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.

Starbucks Baristas Strike 100+ Stores

In the latest development at Starbucks, workers at more than 100 unionized Starbucks locations walked off the job Wednesday to protest unfair labor practices by the coffee giant. The move came as the company prepared for its annual shareholder meeting today.

In a union organizing campaign with few parallels in recent decades, Starbucks baristas have been standing up and forming unions in stores around the United States at a rapid clip. Starting with a Buffalo Starbucks in late 2021, nearly 300 Starbucks stores have voted to organize with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Workers at dozens more have filed for union elections. Still, this represents only a fraction of the company’s 9,000+ American locations.

Starbucks responded by bringing back retired CEO Howard Schultz to fight the union drive using fair means or foul. Starbucks has repeatedly fired or disciplined union activists; closed stores that voted the union in; and awarded raises to workers at stores that HAVEN’T organized while denying the same raises to workers at union stores. According to the union’s count, the National Labor Relations Board has issued more than 70 complaints against Starbucks, encompassing over 1,200 alleged violations of labor law. Workers have asked customers to refrain from purchasing Starbucks Gift Cards until the company decides to treat its workers fairly.

Will Spring 2023 mark a turning point at the company? Schultz has vacated the corner office; new CEO Laxman Narasimhan will have to decide which direction to lead the company. Shareholders, meanwhile, are voting on a proposal for a third-party workers’ rights audit.

It’s past time for Starbucks to deal fairly with its employees – ending retaliation against union activists and bargaining in good faith with those who have formed unions. Please avoid Starbucks gift cards and pray for a change of heart on the part of Starbucks management!

Child Labor Returning to the United States?

It is hard to believe that in the twenty-first century child labor would be a problem in the United States. Yet recent developments have demonstrated that this is indeed the case, and that there are elected officials in the United States who would like to expand its scope.

Just last month the nation’s conscience was rattled when the Department of Labor announced a $1.5 million fine for Packer Sanitation Services, which had employed more than 100 underage children cleaning equipment in some of the nation’s largest meatpacking facilities. At least most of us were rattled – apparently some were merely intrigued. A state legislator in Iowa proposed legalizing child labor in these dangerous packinghouses; a counterpart in Minnesota proposed lowering the age limit on work in construction, another highly hazardous industry. Last week Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill into law making it easier for 14 and 15 year old children to work.

There should be no question where the Church stands on this. In 2021, the Vatican convened a conference on child labor. Pope Francis told the participants:

It is shocking and disturbing that in today’s economies, whose productive activities rely on technological innovations, so much so that we talk about the “fourth industrial revolution”, the employment of children in work activities persists in every part of the world. This endangers their health and their mental and physical well-being, and deprives them of the right to education and to live their childhood with joy and serenity. The pandemic has further aggravated the situation.

Children belong in school, not the packinghouse or construction site. Alongside Pope Francis, the Catholic Labor Network firmly opposes today’s renaissance of child labor.


Most economists would have us believe that the free market is the best form of social organization. Each individual is the best judge of his or her own needs and should be free to negotiate every economic transaction with minimal public regulation or interference. People are rational and knowledgeable; they are capable of calculating costs and benefits with relatively little error, maximizing their well-being. A just wage or price is the one that the market dictates. Economic growth entails economic inequality. Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Governments serve society best by doing least.

Then there’s Anthony Annett. In Cathonomics – How Catholic Tradition Can Create a More Just Economy, he sets out to show that the world doesn’t work that way. And the way the world DOES work is much closer to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching than libertarian free market ideals.

Annett, who spent two decades at the International Monetary Fund, must have heard the case for small government and free markets hundreds of times as IMF economists demanded developing countries adopt neoliberal reforms as the price of a bailout. Today he’s in more congenial environs as a senior adviser for the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

In his book, published last year by Georgetown University Press, Annett begins by reviewing the roots of Catholic Social Teaching in Scripture and the encyclicals before comparing its assumptions with those of neoclassical economics. “Homo Economicus,” the rational utility-maximizing individual that powers economic models, is found to be less than universal, to say the least. Annett argues that Catholic Social Teaching – which suggests that sometimes solidarity must take precedence over competition, that there are limits to accumulating goods, that individuals ought to defer to the common good – is a better fit for the world we live in.

