Siena College Adjuncts Have First Contract; Boston College TAs Say Union Yes

Good news from New York’s Siena College! Adjunct faculty at the Catholic College near Albany voted for representation by the SEIU two years ago – and have reached their first contract. Both sides pronounced themselves satisfied with the outcome. The secret of their success? Negotiating in a spirit of charity and mutual respect.  As the Times-Union reported…

“Siena College and the union’s bargaining committees worked together diligently and in good faith to come to a fair and equitable resolution,” said Siena President Edward Coughlin. “I’m pleased that the new contracts have been ratified, and that we can continue the new academic year with this matter resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.”

Meanwhile, in Boston College, graduate teaching and research assistants voted 270-224 in mid-September to join the UAW (which represents TAs and RAs on some other campuses in the Northeast).  The Catholic Labor Network hopes that BC will follow Siena’s lead, and bargain with the student employees in the spirit of Catholic Social Teaching.

Queen of the Valley Hospital (Napa, CA) refuses to recognize employees’ union vote

In late 2016, health techs and other employees at Queen of the Valley Hospital voted 60%-40% to join the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). Hospital administrators, however, don’t want to recognize or bargain with the NUHW. Having lost the mail ballot election, they are demanding a rerun held in person at the worksite. The union has filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge, and the National Labor Relations Board has upheld the union’s position. Simple fairness dictates so: the losing side doesn’t get to keep running elections until they get the outcome they want!

Catholic social teaching requires employers to honor the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, but Queen of the Valley continues to pursue ever-more remote legal appeals. More than 100 US Catholic hospitals model Catholic social teaching by recognizing and bargaining with the unions their employees have chosen.  In fact, the California Nurses Association represents nurses at Queen of the Valley! It’s time for the hospital to extend the same respect to their other employees as well.

CLICK HERE to review the NLRB proceedings in the case to date.

UNITE HERE, Teamsters Fight for Immigrant Members

The situation for immigrants in the United States continues to grow bleaker. The president has ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; the administration is targeting cities whose police don’t want to serve as adjunct Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers; legislative proposals call for reducing legal immigration.

Our nation’s labor unions represent millions of immigrant workers, including some who are undocumented, and are moving forward to defend these brothers and sisters. Bloomberg News reports how the hotel workers’ union (UNITE HERE) is making it a key contract demand in negotiations with employers.

UNITE HERE says curbing collaboration with ICE will be a priority in bargaining for the 270,000 hotel, casino, and food-service workers it represents, almost half of whose contracts expire within the next year.  “We know the companies that we have relationships with are going to comply with the law,” says D. Taylor, the union’s international president. “We just don’t want them to do anything that makes it easier for ICE to come in and just take people away.”

New York’s Teamsters, meanwhile, are raising the cause of a long-time member, Eber Garcia Vasquez, who was deported to Guatemala after 26 years in the country. George Miranda, President of Teamsters’ Joint Council 17, explained to In These Times that they have become a “Sanctuary Union.”

Immigrants’ rights and labor rights are explicitly tied together. You can’t have one without the other. If you lose on one issue, whether it is immigrants or labor, you lose the other. It is obvious that we are tied together, and there is no way that we could say that we are not a union of immigrants… we have decided to be a sanctuary union, meaning that we protect our members. They are working, they are earning their living, they are supporting their families, and they are not doing anything that is criminal or whatever. We are not going to cooperate with the immigration service whatsoever in going after our members.

Scripture tells us, “You shall not oppress a resident alien (Ex 23:9).” The Catholic Labor Network salutes the Teamsters, UNITE HERE, and the many other unions that have stepped up to defend the rights of immigrants.

EPA Union Chief (and Catholic Labor Network VP) Speaks out on Climate Change

O’Grady cites Laudato Si in campaign to “Save the EPA”

The Environmental Protection Agency, established in 1970, is 47 years old – but will it make 50? Those of us old enough to remember smog-choked American cities and shocking environmental lead levels of the 70s recoil at the idea of an America without an EPA. Those coming of age in the 21st century, facing the risk of catastrophic climate change for themselves and their children, have even more to fear. Yet the new administration has withdrawn from the Paris Climate accords and proposed cutting the EPA budget by one third.

John O’Grady, President of the AFGE (American Federation of Government Employees) National Council representing EPA employees, has linked arms with the nation’s major environmental groups to lead a campaign to Save the EPA. O’Grady, who studies theology at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union and serves as Vice President of the Catholic Labor Network, is inspired by Catholic thought on labor – and the environment, drawing special inspiration from Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on the Environment, Laudato Si. To learn more, read O’Grady’s blog post “Addressing Climate Change without the EPA,” on the Center for Concern website.

