The Working Catholic: Immigration by Bill Droel

The immigrant “can sense that the United States is of two minds,” writes Hector Tobar of the University of California in Our Migrant Souls: A Meditation (Farrar, Straus, 2023). “Like the indentured servants, the Poles, the Germans and the Chinese people of other centuries, she knows there are factory owners and affluent families on the other side of the fence or the ocean who really want her to make it across… She knows that she has something that is prized on the other side.” At the same time the “walls, barbed wire and restrictive immigration laws announce they hate her kind.”
A country by definition must have borders. A phrase like open borders, if taken literally, erases the existence of nation states. The trick is to maintain an orderly system so that tourists, students, temporary workers, immigrants and refugees can safely enter a country and by their labor, knowledge and consumption they can contribute to their surroundings.
The current number of foreign-born people living in our country is the highest it has been in about 100 years; 45million by one estimate, reports Idrees Kahloon in The New Yorker (6/12/23). Many are immigrants who have become full-fledged legal U.S. citizens (about 970,000 within the past 12 months). Other foreign-born residents are guest workers (in Silicon Valley, in hospitals, in vineyards and on farms) and students (in technical fields, medical research and business) and others are immigrant/refugees–those who are in the legal process and those who have drifted into society without status.
The current influx actually began over 60 years ago when Congress changed its immigration limit and its general ban on those from Asia, details Dexter Filkins, also writing in The New Yorker (6/19/23). Our society’s need for more skilled and manual laborers attracts foreigners. More arrive under our policy of family preference or chain migration by which one immigrant can assist family members. Several factors push families toward the U.S., including drug violence, natural disasters, a bad economy at home, oppressive politics, the profitable smuggling/trafficking business (coyote cartels) and more.
Arrivals in the U.S., as Hector Tobar describes, have always encountered nativism. Some current U.S. residents say that their life would be better if immigrants were not unfairly given social services. Some residents also say that their own ancestors had to learn English, but that today’s arrivals don’t do so. They also say that new arrivals take away jobs that longer-standing residents would like to have.
Data can counter these points, but the objections are not really about what they are about. The concern about jobs, for example, is only valid for a limited time in a specific place where “cheap labor can hold down wages for some workers,” says Filkins. However, the demand for employees in our country far exceeds the current supply. In the bigger picture immigration has no effect on jobs or wages. It is employment sectors that set wage scales and it is free trade and tax policies that send jobs overseas. Yet no one opposed to today’s immigrants is persuaded by the facts.
Migrants and refugees crossing our country’s southern border are resented more than well-educated technicians and doctors and trades people arriving from Asia or Eastern Europe, though each foreigner encounters nativism.
“Determining the exact number [of refugees is] remarkably difficult,” Filkins explains. There are possibly 11million undocumented people in the U.S. today; not all of whom intend to stay or will be allowed to stay. Even now our government does not know how many migrants it has sent back. The legal process for entry is backlogged and caught-up in conflicting court rulings. There are over two million pending cases just for those who claim refugee status. They are legally entitled to wait in the U.S. for a hearing on their case, but they have no right to a public defender. The wait time for the initial hearing is now five years. If the decision is unfavorable to the refugee, they can appeal. The wait time for that appeal hearing is another five years.
Reform of our dysfunctional immigration/migration system is, as any objective observer realizes, slow-going. A policy of exclusion, Filkins explains, is impractical. No matter how big a wall is built, people are not deterred from fleeing misery and staking their hope on our beautiful country. Total exclusion also damages the U.S. economy plus betrays the story of our country and it is inhumane. Three parts must come together simultaneously for acceptable reform. 1.) Tougher boarder security. 2.) More funding for local police in states like Texas and Arizona plus in cities that welcome migrants; more social services and processing assistance; more immigration judges. 3.) Better legal opportunities for immigrants, enforced fairly.
At the moment both Republican and Democrat leaders tolerate the frustrating chaos because they can blame one another. Additionally, Democrats and Republicans share the ambivalence of our citizenry. They want more immigration because it bolsters U.S. productivity. They want less immigration because more of it fuels resentment and politicians get the blame.
A final consideration: No matter the administrative chaos and the political muddle of the moment, there is an ethical obligation to assist the immigrants/migrants among us. To be continued…
Droel serves the board of National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Union rights under attack in Ohio

A guest contribution from CLN Member John McNay

Two bills have been introduced in the Ohio legislature that are at odds with Catholic doctrine regarding labor unions.