Annett gives only limited attention to labor unions. He notes that “Catholic social teaching also strongly supports the rights of workers to form and join unions and to bargain collectively, one of the strongest and most consistent elements of its labor market ethics (165),” and goes on to cite Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis on the topic of labor unions. But it’s clear that his heart is with the developing world. Annett devotes much of his effort to identifying parallels between Catholic Social Thought and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Thanks to Pope Francis and Laudato Si, Catholic Social Teaching today is also heavily focused on environmental protection in general and global warming in particular. Annett picks up this theme as well. No other topic better illustrates the dangers of free-market fundamentalism. After all, for two centuries firms have been collecting profits from their activities while “externalizing” the costs of global warming by pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“My basic contention is that neoliberalism inculcates and amplifies the wrong values. It is time to try something different,” Annett concludes (284). He’s not wrong.

Bishop O’Connell, friend of labor

America recently learned of the death of Bishop David O’Connell. An Irish immigrant who ministered to the poor and sought to quell gang violence in Los Angeles, the beloved Los Angeles auxiliary bishop was murdered in his own home.

The Bishop was an important friend of labor in Southern California. As Gustavo Arellano recalled in the Los Angeles Times:

After Mass, I traveled up to Santa Monica, to a place I would’ve never pegged as significant to O’Connell: The Lowes Santa Monica Beach Hotel. Its view of the Pacific and its hoity toity clientele were miles removed from South L.A., geographically and spiritually.

As I sat at a marble table for one, the waiter took my order for a breakfast burrito. That’s when I noticed the Unite Here Local 11 pin on his shirt.

In the late 1990s, labor organizers engaged in “a really bitter fight” to unionize the hotel’s workers, according to Unite Here organizing director Noel Rodriguez. O’Connell had already involved himself in workers rights issues across Los Angeles. He served as a bridge between the management of Catholic hospitals in Lynwood and employees during a labor dispute. In 1999, he read the story of David and Goliath during a rally at USC in which 25 protesters were arrested.

“I asked Bishop Dave to talk to this [Lowe’s] cook, because he was scared” to join the union, Rodriguez said in a phone interview. Some weeks went by, and Rodriguez reminded O’Connell of his promise.

“He told me, ‘I haven’t done it,’ got right in his car and visited [the cook] at his home. He helped him overcome his fear,” Rodriguez recalled. “The cook joined the union and got others to join. That kind of stuff happened all the time.”

Bishop O’Connell also chaired the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ subcommittee supervising the Church’s anti-poverty program, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). (CCHD is a major funder of the Catholic Labor Network.)

Please keep Bishop O’Connell and his family in your prayers.

Thomas R. Donahue: Former AFL-CIO President and CLN Board Member (1928-2023)

courtesy of CLN Treasurer Joseph A. McCartin, Georgetown University

On February 18, 2023, former AFL-CIO president and long-time board member of the Catholic Labor Network, Thomas Reilly Donahue Jr., went to his heavenly reward.  If the pantheon of prominent U.S. Catholic labor leaders is filled with a multitude of revered names, from Mother Jones to Cesar Chavez, Tom Donahue’s name surely ranks among the most honored—especially in the hearts of the many CLN members who knew him.

Tom was born into a working-class family in the Bronx in 1928.  His father was a janitor, who later became a union deckhand on the Staten Island Ferry, which nurtured young Tom’s interest in unions.  Tom was the product of Catholic education through and through, graduating from the Marist Brothers’ high school, Mount St. Michael Academy, in 1944, from the Christian Brothers’ Manhattan College in 1949 (after a stint in the Navy), and from the Jesuits’ Fordham Law School (which he put himself through at night, while working as a doorman and bus driver) in 1957.  After a post-law school stint in Paris working for Radio Free Europe and the Free Europe Committee, he returned home to a job with Local 32B of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in New York, where he became a protégé of its leader, the Irish immigrant David Sullivan.  After Sullivan ascended to the presidency of SEIU, Donahue moved to Washington in 1963 to become his top aide.