Theology of Work

Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

Death is the penalty we pay for Eve and Adam’s disobedience. How do we know? Because that is what our religion teacher said. Also, it is mentioned now and then in sermons. It is, however, fake news. Take a look at Genesis 3:4. Who explains things to Eve? It is the Prince of Lies who links mortality with Eden’s special fruit tree. In Genesis 2:18 God names a relationship between the fruit tree and death, but God never promises immortality to the residents of Paradise/Eden. This whole business about the fruit tree, by the way, is something Eve heard about second-hand.

Well then, work is the penalty for Eve and Adam’s disobedience. Again, fake news. Look at Genesis 2:15. Adam is already working, even before the snake incident. And after that episode, in Genesis 3:21, God too is working; this time as a clothier.
Admittedly there is a strong note in Catholic tradition that regards work as a penance for original sin or maybe a necessary evil or possibly a negative prod to make people pray and obey. During the Middle Ages some monks gave work a positive spin, but only as a backdrop to contemplation and other prayer. And Martin Luther (1483-1546) certainly knocked against the idea that ordinary work is beneath those so-called higher-ups, those round-the-clock spiritual types. Yet with some exceptions, work was not regarded as integral to the spiritual life, at least until recent times.

Not to overlook the French worker-priest movement and the writing of Fr. Marie Dominique Chenu, OP (1895-1990), it can be said that a decisive turn toward a Catholic theology of work took place in Poland. It was Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (1901-1981) who heaved aside erroneous interpretations of Genesis. “God set Adam and Eve down in paradise and commanded them to dress it and to keep it,” he writes in a pastoral 1946 book, Duch Pracy Ludzkiej. “Work is therefore the duty of people from the first day of life. It is not the result of original sin. It is not a punishment for disobedience.”
In hundreds of talks and sermons, in poems and in his writings, most thoroughly in his 1981 On Human Work, Saint John Paul II (1920-2005) develops “a spirituality of work” which he considers normative; its basics “should be a heritage shared by all.” It is through work, John Paul II says, that we are co-creators with God, participating in God’s plan for a renewed world, a new Eden. Further, says John Paul II, our work is participation in Christ’s on-going redemption. This elevation of human work is not heresy, unless you are willing to say that our faithfully departed pontiff is a fake saint.

Just at a time a theology of work enters the Catholic mainstream, some people are echoing the Prince of Lies: Work only brings death. Today, asserts James Livingston in No More Work (University of North Carolina Press, 2016), “most of our labor has…little, diminishing or no value in the labor market.” Work does not contribute to “self-respect, self-discovery and social mobility,” Livingston continues. So, knock off the romanticism, take off the rosy glasses, and put away any spiritual spin. “Work means economic impoverishment not moral possibility.”
Well yes, romanticism has to go. After their disobedience Adam and Eve were told that work is entangled with toil. The Pharaoh’s hardness of heart caused work to be miserable for his slaves. So too, disregard for the innate dignity of each worker infects some companies today. Those formerly enslaved in Egypt wandered in a desert without meaning. They lost their solidarity; their connections. So too, many workers now ask: “Is God is in our midst or not?”

Yet work, with all the blemishes of sin, is good and in itself capable of contributing to the spiritual life. Thanks to some well-grounded thinkers, a Catholic theology has been sketched. It remains for more theologians in dialogue with loads of workers (executives, janitors, lab technicians, civic leaders, retail clerks, food processors, homemakers, solar panel installers, computer scientists, engineers, students and more) to flesh out a full pastoral theology that pertains to what 99% of Catholics do most of the time. Without a theology for and by workers, Christianity—hate to say it—is more fake news.

Droel is the editor of John Paul II’s Gospel of Work (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)

US Bishops: “Something is terribly wrong with how we value the work of a person”

Unions called to prophetic role

The Catholic Church has a rich tradition of social doctrine on labor and work, a history of papal encyclicals, pastoral letters and other teaching documents affirming a worker’s right to a living, family-supporting wage, working conditions that respect human dignity, and the right to form trade unions. As part of this tradition, each year the Chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development issues a Labor Day statement on behalf of the bishops, reflecting on worker justice and the signs of the times.

This year Bishop Dewane of Venice, Florida, begins by observing that “This Labor Day, we find ourselves at a time of kairos, a moment of crisis as well as opportunity.” The bishop notes that technological advance and economic growth seems to be growing hand in hand with economic inequality.