The leading advocate for the legislation is Sen. Jerry Cirino, a Republican from Kirtland, Ohio. He introduced SB 83 and it has a companion bill in the House, HB 151.

The bills, directed at all unions at public colleges and universities, ban strikes. But the bills specifically target faculty unions by barring what are traditionally routine negotiations over tenure, annual performance reviews, workload, and retrenchment.

The Catholic church has held for many years that strikes have a legitimate role in negotiations. For example, Pope John Paul II wrote in his statement On Human Work in 1981 that: “One of the methods used by unions is the strike, or work stoppage – a means that is recognized by Catholic social teaching as legitimate under the proper conditions and within proper limits. Workers should be assured of the right to strike without fear of penalty.”

Similarly, in 1986, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in their statement on Economic Justice for All, wrote: “Unions may also legitimately resort to strikes where this is the only available means to the justice owed to workers.”

Given how rare strikes are at universities in Ohio (two in the last 10 years), it cannot be said that the right to strike is being abused. The evidence shows that strikes occur only as a last resort. My own faculty union last went on strike 30 years ago.

While the ban on strikes cripples all union workers at public colleges and universities – janitors, grounds keepers, maintenance staff, cafeteria staff, secretaries, professors, etc – there is much in SB 83/HB 151 that focuses on undermining the terms and conditions of employment of faculty.

Pope Benedict understood and disapproved of this kind of political intervention when he wrote in his encyclical letter, Caritas in Veritate, that the task of unions has become more difficult because governments “often limit the freedom or negotiation capacity of labour unions.” Yet, he continued, “The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum (1891), for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past…”

This attack on faculty employment conditions is targeted in such a way as to make the union as ineffective as possible and weaken the organizing ability of unions and is certainly a violation of the Catholic support of unions going back many years. Lastly, the church’s social doctrine recognizes labor unions “should not be forced to submit to the decisions of political parties nor be too closely linked to them.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 307)

We would hope that Catholic politicians would look to the wisdom of the church before taking such a destructive political act rooted in partisan politics.

All Who Labor

a guest contribution from Anna Nowalk, CLN Member

All Who Labor is a podcast that explores Catholic labor history and recent labor activism, particularly as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic. I began the project as a Duffy Fellow at Fordham University; the first season, now complete, was supported by Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture.

The first episode offers an overview of Catholic social teaching and a look at the impact of U.S. labor history on the creation of the social encyclical Rerum Novarum. From there, episodes dive into topics such as Monsignor John Ryan, corporate responsibility, and policy advocacy. The final episode of the first season explores how work fits into the good life, and includes a reflection on the Great Resignation.

With top-notch guests such as Br. Ken Homan, the Kalmanovitz Initiative’s Joseph McCartin, and the USCCB’s Ingrid Delgado, as well as two Catholic Labor Network-affiliated guests (Nancy Conrad, of the Maryland Catholic Labor Network, and Fr. Sinclair Oubre, CLN’s spiritual moderator), the conversations featured on All Who Labor can both teach and inspire Catholics interested in labor justice.

The entirety of the first season is available to listen to on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Buzzsprout. The second season (produced independently of the CRC and the Duffy Fellowship), exploring recent union activity at Fordham University, is in the works.

Loyola Food Service Workers Win Union

The Catholic Labor Network is pleased to report that food service workers at Loyola University in New Orleans won union representation with UNITE HERE Local 23 on April 28. After a year-long campaign closely monitored by the Catholic Labor Network, workers now will have an opportunity to negotiate a contract with Sodexo, the French multinational that operates the cafeteria for the school.