Thereafter, Donahue’s rise within the labor movement was meteoric. He became a favorite of AFL-CIO president George Meany, who pushed for his appointment as Undersecretary of Labor under W. Willard Wirtz in the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson.  When his term at the Labor Department ended, Donahue returned to SEIU before being tapped in 1973 to serve as Meany’s top aide.  By the age of 45, he had already held a wide range of top positions in the labor movement and developed a reputation as one of labor’s most widely-read, strategic, and diplomatic leaders.  When Lane Kirkland succeeded Meany in 1979, Donahue was elected as the federation’s secretary-treasurer, labor’s number two post, and was widely seen as Kirkland’s ultimate successor.

Yet Donahue’s rise coincided with the onset of the Reagan era.  As unions fell into a deepening crisis in the 1980s, Donahue spearheaded the effort to revive them.  He led the AFL-CIO’s Committee on the Evolution of Work, and shaped its 1985 report, The Changing Situation of Workers and their Unions, which called on unions to devise new organizing methods and proposed that unions create associate memberships to recruit workers in difficult to organize sectors.  As Kirkland’s right hand, he also led the AFL-CIO’s unsuccessful effort to block the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993-94.

Unfortunately for Donahue, the defeats of the 1980s and early 1990s destroyed Kirkland’s presidency and undermined his own chance to ascend to labor’s top post.  Following the takeover of Congress by Republicans in the 1994 midterm elections, Kirkland lost the confidence of most AFL-CIO unions.  When dissidents approached Donahue, asking him to challenge Kirkland, he demurred.  Although he agreed with most of the dissidents’ vision he did not want to be disloyal to Kirkland.  Donahue’s refusal in turn led his onetime colleague, President John Sweeney of SEIU, to declare his candidacy as leader of the forces demanding change.  Realizing that Sweeney would defeat him, Kirkland ultimately decided to resign, elevating Donahue to the presidency AFL-CIO as his interim successor in hopes that this move would cause Sweeney to withdraw his candidacy.  Having already built his campaign, however, Sweeney refused to back down.

As a result, Sweeney and Donahue, two Irish Catholics from the Bronx with deep roots in both SEIU and Catholic social teaching, found themselves as opponents in a hard-fought election at the 1995 AFL-CIO convention.  Deepening the irony—and the hard feelings that resulted—was the fact that Donahue had hired Sweeney to his first job at SEIU and the two had been friends for more than 30 years.  Sweeney defeated Donahue at that convention, effectively halting the rise of a man who many believed was the most talented union leader of his generation, one who had been poised to lead organized labor into the 21st century.

Although he was deeply hurt by his 1995 loss, that event did not overshadow Donahue’s many accomplishments or define his later years.  He remained active with labor, democracy, and human rights causes into his 90s, ably carrying on the tradition of Catholic labor activism exemplified by his close friend, the great labor priest, Msgr. George G. Higgins.  And among the most important of Donahue’s many commitments was to the Catholic Labor Network, on whose board he served several terms.

Donahue’s marriage to Natalie Kiernan ended in divorce and his son from that marriage, Thomas R. Donahue III, died in 2018.  He is survived by his daughter Nancy Donahue, six grandchildren, and his wife of more than 43 years, longtime political activist and organizer, Rachelle Horowitz.  We join with them in celebrating a rich life offered unstintingly in service to a noble cause.  May his memory inspire us to keep alive this tradition he valued so dearly and embodied so fully.

Lawrence Cafeteria Workers Seek Fair Treatment

Courtesy of Catholic Labor Network member Jeremy DaCruz

In the City of Lawrence, Massachusetts, a city famous for its labor struggles, cafeteria workers receive wages barely above the state minimum wage. Over 100 years ago, immigrant women fought for higher wages and better working conditions. Now, the mostly immigrant women who make sure that the students of Lawrence, Massachusetts are well fed find themselves facing rising inflation, a crippling workload, and low wages.