Study after study shows that the economy is growing and unemployment is declining—but wages remain stagnant or are decreasing for the vast majority of people, while a smaller percentage collect the new wealth being generated… Leaders in business and government must revisit, therefore, the Church’s moral framework on balancing the legitimate role of profit in a business and the moral obligations to pay a just wage… When a parent—working full time, or even working multiple jobs beyond standard working hours—cannot bring his or her family out of poverty, something is terribly wrong with how we value the work of a person.

Unions have an important part to play in this enterprise as well. Reflecting on Pope Francis’ much-reported remarks to Italian trade unionists this June, he said that unions were called to be prophets and innovators.

The Pope laid out two “epochal challenges” that unions must face in the world today.  First, he explained that unions must retain and recover their prophetic voice… The union is “born and reborn” whenever it “gives a voice to those who have none, denounces those who would ‘sell the needy for a pair of sandals’ (cf. Amos 2:6), unmasks the powerful who trample the rights of the most vulnerable workers, defends the cause of the foreigner, the least, the discarded… The second challenge is “innovation”:  although the union must watch over those within its care, it must also work for those outside its walls in order to innovate and protect those “who do not yet have rights.”   Unions are especially valuable when they speak on behalf of the poor, the immigrant, and the person returning from prison.

We in the Catholic Labor Network pray that all of us in the labor movement take up these “epochal challenges” named by the Holy Father – and that all Christians join in the effort to reduce economic inequality and ensure jobs at just wages for all.

CLICK HERE to read the bishops’ 2017 Labor Day Statement in its entirety.

St. Louis University, two NYC Catholic high schools join list of Catholic institutions with union employees

Catholic institutions, such as hospitals, schools and social service providers, employ approximately 1 million American workers. This year a few Catholic colleges (such as Duquesne, Manhattan, St Xavier University and Seattle) continued to draw attention through determined efforts to deny their adjunct faculty the right to form a union. Fortunately, this handful of colleges represent the exception, not the rule. More than five hundred Catholic institutions around the nation exemplify Catholic Social Teaching in their employment practices by bargaining with unions representing their employees.

The Catholic Labor Network celebrates these institutions in its annual Gaudium et Spes report listing these institutions by state and Diocese. In it you will find more than 300 Catholic K-12 schools, 150 Catholic hospitals and nursing homes, more than 30 Catholic colleges Read more

Catholic Cemeteries of San Antonio strips workers of union rights

In an unfortunate setback for worker justice at Catholic institutions, Catholic Cemeteries of San Antonio has moved to strip cemetery workers of their union rights. The cemetery workers had been represented by the CWA for more than a decade when the union received a letter from the Catholic Cemeteries administrator Fr. Martin Leopold stating that they would no longer recognize the union after the current contract expired June 30.

Fr. Leopold’s letter made no attempt to reconcile the action with Catholic social teaching. It did, however, advise the employees they had no legal recourse, arguing that the First Amendment puts Catholic Cemeteries beyond the reach of U.S. law. The union is pursuing an appeal before the National Labor Relations Board.

Housing, Part 3

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

I just returned from St. Paul. In the early 1970s, as part of the War on Poverty, I lived and worked in a St. Paul neighborhood called West Seventh. On this and in previous visits I observe a drastically changed West Seventh. Its anchor, the Xcel Energy Center, opened in September 2000 as the home of the Minnesota Wild. (Lady Gaga performed there just after I left; too bad she missed me.) There are two hotels, one just opened. Several restaurants and bars line West Seventh, including a brand new brew house. Several medical facilities are there. A short walk down a hill leads to a string of condos on the east bank of the Mississippi River.
As I walked around West Seventh and around a couple other St. Paul neighborhoods, I thought about Richard Florida, who caused a stir with his Rise of the Creative Class (Basic Books [2002]; A city can recover from its post-industrial slump, Florida says, if it can attract and retain a sufficient number of educated young adults. The way to do so includes universities, trendy neighborhoods, an art scene, sports venues, public transportation, medical and research facilities, skilled jobs and more. Florida uses charts, a global creativity index and examples, including (on the positive front) Austin, Seattle, Boston and more. He implies that any place has the potential to thrive. Thus for a time his book and his talks were popular with regional meetings of mayors, at business conferences, among urban planners and professional associations and even some church organizations.