The workers benefitted from extensive support from Loyola students. Readers of this newsletter may remember that in November 2022 the Catholic Labor Network participated in a “teach-in” attended by many students and workers – an event that reflected on Catholic Social Teaching on labor unions and worker justice and made the case why these workers deserved the protection of a union contract. Read more

Family Wage

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine Part Thirteen, Poverty by Bill Droel

It’s published in Wall St. Journal (4/30/23), so it must be true. It’s an essay about wages by Michael Lind. He begins with a quotation from Adam Smith (1723-1790), a theorist for modern capitalism. For capitalism to thrive, Smith says employees must get a family wage.
Family wage is a principle of Catholic social doctrine. A slogan from Unite Here, a union of hotel workers with headquarters in Manhattan, is a good paraphrase of our Catholic principle: “One Job Should Be Enough.” Our U.S. bishops described a family wage in their 1919 Program of Social Reconstruction. Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) has it in his 1931 encyclical Reconstructing the Social Order, as does Vatican II (1962-1965). St. John Paul II (1920-2005) also writes about it. The idea is that one wage earner should be paid at least enough to support a family, including its education needs, some funds for leisure plus for modest savings. The amount of that wage can differ by location and by the type of job. A family can have a second wage earner, but the family’s survival should not depend on that arrangement. St. John Paul II emphasizes that the measure of a society’s justice is its wage structure. All other compensations and social policies and management plans are accessories.
Lind says that our economy does not abide by the family wage principle but uses a model he calls low-wage/high-welfare. Many employees get inadequate pay but stay afloat through Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, housing vouchers and more. In other words, as Lind writes, “taxpayers pay to rescue workers whose work does not pay enough.”
Lower wages allow for lower costs which benefit some consumers. For example, middle-class and upper-class families are winners in the low-wage/high welfare economy when they hire housekeepers or landscapers. The losers are taxpayers and of course the underpaid.
Matthew Desmond in Poverty, By America (Crown, 2023) agrees. Poverty resists elimination despite charitable endeavors and social welfare because some people benefit from the poverty of others. “Poverty is an injury, a taking,” says Desmond. Normally, people are unaware of how their lifestyle depends on the perpetuation of poverty. However, Desmond’s book makes it plain, using many examples including our tolerance for insubstantial wages.
There’s a corollary to the principle of a just wage. Because an employee agrees to a sub-level wage the criteria for justice is not met. Adherence to this aspect of Catholic doctrine means, for example, that a pastor cannot morally pay a teacher less than a just wage because the teacher understands the job as a vocation. The standard is objective, not subjective. That standard does, however, take into account that a just wage in a small town, for example, might be lower than a comparable wage in Manhattan.
There is plenty of room for debate as to how to achieve just wages. Lind mentions collective bargaining, but he is not happy about a bargaining unit at one Starbucks and then a different unit at the next Starbucks. He suggests sector or multi-employer bargaining might be better. This idea is like the Catholic idea of an industry council plan. To be continued…

For more on this topic get St. John Paul II’s Gospel of Work edited by Bill Droel (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $8.)

St. Joseph: A Servant Worker

May 1, international workers’ day, is celebrated in the Catholic Church as the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. For the occasion, Catholic Labor Network Spiritual Moderator Fr. Sinclair Oubre offers the following reflection:

St. Joseph: A Servant Worker

As a young seminarian, I came across the writings of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. I don’t remember which books I was reading, but I was very impressed by his idea of our work being a participation in God’s ongoing creation.

My first maritime job was in the summer of 1978. I was in the lazaret prepping the steel for priming and painting.

The space was hot and filled with paint fumes, but what kept chanting in my head, no matter how mundane and unseen this job was, “You are participating in God’s on going creation, and how you do your job is joined together with God’s ongoing creation.”

As I worked, I was a servant to the ship. Though insignificant, my work made the vessel better, which made life onboard better, which made the operations better, which made the company better, which made the industry better, which made transportation better, which eventually made God’s creation better.

St. Joseph’s work was in service of Jesus Christ’s salvation.

St. Joseph placed himself as the service of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In spite of the social scandal of her pregnancy, he labored to support her.

When it was necessary to flee Bethlehem for Egypt, he did not hesitate, but took on the work of preparation, planning, and travel. When the Holy Family arrived in Egypt, he took up his tools again, and worked in service of his family’s well-being. After a certain amount of time, it was time to move the family back to Nazareth, where he took up his tools again in service of sustaining the family.