During their last wage negotiation, the Lawrence Public Schools Cafeteria Workers (SEIU Local 3) picketed outside the School District office and won historic raises. However, given that their wages started from such a low point, they still struggle to make ends meet. Coupled with the fact that staffing ratios are still below their pre-pandemic levels, the Cafeteria Workers feel abused and disrespected.

When the Cafeteria Workers discovered that the Lunch Aides at the smaller City of Lawrence Public Schools recently negotiated a stipend for maintaining ServeSafe certification, the Cafeteria Workers asked the district to extend the same stipend to them as they must maintain the same certification and do essentially the same work. The School District has, so far, refused. In response, the Cafeteria Workers have organized a petition and asked community members for their support.

Catholic Social Teaching states that “[t]he provision of wages and other benefits sufficient to support a family in dignity is a basic necessity to prevent this exploitation of workers.” (Economic Justice for All, 103) The Cafeteria Workers ask that Lawrence Public Schools recognize this “basic necessity” and pay the Cafeteria Workers fairly, starting with the ServeSafe Certification stipend.

If you want to express your support for the Cafeteria Workers, please send an email to the Interim Superintendent Juan Rodriguez ([email protected]) asking that the ServeSafe stipend be extended to the Cafeteria Workers.

Corporate Lawlessness

Study finds Unfair Labor Practice Charges in 4 out of 10 of Union Elections

Until 1935, workers who wanted a union usually had to strike to get it. It was a recipe for perpetual industrial conflict. That’s why legislators passed the Wagner Act, providing an orderly way to adjust workplace disputes. Employers were forbidden to retaliate against workers for exercising their right to organize. When a group of workers wanted union representation, they could file for a workplace election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). If a majority vote in favor of joining a union, the employer was legally required bargain in good faith with the union the workers had chosen. In theory, the Wagner Act vindicated the rights of workers while offering a path to industrial peace.

In theory, that is. The system only workers if management, which runs the workplace, adheres to the law.

When management violates the law – for instance, by firing or punishing a worker for supporting the union, or for failing to bargain in good faith with a union representing a majority of workers – the workers and their union file an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge with the NLRB. The Economic Policy Institute recently examined NLRB election data and ULP charges for the past few years. In a shocking but not surprising finding, they discovered that a ULP was filed in nearly 4 out of 10 NLRB elections.

What’s gone wrong? The short answer is that the penalties for violating the Wagner Act are negligible. One would hope that civic duty alone would oblige all employers to honor the law, but for a substantial minority, that’s not the case. Too many corporations are prepared to break the law in order to break a union organizing drive. They look at firing a union supporter not as criminal behavior but as an investment in remaining union-free. It’s hardly surprising that union membership has dropped from about one in three American workers in the 1950s to one in ten today.

Barring an unlikely civic reform among American business leaders, the only way to restore the balance between labor and management is a thorough reform of American labor law – starting with punitive damages for employers who retaliate against union supporters.


Workers at Two More Catholic Institutions Move to Unionize

In their 1986 pastoral letter Economic Justice for All, America’s Catholic Bishops reaffirmed the right of workers to organize – and noted that employees of Catholic institutions, like any other, enjoy this right. In recent reports, workers at two Catholic institutions are doing just that. Nurses at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph Hospital in Kansas have filed with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election. If successful they would join their brothers and sisters at Ascension Via St. Francis who recently voted for representation by National Nurses United (NNU). Meanwhile, a majority of the Resident Assistants at Fordham University have signed cards seeking representation by the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153, which already represents Fordham office employees.

Workers at more than 600 Catholic hospitals, colleges, schools and other institutions already enjoy union representation. Are any in your Diocese? Check out the Catholic Labor Network’s annual Gaudium et Spes Labor Report to find out!