May 15, 2016 marked the 125th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, widely considered the foundation of modern Catholic social teaching. In this 1891 Encyclical, Pope Leo XIII examined the industrial revolution in light of Christian teaching on justice. Finding that the traditional economy of small property owners (farmers and artisans) was giving way to an economy dominated by a few property owners and a large working class, the Holy Father criticized the laissez-faire economy and gave a strong endorsement to trade unions. But where contemporary socialists anticipated ever-increasing class struggle, Leo believed that labor unions could play a positive role Read more
So far 2016 has been a good year for the legions of social justice activists inspired by Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement. In April came news that the cause of Day’s canonization had taken an important step forward as Cardinal Dolan of New York had begun to review evidence from her life and actions to determine if she lived a life of “heroic virtue” and merits recommendation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.
The year has also seen Patrick Jordan, a former editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper – and later, of Commonweal magazine – pen a new life of Dorothy Day. David Cloutier of Mount St. Mary’s University reviews Dorothy Day: Love in Action in the June issue of Commonweal…
Jordan, whose voice remains admirably muted throughout, concludes by suggesting that Day be seen as an “American prophet”—with prophecy understood not only as offering an urgent message but also as embodying a whole “way of being in the world.” Day’s prophetic message, Jordan writes, sought “a closing of the gap between private and public morality…and questioned both our materialism and militarism.” She was, he concludes, “someone who kept pushing us.”
by Bill Droel
There is the world of meritocracy and the world of grace. There is the world of: I worked hard and I deserve what I have. And there is the world of: There but for the grace of God and others I could be.
Once upon a time a landowner hired some day laborers for his vineyard. Going about his daily business the landowner thrice saw idle day laborers in the plaza parking lot. Each time he hired them for the vineyard job. That evening he paid all the workers the standard daily wage; the same total wage for those who worked a couple hours as for those who toiled all day. (See Matthew 20: 1-16)
In 2005 Hamdi Ulukaya founded Chobani Yogurt in Norwich, NY. He hired five workers. Chobani is now the top-selling yogurt brand with over 2,000 employees at its New York and Idaho plants. Ulukaya, a Kurdish immigrant, is quite wealthy. Late last month Ulukaya told his employees about a gift. He is giving each of them shares in the company, totaling about 10% of the company’s worth. The initial math estimates the gift on average to be $150,000. Some workers will get more and the final calculation may well increase the average. “I cannot think of Chobani being built without all these people,” Ulukaya told the N.Y. Times (4/26/16). Ulukaya has long said that a company’s moral conduct, including better pay, leads to success. Companies, he told another interviewer, must look beyond the so-called bottom line. “Business is still the strongest, most effective way to change the world,” Ulukaya said.
Matthew does not tell us the precise motivation of the vineyard owner. Ulukaya, like all of us, does everything for multiple motives. The two employers though share a world view. They have a similar conviction about the nature of reality. And this is important: their business disposition comes irrespective of life’s ups and downs. The vineyard owner and the yogurt executive both suspect that inexplicable generosity haunts the world. They believe that the proper response to the gift of life and to all of life’s gifts is to give the gift away.
Neither executive denies suffering. Misery is part of the human condition. Specifically, Ulukaya has experienced business and personal failures. The same was probably true for Matthew’s agricultural executive.
Neither executive thinks that a gratitude attitude means acquiesce to injustice. Nor is there evidence that either thinks business is for saps. They are realists whose take on things includes appreciation for the powerful but unpredictable spirit of benevolence.
A world centered on meritocracy is always filled with cynicism and resentment. Those who live only by the art of the deal are always incomplete people who usually cannot sustain their ventures.
Belief in a grace-filled world will not result in constant, pervasive toe-tapping, hand-clapping happy times. It does, however, instill confidence. It disposes people to abiding joy that percolates all around. Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), a president of Czechoslovakia and first president of Czech Republic, reminds us that haughtiness is deceiving. Real hope, he says, is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).
The Working Catholic: Bill Droel
A religion-labor coalition appeared during the first decade of the 20th century, reversing the prior hostile suspicion that many Church leaders (upper case C) had toward unions. The change was led by the laity, not primarily by theologians, bishops and other pastors. Heath Carter, using Chicago as his case study, exhaustively combs old newspapers, letters, organizational statements and more to prove this thesis. The result is Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2015).
Workers, it turns out, are the church (lower case c) just as much as Church employees. Working people are “not systematic theologians,” writes Carter. But Carter uncovers evidence that many took their faith seriously, talked about it, and attempted to influence the Churchy types. Evangelization, he shows, goes in the opposite direction of the usual presumption. Workaday Christians actually evangelize the Church.
Protestant ministers, dependent on the collection basket and other private donations, had “long-standing ties [to] industrial elites,” Carter explains. Consequently, late 19th century working families criticized the clergy for their lifestyle and for the ornate furnishings in many churches. Catholic clergy, though less connected to the wealthy, sometimes adopted the same posture. Chicago Catholic Bishop Anthony O’Regan (1809-1866), for example, was taken to task over his “palatial estate.”
Protestant theology developed a social analysis that can still be found in public policy debates and in street corner conversations. “Poverty sprang from individual—not systematic—defects,” common Protestant opinion said. Jesus’ saving grace was for sinful individuals, not for an unjust society. The corollary said that “prosperity was available to anyone willing to work for it.”
