The Campaign for Just Employment Practices at LMU

A guest contribution from CLN Member Prof. Anna Harrison

The cry for just employment practices is ringing out on the campus of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. Non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty went public in November, 2023 with their unionizing effort. And LMU Solidarity/Solidaridad—an umbrella organization of students, staff, and faculty—is pleading with the administration to enact a just employment policy, modeled on the policy developed at Georgetown University.


Launching their movement’s website, NTT faculty — a majority of LMU’s faculty – announced:

Faculty at Loyola Marymount University are coming together to improve our campus and address multiple crises. For too long, faculty have been marginalized at LMU, with most relegated to contingent, non-tenure-track positions that offer low pay, inadequate benefits, no job security, no meaningful academic freedom, and no true opportunity to share governance with our administration. This is unjust and unfair, and we have had enough. We do the core work of our university, and we deserve respect.

Part-time and full time NTT faculty across all categories have aligned with SEIU Local 721 to demand job security, better pay, and improved access to professional development. Claiming their crucial role in their students’ education, NTT faculty and their supporters are likewise asserting what we should all have recognized all along: faculty working conditions are student learning conditions.

Ten years ago, LMU’s administration, under then President David Burcham, engaged in classic union-busting techniques that successfully quashed NTT faculty’s hopes for collective bargaining. This time around, LMU’s administration may encounter stronger and more widespread resistance. Students know the damage to their education that results when over half their faculty are routinely disregarded, left to work under conditions that undermine creative intellectual work in the classroom, and which limit their availability to meet students’ needs for advisors and mentors.


Following on a successful campaign waged with LMU’s facility’s management workers that enacted a minimum wage of $21.00, LMU Solidarity/Solidaridad is urging the adoption of just employment practices to extend to all employees on campus, including those employed by outside contractors. On November 14, 2023, students took advantage of University President Timothy Law Snyder’s convocation address to distribute informational flyers to those assembled. They reminded LMU that as wealth inequality in the United States continues to spiral, institutions of higher education are no exceptions to the larger trend. And even as the numbers and salaries of the LMU’s top administrators balloon, too many staff and faculty live paycheck to paycheck and have difficulty affording groceries, transportation, and rent in one of the most expensive regions in the country.

LMU Solidarity/Solidaridad proposes a just employment policy (like that which Georgetown University adopted) as a means to heal hurtful labor practices. Animating principles include a living wage, a preference for full-time employees and employee continuity, and freedom of association—no union busting. LMU Solidarity/Solidaridad insists: “LMU has a choice to make. As a Jesuit university committed to the service of faith the promotion of justice, we have the opportunity to teach solidarity by example, or we can remain yet one more player increasing economic inequality.” Meanwhile, LMU’s Faculty Senate and the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts’ College Council both ratified motions signaling their support of the University’s adoption of a just employment policy. Further actions are planned, including bringing attention to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, whose goals of combating climate change LMU has committed to advancing, and which insists on an integral ecology that joins care of our common home with the repairing of human relationships and that “to stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society.”

Can you help? President Timothy Law Snyder needs to hear that Catholic Social Teaching is on the side of those organizing. Email [email protected]!

Nurses at Baltimore’s St. Agnes Hospital form Union

Workers at another Catholic institution have formed a union! At the start of November, a majority of the nurses at Baltimore’s Ascension St. Agnes Hospital voted to join National Nurses United. The nurses were concerned with understaffing at the hospital.

Ascension, a Catholic health care chain with hospitals and nursing homes across the country, has nurtured an anti-labor reputation by consistently resisting its nurses’ efforts to organize, often committing labor law violations that brought management before the National Labor Relations Board. In the Baltimore case, Maryland Catholic Labor Network activists were obliged to call hospital management, reminding them of Catholic teaching on labor unions.

Ascension’s “union avoidance” activities created hardship and misery for many targeted employees but failed to dissuade the nurses from organizing. The hospital is now obliged to bargain with them for a first contract.

Union busting at Baltimore’s Ascension St. Agnes Hospital?

America’s Catholic Bishops have long published a set of Ethical and Religious Directives covering Catholic health care. The seventh of these “ERDs,” as they are known in the industry, instructs a Catholic hospital to “treat its employees respectfully and justly” including “recognition of the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively.” So what’s the problem over at Ascension Health?

Ascension is one of the largest Catholic Health Care chains in the United States, with more than 140 hospitals and dozens of nursing homes. But whenever staff at Ascension facilities begin to seek union representation, management comes down on them like a ton of bricks. We’ve seen this repeatedly over the past few years as nurses at multiple Ascension hospitals have organized to join National Nurses United. The nurses contend that systemic understaffing in Ascension hospitals is undermining both working conditions and patient care.

