partners, drivers, public relations personnel, sales force and more.) That company with competent management and a needed product or service will likely be profitable.
The best test of whether a company respects its workers is its wage structure. “In every case a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system” and each business within it, writes John Paul II. “It is not the only means of checking but it is…the key means.” Get wage structure right, the company and society will be right. Wage structure, by the way, includes the top (not paid too much) and the bottom (not paid too little).
On Human Work names other considerations for a whole, holy economy or business. John Paul II warns against an authoritarian business or a collectivist economy. No surprise coming from a champion of anti-communism. He likewise warns against neo-liberal individualism. No surprise coming from a Catholic. Instead, he favors businesses that value subsidiarity (bottom-up decision making), participation and solidarity (solidarność).
John Paul II devotes a section to the “importance of unions,” and he affirms “the right to strike.” He reminds employers and employees that the disabled have “ideas and resources” and can be offered a job “according to their capabilities.”
On Human Work concludes with an intriguing section titled Elements for a Spirituality of Work. John Paul II, in a totally neglected injunction, says that the whole church has “a particular duty to form a spirituality of work…which will help all people come closer, through work, to God.” Such spirituality is “a heritage shared by all.”

Next up: Pope Francis’ contributions to social doctrine. For now, obtain John Paul II’s Gospel of Work edited by Bill Droel (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $7 discount price).

Catholic Labor Network hosts Priest-Labor Colloquium at annual assembly of the Association of US Catholic Priests

Pictured, left to right: Fr. Neil Pezzulo (Glenmary), Fr. Tuck Grinell (Diocese of Arlington), Fr. Randy Phillips (Archdiocese of Detroit), Fr. Jim Murphy (Diocese of Madison), UNITE HERE union members Jose Maquin and Uriel Perez-Espinoza, and Fr. Eugene Pocernich (Archdiocese of Milwaukee).

Last week the Catholic Labor Network was pleased to join the Association of US Catholic Priests (AUSCP) in Minneapolis for their annual assembly, and to offer a colloquium on Ministering to Workers in the Wake of COVID.

The colloquium featured testimony from two members of UNITE HERE Local 17, the union representing hotel workers in the Twin Cities. Jose Maquin, a worker represented by the union, and Uriel Perez-Espinoza, a former hotel worker now on the union’s staff, shared the devastating impact of the pandemic on hotel workers: the industry largely shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, leaving workers without a source of income or their employer-provided health insurance coverage. Mr. Maquin and Mr. Perez-Espinoza then took questions from the participants and the group enjoyed a lively discussion of the place of unions in Catholic Social Teaching.

Members of the AUSCP are deeply committed to the Church’s social doctrine; the organization intentionally picked a union hotel where they knew workers’ rights would be respected. Another highlight from the event was a group visit to the location where George Floyd was killed by a former Minneapolis police officer to listen to local voices, to pray and to reflect on racism in America.

Would you like to work with the Catholic Labor Network to organize a labor colloquium for priests or lay leaders in your community? Contact

Tackling Crew Change Crisis One Jab at a Time

Readers of this newsletter should be familiar with the pandemic-driven crew change crisis that had some 400,000 mariners confined onboard ship for up to a year without relief. As nations shut their borders to prevent the spread of the virus, they disrupted the system by which fresh crews are transported by air to a port to relieve their peers after their tour of duty. By the end of the year it was clear that only widespread vaccination of mariners could ease the logjam, but how do you get the shots to men and women who are usually at sea?

That’s where Catholic Labor Network Spiritual Moderator Fr Sinclair Oubre and CLN member Doreen Badeaux come in. A seafarer himself, Oubre directs Stella Maris-Diocese of Beaumont, and Doreen is the Secretary General for the Apostleship of the Sea-USA in busy Port Arthur, Texas. They track the arrival of ships in the port. Working with the Port Arthur International Seafarers’ Center, Port Arthur Health Department and the National Guard, they formed rapid response teams that would vaccinate the mariners during their brief shore leave – or even onboard the ship if they were not granted leave.

“It’s ironic,” said Doreen Badeaux, who works for AOS-USA. “On shore, people were worried that these men and women might infect us with COVID. In reality, THEY should be afraid of US.” The mariners had boarded their ships before the pandemic peaked and, isolated at sea, were generally safe from infection. They needed a vaccine to safely disembark and mingle with those of us on shore who might carry the virus – especially if they intend to head for an airport and fly home, their tour of duty complete.