I find that our contemporary world places a lot of emphasis on each person’s work being at the service of the person’s career. In the end, the individual may advance his or her career, but that person has done nothing to cooperate with God’s ongoing creation.

On this Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, may he intercede for us. May all our work be at the service of God’s ongoing creation, and be in harmony with God’s ongoing redemption.

Workers’ Memorial Day

Every year, work-related injuries claim the lives of approximately 5,000 Americans – and a much larger number fall victim of occupational diseases after extended workplace exposures to hazardous substances. That’s why workers across the United States and beyond mark April 28 as “Workers’ Memorial Day.” It’s a day of remembrance for those killed on the job.

Death on the job may be a rarity for those of us fortunate enough to work in offices, but it’s a reality for millions of our brothers and sisters working in sectors such as agriculture, transportation, construction and manufacturing. Tractors roll over. Trucks collide. Roofers fall from great heights. Factory workers are crushed in powerful machinery.

Every one of these deaths is preventable.

Work is part of the created order. In Scripture we read how God placed Adam and Eve in the garden and directed them to tend it. Made in the image and likeness of our Creator, we were expected to continue the work of Creation with our own labor. But God never intended work to be a death sentence.

Too often, employers cut corners on worker safety to cut costs, and tragedy results. OSHA investigations following a worker’s death routinely discover that basic safety measures had been neglected to speed up production. This must not continue.

This Friday, there will be events across the country in memory of those who have died on the job. I would encourage you to mark Workers’ Memorial Day in some fashion. Pray for the souls of those who died from workplace injuries or illnesses. Attend a memorial service. Lift up your voice for worker safety with a letter to the editor or a social media post.

In the words of Mother Jones, one of our Catholic labor heroes: Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living!

Embrace: A Triduum Reflection

By Catholic Labor Network Spiritual Moderator Fr. Sinclair Oubre

Back in 2001, I was reassigned from my position as a tribunal judge to a parish pastor. To put it mildly, I was not excited about getting back to being pulled in numerous directions, and trying to shoehorn a full pastoral program into a pastor-plus-part-time-secretary budget.

Over the first three weeks, after the morning Mass, I would sit before the large crucifix in the main church, and explain to Jesus on the cross how much my life sucked.

This would go on for about ten minutes, and Jesus would just hang there and listen to me complain, and in the silence my conscience would finally prod me with the truth, “Well, my day is not going to be as bad as your day was!”

Three weeks passed before Jesus convinced me that no matter how bad my days as pastor may be, they would never be so bad as his day. At that point, I just turned my attention to doing the best I could with this small and wonderful parish community.

In the end, I came to understand that things go so much better when I “embraced the cross of Jesus.”

As we approach the most sacred feast of the entire Catholic liturgical year, I invite you to also do some “embracing.”

Go to your parish church for the Feast of the Lord’s Supper this Thursday, and embrace the Eucharist, the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ under the form of bread and wine.

As St. Charles de Foucauld said so well, “You are there, my Lord Jesus, in the Holy Eucharist. You are there but a few feet from me . . . Your body, you soul, you humanity, your divinity, your entire being is there in its double nature! How close you are, God!”

Go to your parish church for Good Friday services. Embrace the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Journey with him from the Garden of Gethsemane to the tomb at Mount Calvary. Stand with Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary of Magdala, and John the Evangelist, and embrace what love Jesus poured out on our behalf.

Go to your parish church for the Easter Vigil, and embrace the light of the Easter fire, the mystery of the empty tomb, and the voice of the angel announcing that our Lord Jesus Christ is risen.

Also, embrace the newest members of your parish. Embrace with joy those who have been born again in Christ through baptism. Embrace those who have made a profession of faith in the Church that Jesus founded, and embrace those who have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Embrace them as brothers and sisters, and through that embrace, assure them that you will walk with them as intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.

Washington DC Food Service Workers Mobilize for $20 Minimum

Compass Group, a national food service vendor, operates cafeterias throughout Washington DC. Its employees feed students at Catholic University of America (CUA), George Washington University, and American University; tourists and visitors at the Smithsonian Institution museums; and diplomats at the World Bank. Unfortunately, in today’s inflationary environment, too many Compass Group workers earn less than a living wage.