Recently in this space we reported that the nurses of Ascension St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore had filed for a union representation election. Since that time, the nurses have repeatedly told Catholic Labor Network members that management has retaliated against union supporters with unfair discipline and surveillance. The union has now filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

The decision to form or join a union belongs to workers, not their employer. Both Catholic Social Teaching and US law are clear on this point. The Catholic Labor Network has addressed a letter to the Ascension CEO urging him to investigate the labor law violations at St. Agnes Hospital and ensure that local administrators are in compliance with both American law and Catholic Social Doctrine.

Labor actions continue across the country

It was a busy summer, and it seems the season for labor action has extended into fall. Inflation has substantially eroded wages over the past few years, and as contracts negotiated before the pandemic expire many workers are trying to catch up. Technological change is on the table too — autoworkers are trying to secure their place in the emerging EV economy and actors want to protect themselves from replacement by AI. Please keep the following in your prayers:

Southern California hotel workers. The cost of housing in the Los Angles area has soared beyond the reach of low-wage workers. That’s a major reason why hotel clerks and housekeepers represented by UNITE HERE have waged short strikes at major area hotels as they demand a living wage.

Kaiser Permanente health care workers. More than 70,000 health care workers at the giant HMO walked off the job for three days in early October. They said that substandard wages were the reason they were chronically understaffed: they couldn’t retain employees. The strike got management’s attention and the two sides now have a tentative agreement.

TV and film actors. Although TV and film writers have settled with the producers, some 65,000 actors remain on picket lines. They haven’t received a fair shake from streaming revenues and want to prevent the studios from using AI-generated images to replace paid actors.

Auto workers. Now that the big three automakers are profitable again, UAW members are trying to recover wage and benefit concessions they made in the wake of the Great Recession of 2007-2008. They also want to make sure that new jobs generated in EV manufacture are family-supporting union jobs. New UAW president Shawn Fain adopted an unusual strategy, striking select facilities of each company and escalating as needed by calling out additional shops. The union has won some important points at the bargaining table already, with Ford willing to restore Cost of Living Adjustments (or COLAs) in the new contract and General Motors agreeing to include new EV battery facilities in the UAW master agreement. But although nearly 40,000 autoworkers have now downed tools, the two parties remain far apart on wages. And now the UAW workers who assemble Mack Trucks have hit the streets as well.

36 Hours on the Job

The Working Catholic: UAW Strike by Bill Droel

Autoworkers are not only seeking higher pay, writes Binyamin Appelbaum in N.Y. Times (10/2/23). “They are also, audaciously, demanding the end of the standard 40-hour workweek.”
This is not the first time employees have sought fewer hours. In fact, our feast of St. Joseph the Worker/International Workers Day (May First) was inspired by an 1886 Chicago protest for shorter hours. The Federation of Trades and Labor held a May rally in our Haymarket area (now a trendy restaurant spot). Late in the evening someone threw dynamite. Eight workers were rounded up, including a lay minister, a printer and others. Seven were convicted; four were hanged. The incident gave rise to an annual, worldwide day for worker dignity.
Mondelez Bakery, commonly called Nabisco, has a large facility in my neighborhood. Two years ago members of Bakery, Confectionary Union were on the sidewalk or in a lot across the street, striking over pay and retirement plans. As pressing, however, was their concern about shift length and overtime. Like other companies, Mondelez addressed the side effects of Covid-19 by asking or requiring overtime. This remedy became counterproductive because it created stress among the employees and added to operating expenses.
Covid-19 likewise brings attention to the topic of onsite vs. remote working hours. It also prompts experiments around the number of hours on the job per week. The popular crowd-funding platform Kickstarter, to mention one example, is experimenting with four days per week on the job. Pay remains the same. This is not a gimmick, says Kickstarter’s CEO Aziz Hasan.
Other experiments in Sweden and Great Britain have favorable outcomes so far.
An experiment in Iceland among several companies and backed by unions and civic groups was a success. The employees clocked 36-hours over four weekdays. Productivity remained the same. Sick days decreased. Customers noted better quality of service. Now, 86% of Iceland employees are allowed a four-day week, reports Wall St. Journal (7/31/21).
This past January Rep. Mark Takano of California ( introduced legislation for a nation-wide 36-hour workweek. Even during our so-called labor shortage, Takano’s proposal should get consideration, concludes Appelbaum. It “would be better for our health, better for our families and better for the employers, who would reap the benefits of a more motivated and better rested workforce.”
From a Catholic perspective a 36-hour workweek has a prior requirement: the principle of a family wage. That is, one worker per household with one job should be paid enough to reasonably support the family. (A family may include other workers, but that income is extra, not a dire necessity.) Presuming a family wage is established, an employer will pay a 36-hour per week employee at the former 40-hour rate. (Some employees who can afford to do so might negotiate pro-rated pay for 36-hours, but not from a distorted sense of vocation.)
Second, Catholicism says that a shorter workweek is betrayed if it really means less time in the office while bringing more work home. This caution particularly applies to salaried employees. Further, hours gained by less time on the clock cannot be spent on unnecessary consumption or excess time using screens.
In other words, a change in culture must accompany any change in work hours. A whole/holy life involves employment, but also true leisure. It means leaving behind our culture of total labor. The true purpose of time off is to establish “the right and claims of leisure in the face of the claims of total labor,” writes Josef Pieper (1904-1997) in Leisure: the Basis of Culture (Ignatius Press, 1952). Our culture currently needs “the illusion of a life fulfilled.” But instead of genuine time off, it puts forth false leisure with “cultural tricks and traps and jokes.”
True leisure, Pieper concludes, is festivity or celebration. It is the point at which “effortlessness, calm and relaxation” come together. “Have leisure and know that I am God.” –Psalm 46:11
Whatever the outcome of the autoworkers job action, their proposal for a shorter workweek should not be dismissed.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter on faith and work.