Though Carter does not dwell on the point, this individualistic theology was (and is) a companion to anti-Catholicism. Its signature campaign in days gone by was anti-drinking; today it is probably anti-immigration.
Protestant pastors scolded the laity for their interest in labor movements. Such involvement was divisive, a distraction from individual salvation and a violation of a contract, albeit a verbal one between and individual employer and individual employee. Catholic clergy tended to emphasize another supposed evil. The labor movements were susceptible to godless socialism.
There were exceptions among the clergy. But in Carter’s case study many clergy said no to labor campaigns, including the eight-hour day, wage increase for women, and racial justice in the workplace. In general the no was louder when a strike or boycott was involved.
The persistent effort of lay leaders paid off. Through letters to the editor, presentations inside some churches, speeches at rallies, and more ordinary workers gradually influenced Church employees to reconsider the cause of labor. Also, as Carter details, working families (more among Protestants than Catholics) began to stay home on Sunday mornings. This became a wake-up call for Church leaders.
The New World is our Chicago Catholic newspaper. Carter makes extensive use of its archive. Until the mid-1890s the newspaper was cautiously reserved regarding labor movements. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) promulgated a great encyclical, On the Condition of Labor. Though not in direct cause and effect, “a decisive shift” occurred shortly thereafter in New World reporting and editorials.
The mutually beneficial relationship between Church leaders and labor movements was part of the New Deal era and the civil rights era, Carter concludes. While each party to the relationship must maintain its distinctive identity, cooperation could benefit both today. The Church needs a point of contact with young workers because they do not worship regularly. Unions and other labor organizations need allies in a culture dominated by individual meritocracy.
There are two ecumenical groups in Chicago dedicated to a religion-labor dialogue: Arise (www.arisechicago.org) and Interfaith Worker Justice (www.iwj.org). In addition and in keeping with Carter’s case study’s city, there are two or three other organizations here that have the dialogue on their agenda, including National Center for the Laity (www.catholiclabor.org/NCL.htm).
Droel edits a free print newsletter about faith and work; INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)
This spring, once again, adjunct faculty are on the move at Catholic Colleges around the United States! On April 14, as fast-food workers across the nation demonstrated for living wages as part of the “fight for $15,” several Catholic campuses witnessed events drawing attention to the poverty wages earned by too many non-tenured college instructors. In New York, Fordham Faculty United sponsored an event on “Labor Justice at Jesuit Institutions.” At Seattle University – a Jesuit institution that refuses to recognize its adjuncts’ right to organize – instructors and students held a march and a “fast for justice.”
On the brighter side, instructors at St. Louis University filed for a union election. The adjuncts are voting now on whether to join SEIU Local 1; ballots are scheduled to be counted May 23.
Nearly 1100 CNAs, housekeepers and others employed at two Catholic hospitals in Oregon ratified their first contract in late April, a contract that included an 8% across-the-board raise. Labor and management had fostered a climate of mutual respect in the period since the 2015 union vote. PeaceHealth VP Debra Miller said told the local Register-Guard newspaper that she was “pleased with the outcome and the collaborative spirit the bargaining teams brought to the process.” she said. SEIU Local 49 President Meg Niemi said, “our members and management took the process very seriously. Our members felt this was urgent, so we were able to get to a first agreement quicker than usual.”
Most people don’t realize it, but in many states some or all nonprofit organizations can opt out of paying state unemployment insurance – and many do. Unemployment is an insurance fund against job loss, not a welfare program — so if no one is paying your premium, you’re out of luck. A Catholic schoolteacher in St Louis found this out the hard way when he turned up at the unemployment office after a layoff, and was turned away. Tony Messenger in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch describes what happened, and cites a survey that found nearly half the Dioceses had opted out in order to save money, leaving employees unprotected in the case of job loss. What’s the practice in your Diocese or Parish?
You probably know that May 1 is celebrated in many nations as Labor Day. Did you also know that the Church marks this day as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker? As Pope Francis observed on May 1, 2013, in his general audience…
Jesus is born and lives in a family, in the Holy Family, learning the carpenter’s craft from St Joseph in his workshop in Nazareth, sharing with him the commitment, effort, satisfaction and also the difficulties of every day. This reminds us of the dignity and importance of work….Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work, to use a metaphor, “anoints” us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works…
To read the Pope’s entire message, CLICK HERE!
Around the world, April 28 is recognized as Workers’ Memorial Day – the day we remember the men and women who have lost their lives at work. You might think that this is a problem confined to tenement garment workers in Bangladesh or coal miners in China — surely with America’s wealth and technology this is not an issue for us? In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 4,821 workplace fatalities in 2014. While the Dickensian conditions afflicting workers in the global South take an even greater toll, occupational fatalities are a worldwide problem. For a good summary of the US situation, check out the AFL-CIO’s Death on the Job report. And heed the advice of legendary Catholic labor agitator Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead… and fight like hell for the living!”
Professors Gerry Beyer (Theology, Villanova) and Donald Carroll (Law, University of San Francisco) argue strongly in the National Catholic Reporter that schools using “freedom of religion” claims to avoid bargaining under the NLRB 1) have a weak legal case, and 2) should negotiate with faculty unions regardless of their legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act because that’s what Catholic teaching demands. They point out that if their concerns about infringement of religious freedom are sincere, they can easily establish bargaining with the faculty unions outside of the NLRA framework altogether. (Many Catholic elementary and high schools already do this.)