Compass workers are organizing to fix that, and you can help.

The Compass workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 23. Last week they brought their campaign to CUA in a joint event with faculty and student groups (pictured). The workers, many of whom work multiple jobs, are asking for a wage floor of $20 per hour and affordable family health care coverage.

In just a couple of weeks, the World Bank holds its annual Spring meetings. UNITE HERE members will be picketing outside the Compass cafeteria at the World Bank, urging Compass to support some economic development for underpaid workers in the Washington DC area by accepting a fair contract for their cafeteria employees. Supporters are invited to join them at the World Bank (1818 H Street, NW, Washington DC) April 12 at 4pm.

Can’t make it to DC for that action? Take a minute to sign a petition in support of Local 23 Compass Workers!


Reflections on the Most Reverend Fernand Joseph Cheri, III, OFM

Courtesy of CLN Board Member Donna Mitchell

After a lengthy illness, the Most Reverend Fernand Joseph Cheri, III, OFM, Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans, transitioned on March 21, 2023. New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Michael Aymond expressed what most who knew Bishop Cheri are feeling about this 71-year-old Black Catholic icon: “We mourn his death and thank God for his life and ministry.”

The dioceses with the largest percentage of Black Catholics are centered in the Deep South.   Black Catholicism has much of its roots and current fervor in New Orleans.  Bishop Cheri was a product of this heritage. He was one of only seven Black Bishops in the United States. He was a true New Orleanian and the pride of Black Catholics in his native city. It is not often that a priest is educated and serves most of his life in his native city. Bishop Cheri was the exception. He attended Epiphany Elementary School and St. John Prep in New Orleans.  He received a Masters of Divinity at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and a Masters of Theology from the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University, New Orleans. His matriculation at St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, Louisiana was the exception.

Bishop Cheri was ordained to the priesthood on May 20, 1978 at St. Louis Cathedral, the year I graduated from high school. I have seen his constructive influence in the community most of my life.  After his ordination, he served as Associate Pastor of several parishes around the archdiocese as well as pastor at St. Francis de Sales Parish in New Orleans.

In 1996, he made his solemn profession in the Order of Friars Minor in the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and became a Franciscan.  Bishop Cheri spent several years dedicated to campus ministry at Quincy University in Quincy, IL. He returned to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, when his Episcopal Ordination as Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans, and Titular Bishop of Membressa took place on March 23, 2015.  He served as Auxiliary Bishop since his ordination and recently served the people of St. Peter Claver Parish, a predominately Black parish since 1920, as Administrator.

His gift of song was his trademark. In the beginning, ending and sometimes in the middle of his homilies he included a relevant song. Bishop Cheri was a popular guest speaker and revivalist. He traveled within the Archdiocese of New Orleans and nationally preaching and sharing his love of music. He loved ministering to the youth. I fondly remember the invigorating message he addressed the youth at my parish’s confirmation mass a few years ago, capturing their attention with song throughout the service. During COVID, when many watched televised masses, he was seen often at St. Louis Cathedral encouraging all through his homily, singing, and broad infectious smile. He was also an unapologetic supporter of social justice.  After the George Floyd murder he led a large peaceful march that ended in a prayer service titled “The Requiem of the Black Children of God”.

In addition to his pastoral assignments, Bishop Cheri served as a member of the College of Consultors, was a teacher at St. Augustine High School, New Orleans, and campus minister at Xavier University, New Orleans.  He served as the Vocation Minister for the OFM St. Louis Province, served on the Archbishop James P. Lyke Foundation, Catholic Campus Ministry Association, Episcopal Liaison to the African Congress Board of Trustees, and convener of the U.S. African American Bishops. Bishop Cheri was also very influential and active with the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver and the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University.

I thank God for Bishop Cheri’s positive impact in the lives of so many; black and white, residing in New Orleans and those across the country who knew him.  His smile, humor, charisma, and gift of delivering God’s word through song and storytelling will be greatly missed.