Why are America’s auto workers on strike?

America’s summer of strikes is reaching its crescendo with an industrial dispute in the US auto industry. The legendary United Auto Workers (UAW) union represents some 150,000 workers who build cars for General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (Fiat/Chrysler), and when their contract expired last week union members began striking selected plants. What’s the fight about?

The problems began with the onset of the Great Recession in 2007-2008. The recession tipped GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, and threatened to do the same with Ford. UAW members agreed to major concessions to enable the companies to survive the downturn, including creating a new, lower-paid tier of workers. Workers hired after the recession receive lower wages than their predecessors and are denied participation in the defined benefit pension benefit enjoyed by generations of UAW members. They were also hesitant to press wage demands on the weakened companies, so even senior workers saw their incomes eroded by inflation.

Now that the automakers have returned to profitability UAW members are demanding not just a substantial raise for all but to bring these lower-tier workers up to the union standard in pay and benefits. The companies have balked, citing competition from foreign transplants – companies like Mercedes, Honda, Toyota and Hyundai produce cars in nonunion US plants with substantially lower wages and benefits. They have also argued that they need to bank profits from this last generation of ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles to build EV production capacity.

This is an important consideration, but there have been troubling signs that the automakers want to use the transition to EVs to reset labor relations in the industry to workers’ disadvantage. They have repeatedly stated that assembling EVs will require fewer workers than ICE vehicles, and have formed legally separate joint ventures with other firms to produce EV batteries – enabling them to escape the UAW national bargaining.

In the twentieth century, the UAW helped define what a good, family-supporting job was. In the twenty-first, the workers who produce our EVs deserve the same. For that reason, it’s essential that the striking auto workers win a fair settlement and recover the ground they’ve lost. Please pray for their success!

“Radical Solidarity with Working Families”

Bishops’ 2023 Labor Day Statement

Every year, the Chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development issues a Labor Day statement. The statement reflects on conditions in the world in light of Catholic Social Teaching.

The current chair of the committee is Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia. This year’s statement, Radical Solidarity with Working Families, cautiously greets our nation’s improving economic situation while reminding readers how many working Americans still cannot afford food, rent and health care. “We are called to join Jesus in his ministry to bring glad tidings to the poor,” he observes. “We must do more to support families.” The Archbishop urged legislators to act on the Child Tax Credit, paid family leave and access to affordable child care.

Most important, for trade unionists like myself, it was heartening to read an emphatic endorsement of Catholic teaching on labor unions:

Finally, the essential role labor unions can and often do play in society must be acknowledged and affirmed. As Pope Francis stated when meeting delegates from Italian trade unions, “… one of the tasks of the trade union is to educate in the meaning of labor, promoting fraternity between workers… Trade unions… are required to be a voice for the voiceless. You must make a noise to give voice to the voiceless” Unions should continue to be supported in their work that supports healthy, thriving families, especially those who are most in need, and encouraged in maintaining and increasing their focus on performing that critical role. Indeed, as Pope Francis has suggested, “there are no free workers without trade unions.”

CLICK HERE to read the statement in its entirety.

Catholic Labor Network 2023 Labor Day Mass

September 4 at 12pm ET

The Catholic Labor Network is pleased to announce that Bishop David Toups, Bishop of the Diocese of Beaumont in Texas will celebrate our annual Labor Day Mass. Our Spiritual Moderator Fr. Sinclair Oubre, a member of the Seafarers International Union, will concelebrate. They will be assisted by Deacon Steve Oberneufemann, a Teamster, and Deacon Ivan Watson of the United Steelworkers. Morline Guillory of the American Postal Workers Union and Richard Landry, another Steelworker, will do the readings.