Now, however, Florida realizes that his prescription has a downside. Yes, “the concentration of talent and economic activity” makes a place thrive, he writes in The New Urban Crisis (Basic Books, 2017). But… think about it logically… those places might perhaps be any place, but cannot be all places. In fact, says Florida (again with demographics, charts and several lists of “star cities”), a concentrated thriving place causes inequality and eventually undermines the wider society, including the trendy place itself. Whereas 15 years ago Florida celebrated one side of the story, he now concentrates on the downside.

Housing issues are a big symptom of the downside—including wide disparity in real estate prices, lack of affordable housing, differences in municipal services and persistent discrimination. A thriving part of town, Florida convincingly shows, is not merely adjacent to another part of town. Concentrated urban prosperity contributes to “chronic, concentrated urban poverty…which remains the most troubling issue facing our cities.”
A handful of new books wail against gentrification. (These books will be considered in a subsequent blog.) Florida, who once was an unabashed proponent of gentrification, admits the obvious: Gentrification displaces the elderly and poor; it pushes them into neighborhoods that already have too much poverty. But “direct displacement of people by gentrification is not as big an issue as it is made out to be,” Florida explains. It is only a part of the inequality problem which unfortunately “is driven by the same economic motor that powers growth.”

Some illnesses cannot be tackled wholesale and head on. A change in behavior, however, gets at the illness indirectly. That is, treat the symptom to attack the bigger cause. Within that framework an affordable housing effort undertaken by the community organization in my own Chicago neighborhood, Southwest Organizing (, might be the solution to global inequality. SWOP’s rehab of vacant structures will, of course, assist those families who move into the apartments. With some interplay among other advocacy groups and interested developers, this neighborhood project could be replicated and thereby somewhat offset the downside of the trendy growth that occurs in other Chicago neighborhoods and with more pinball effect the project could have some global implications.

Moralizing is not productive. A revitalized neighborhood is hardly in itself a bad thing. The best future for West Seventh, for all of St. Paul, for my neighborhood and for all of Chicago requires intense interaction among many imperfect institutions—each calling the others back to their original good purpose and each contributing to thick relationships that minimize each institution’s occasional miscues and shortsighted behavior.
To be continued with more housing examples…

Droel edits a printed newsletter on faith and work for National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

World Movement of Christian Workers meets in Avila; Pope Francis Sends Message

This July, the World Movement of Christian Workers – the international association of the faithful bringing together Catholic labor activists from every corner of the world – gathered in Avila for its International Seminar and General Assembly. Buoyed by a message from Pope Francis, the delegates reported how

During our meeting, we were able to welcome among us the main leaders of the Church and the trade union representatives of Spain, who encouraged us to continue building bridges between the world of the Church and the world of work…. We feel supported by Pope Francis in our task of evangelization. In his message to our Assembly, through the Bishop of Avila, the Pope invites us to « bring the Gospel closer to the world of work, so that the voice of workers continues to resonate within the Church; and to lead the struggle so that the whole world can live in dignity, with no one excluded from it. »

Nevertheless, they remain deeply concerned about the challenge of a global economy driven merely by profit.

We share our concerns about unemployment, the lack of decent jobs and the precarious labour relations around the world, and how these generate pain, suffering, death, lack of solidarity, despair, war, violence and migration. Profit is based on a model of labour relations which weakens labour law, collective bargaining, protection and social rights, as well as the representation and defense of workers. In one word, it is based on the impoverishment of life, dehumanization and inequality at work. These conditions affect the lives of millions of people and entire families irrespective of age, sex, race, irrespective of the place where they live. Young people, women and children (child labour) are also affected.

This suffering is the result of a system based on a culture of rejection that transforms people into goods. These characteristics are found in all countries, since we share a context of economic globalization which does not take into account solidarity and respect for the common good.   We feel challenged. The pain of the whole family of workers is our pain. We want to be a sign of hope and show signals of hope, personally and collectively. We want to maintain an attitude that strengthens our presence among our working brothers and sisters, so as to listen, accompany, train and denounce situations. This depends on our personal commitment and is how we can bringing about processes of humanization and allow Jesus to be visible through us, as a gesture and sign of love towards others, in our close, precarious and poor spaces. This goes together with an explicit commitment to increase global solidarity, in line with the international dimension of our movements.

Meeting these challenges can be achieved by continuing the evangelization of the world of work and announcing the good news, in line with the humanization project that God is pursuing for all and which places the person, made in his image and likeness, at the centre of all concerns.

CLICK HERE to read the Final Statement of the International Seminar and General Assembly of WMCW – Ávila (Spain) 2017 in its entirety.