The vaccination effort has been especially welcomed by the many mariners from the global South, where the shots are in short supply. A large number of seafarers served by Stella Maris in Port Arthur hail from India or the Philippines.

Into Catholic Social Teaching? Come to the Social Action Summer Institute!

In most Catholic Diocesan offices, you’ll find someone – perhaps a priest, more often a Deacon or a member of the laity – responsible for promoting Catholic Social Teaching. These men and women report to the local Bishop and are a critical resource for those doing the work of justice. And there’s a professional association that brings them together: the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors. The Roundtable has partnered with the Catholic Labor Network on a number of projects and events over the past three years.

Each July the Roundtable hosts a Social Action Summer Institute (SASI) featuring workshops on different dimensions of Catholic Social Teaching. It’s not restricted to members of the Roundtable, and in fact is open to any Catholic interested in social justice or social ministry. And this year, due to the pandemic, SASI will be virtual – making it accessible to those who can’t travel.

Want to learn more about Catholic Social Teaching, and meet like-minded friends and contacts? SASI will be held July 14 and 15 this year. To learn more about the event, and to register, CLICK HERE.

Immigration Judges’ Union Rights Under Attack

When men and women facing persecution abroad seek asylum in the United States, who evaluates their claims? More than 500 immigration judges, represented by the National Association of Immigration Judges, an affiliate of IFPTE (the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers). But they may not be represented for long: former Attorney General Bill Barr moved to decertify the judges’ union, and alarmingly, new AG Merrick Garland has not taken any action to stop the decertification.

The NAIJ mounted a strong defense of immigrants’ due process rights in the face of political pressure, drawing the ire of the former administration. So it was probably no coincidence that AG Barr began arguing that the judges were “managers” and not entitled to union representation. The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) – which plays a similar role for federal employees to that played by the NLRB for private sector workers – accepted this argument but at the union’s request is reconsidering.

The Catholic Labor Network has joined with dozens of other labor and immigrant organizations – from the AFL-CIO to the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc (CLINIC) – to address a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging him to join their side and vindicate the union rights of the nation’s immigration judges. CLN will keep you posted as the situation develops.

New Hampshire Workers, Faith Leaders Fend Off “Right to Work”

“Right to Work” laws don’t give anyone the right to a job – they weaken unions by giving workers the “right” to opt out of paying dues when a majority of their co-workers have voted for union representation and are paying their fair share. So it was good news to learn that on June 3, by a vote of 199–175, the New Hampshire House of Representatives rejected legislation that would have made the Granite State “Right to Work.”

The defeat culminated a six-month campaign to educate New Hampshire’s working families about the issue and to build community support for labor. The campaign included vigorous outreach to the faith community, which responded strongly to appeals to support working families.

Diocese of Manchester Public Policy Director Robert Dunn, representing Bishop Libasci, told legislators:

In our view, SB 61 would have the effect of substantially diminishing the ability of unions to carry out their duties… Therefore, we respectfully oppose SB 61, and we ask that you recommend it as inexpedient to legislate.

To read Dunn’s statement in its entirety, click Letter to NH House Labor Committee re SB 61 2021.02.08