The Mass will be broadcast on the Catholic Labor Network’s YouTube Channel at noon ET on Labor Day. Please join us!

Teamsters Settle with UPS

For actors and hotel workers, the fight continues

The Catholic Labor Network is pleased to report that UPS and the Teamsters have reached a tentative contract agreement. If ratified, the country will be spared a much-feared strike by more than 300,000 drivers and warehouse workers that would have snagged supply chains in every corner of the country.

We didn’t have to come this close to the nation’s biggest labor dispute in decades. But for months UPS failed to put a reasonable wage increase on the table, and the Teamsters practiced hitting the picket lines for much of July.

UPS employees will see significant improvements in wages and working conditions. Part-time warehouse employees currently have a starting wage of $16.20 per hour; that’s going up to $21. Full-time drivers will get a substantial wage increase as well, and won big on quality of life issues. In the future, UPS will purchase trucks with A/C – no small thing for workers toting heavy loads in our increasingly warm summers. And weekend overtime will be voluntary, not required.

Meanwhile, the summer of strikes is hardly over, especially in Southern California. There, Hollywood writers and actors remain on picket lines, seeking a share of revenues from streaming video and protections from job loss to artificial intelligence. And Los Angeles area hotel workers represented by UNITE HERE – who can barely afford to live in the increasingly expensive city – continue a wave of strikes against area hotels.

Please pray for all these workers who continue to fight for justice.

Social Justice

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine #14 by Bill Droel

The term social justice is regularly used but rarely defined. It often means a government program is on the way. “Social justice requires an increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps).” It can mean a general concern. “The status of women is a matter of social justice.” It can describe an event. “We went to a social justice conference.” Or describe a personality type. “She’s a social justice warrior.” In many circles it is simply substituted for the word charity. “Our parish food pantry is a social justice effort.”
Social justice actually has a Catholic pedigree and refers to a type under the general term justice. There is criminal justice, distributive justice (the duty of government), individual justice or commutative justice (fair exchange either implied or in a contract) and social justice (and more).
Fr. Luigi Taparelli, SJ (1793-1862) of Italy coined the term social justice in 1845. He was rightly worried about individualistic tendencies that characterize modernity–all the more extreme in our day. Taparelli favored an organic society in which many interdependent parts add up to more than their sum. Such a society needs healthy intermediate institutions that give individuals wider agency and also buffer individuals from big forces—families, parishes, workplace units, professional associations, ethnic clubs and more. This dynamic is called subsidiarity in Catholicism.
By about 1900 Catholic philosophers were equating social justice with what St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) calls legal justice. Now, for Aquinas legal justice does not refer to what is approximated on TV shows like Chicago P.D. and Judge Judy. He means that by divine law all the parts of an organic society must be directed toward the common good, not entirely to one individual’s good. The 20th century Catholic philosophers thought the term social justice was better than legal justice because many people think the word legal only means what is expressly prohibited or commanded. Such people stay within minimum behavior but consider social obligations to be strictly optional. In fact, they often expect some recognition when they help out in the community.
The academic conversation continued, treating both process and outcome. Process: How does social justice come about? Outcome: What does a social justice society look like?
Fr. William Ferree, SM (1905-1985) of Ohio greatly clarified the topic—in my opinion. First in a dissertation and then in an influential 1948 booklet, Introduction to Social Justice, Ferree said the unique act of social justice is organization and its outcome is improved policies or institutions.
This means that social justice is a virtue. It is something that is done, not a fond wish. It is more than calling out a problem. Like all virtues, it must be done habitually.
This means that social justice is a collective virtue. An individual can be generous but cannot alone practice social justice. Like-minded people must get together. Thus, mixed motives are always involved. Each participant gets something out of the effort; the group also benefits in some way; but the greater good is a primary object of the practice.
This means that the aims of social justice must stay in the practical realm, though the initial ambition can reach beyond what will be achieved. Compromise is a necessary part of social justice. It is not a virtue for purists or utopians.
This means, to paraphrase a great polka song: In heaven there is no social justice; that’s why we do it here. In heaven there is perfect love, but in our messy here-and-now domain, things are incremental. There’s need for social justice today and more need tomorrow.
This means that social justice is for insiders. Protest is often necessary to get inside, but marches and rallies are not in themselves social justice.
This means that social justice is not charity, though charity might precede or accompany social justice. Charity in itself does not change policies, though people involved in charity often turn to lobbying (social justice) in order to make charity more efficient or even less necessary.
Social justice is a specific activity done by a group within an institution to improve a policy or, if necessary, to start an alternative institution. With a better appreciation for the definition of social justice more might be accomplished. As Elvis sang in 1968, “A little less conversation, a little more action.”

Ferree’s booklet ($6) and Droel’s booklet, What Is Social Justice ($5) can be obtained from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).