Social Doctrine

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine
By Bill Droel

Modern Catholic social doctrine is officially 130-years old. It dates from Pope Leo XIII’s May 1891 encyclical, On the Condition of Labor. Subsequent popes (as will be mentioned) advance social doctrine, often on anniversaries of On the Condition of Labor.
Doctrines are derived from reflection on the accumulated experience of Christians in many societies and from an application of reason or science, particularly the social sciences. Doctrines are in harmony with God’s revealed Scripture. Dogma, by contrast, comes to us directly from revelation; it cannot be figured out only through study of nature. The dogma of the Trinity, for example, fits an understanding of nature but God had to reveal the Trinity to us. Dogma is not irrational; it is not opposed to science. It is true but not empirical, like a spouse’s love.
Western Europe in the time of Leo XIII (1810-1903) was experiencing industrialization which in turn attracted thousands of families to urban centers. This industrial era held forth many promises including a higher standard of living and conveniences. However, Leo XIII among others saw that industry and urban life came with a paradox: degrading working conditions and great poverty amid concentrated wealth. The Communist Manifesto of 1848 addressed the paradox and named a resolution: proletariat revolution. Leo XIII countered Marxism with Christian principles.
The bedrock principle of Catholic social doctrine is the intrinsic dignity of each person. Humanists all agree that modern individuals are free and can exercise appropriate agency. Jews, Christians and Muslims know that this truth is additionally supported in Scripture; that each person is created in the image and likeness of God. (Genesis 1:27 & Qur’an 17:70)
The modifier intrinsic is important because the term dignity is sometimes used carelessly. Intrinsic means built-in. For example, a husband does not give his wife dignity. She has it long before they meet. An employer does not give employees dignity. It comes with them in the morning and stays with them after they punch the clock. God put dignity into each person.
A negligent husband or an exploitative boss can, of course, degrade a person’s dignity. Thus an obligation to improve degrading situations follows from the principle of basic dignity. To that end On the Condition of Labor advocates for safe and humane working conditions, for a family wage and for the right of workers to collectively bargain. To achieve these and other improvements, Leo XIII says government’s role includes restraint on laissez-faire capitalism.
A subsequent column will discuss other social encyclicals—specifically St. John Paul II’s On Human Work on its 40th anniversary and the recent encyclicals of Pope Francis, one on inequality/environment and one on public friendship.
Officialdom uses the term Catholic social teaching for these encyclicals and a few other Church documents. I prefer the term Catholic social thought and action. This includes the official teaching but it also includes reflection on the teaching and its implementation in worldly settings. Doctrine is principles that tell us what to do. But, they have to be applied with prudence. As the principles hit the streets or corridors, right-minded people can disagree on the how to implement the doctrine in fluid situations. Here’s one small example: Catholic social doctrine says employees have a right to bargain collectively without the maternal or paternal meddling of their boss. The application, however, is more complex. Do we necessarily want a union at this workplace? If so, do we want this union or a different union or an independent union of our own making? If we do not want a union, what is our alternative mechanism for improving conditions at our workplace? Sincere employees can respectfully disagree with one another. This example becomes more complex if unfortunately the employer violates the starting principle or skirts the law. To be continued…

Obtain Droel’s booklet Catholic Administrators and Labor Unions from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $1.50).

Tell Your Senator to Step Up for Pregnant Workers

In 2018 I reported on a shocking story in the New York Times. It appeared that a number of pregnant women working in a logistics shipping center had miscarried. One of the women, in pain from heavy lifting, had asked to leave work early – and her supervisor advised her to get an abortion.

As Catholics we believe in the dignity of work, but we also believe that life and family need to be protected from excessive demands in the workplace. That’s why I am asking you to write your Senators today in support of the Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act (PWFA). The Act is simple, and modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It directs employers of pregnant women to make reasonable accommodations for these workers on the job – things like light duty for women in the late stages of pregnancy when available.

This legislation is pro-life, pro-family and pro-worker justice. It recently passed the House of Representatives on a solid bipartisan majority vote of 315-101, but a surprising number of Senators are not aware of it yet.

You can make a difference. Click the link below to contact your Senator right now and send them a message: Vote yes for the Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act!


Washington Farmworkers Win Overtime Pay

Everyone knows that you are supposed to be paid time and a half if you work more than 40 hours a week. That’s been part of American labor law since the US Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 – at least for MOST workers. In a sad exception, the authors of FLSA excluded a few groups of workers from its protections – and farmworkers were one of them.

That’s right, some of the hardest working men and women in America, the ones who pick our fruits and vegetables, are not entitled to overtime pay under federal law. That leaves states to pick up the slack and ensure that farmworkers get a fair shake.

Responding to calls from labor and faith activists – and a state Supreme Court ruling that targeted the unfair exemption – Washington state legislators have taken action to extend overtime wage protections to farmworkers. Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill at a United Food and Commercial Workers’ union hall in Yakima in mid-May.

This makes Washington the third American state to pass a law granting overtime for farmworkers; New York and California already had such a law. That leaves Oregon the only state on the West Coast that has not taken action. Oregon legislators currently are considering a bill that would do the same.

St Rose of Lima Catholic School Teachers Vote Union Yes

On May 13, 2021, full-time and part-time teachers and teachers’ aides at St. Rose of Lima School in Freehold, New Jersey (Diocese of Trenton) voted overwhelmingly for Union representation.  They are the newest affiliate of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers. With the pandemic on, the teachers and aides were organized on Zoom. Negotiations for their first union contract are set to open in early June.