Last month in this space I wrote about anti-union “right-to-work” legislation circulating in three states — Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire. As the legislation hit the floor in Kentucky, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington issued a remarkable appeal to state legislators defending Catholic social teaching on labor and worker justice, and indicating how that teaching illuminated the issue before them. Although legislators in the Bluegrass State pushed the bill through anyway, this issue is still under debate in MO and NH, and some union opponents hope to bring it to the US Congress. The message is recommended reading for Catholics, lay and clergy, who want to understand this issue: Read more
January witnessed an impressive gathering at the Catholic University of America, where labor and Church leaders came together for a dialogue on the Dignity of Work and the dangers of an “erroneous autonomy” – the libertarian, free-market vision that shatters solidarity and imagines “looking out for number one” as the summum bonum. San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, writer and pundit Tom Frank, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka were among the many astute critics of economic inequality who addressed attendees. It’s safe to say that “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is NEVER the right answer when God asks you a question, whether he is asking you about the poor, the unemployed, or the refugee. For coverage of the event, check out:
Trump’s rise and GOP economics may shift Catholic Church’s priorities (Religion News Service)
by Bill Droel
Our office of county sheriff has an animal welfare unit. It received a tip about dog fighting as promoted by a small betting ring. The police rescued nearly all of the animals. Sheriff Tom Dart then held a press conference, warning the public about this illegal activity. The department’s website was immediately flooded with praise from rightly appalled animal lovers and responsible citizens.
Later that week the department got a tip about a motel where prostitution was suspected. The police went there and caught several people. Again, Dart held a press conference. This time the website received only a few reactions, most of which were against the police. This is a matter of free will between consenting adults, people told the police.
“No it isn’t,” Dart explained at a meeting on “Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation,” held at Sacred Heart Church in Palos Hills, Illinois. First, “one of the girls was 14, another 15.” Second, it is “not consensual.” Girls and women are systematically lured into prostitution with psychological and physical coercion, Dart said.
The contrast between the reactions to the two police raids says to Dart that, in a sense, “society allows trafficking.” The public, Dart continued, has to be more aware that trafficking “is wrong.” It is not confined to Thailand. It can gain hold within a local high school, it can grow within a nearby mall and it is routinely facilitated through the internet.
The two-year old Sacred Heart Domestic Violence Outreach committee sponsored the January 2017 meeting with the sheriff. (As an aside, one of the young committee leaders happens to have the same unusual last name as your blogger: Elizabeth Droel.) The anti-trafficking movement will likely spread because representatives from a half-dozen nearby churches joined Sacred Heart parishioners for this January 2017 meeting.
The challenge is difficult and because of the internet it has become more so. In particular Dart faulted Craig’s List (which recently changed its policies) and Backpage (which has not). Dart also admitted that with happy exceptions the legal system can further demean girls and women. And, as Dart sadly learned, not all so-called safe houses are perfectly safe. He did, however, express approval for one recovery house not far from Sacred Heart.
Dart thinks “it is ridiculous” for responsible parents to accede when children assert a so-called right to privacy about their use of the internet. All children deserve wise care from good parents, he concluded.
The Sacred Heart committee distributed a prayer to St. Josephine Bakhita, FDCC (1869-1947). She was abducted into slavery and toiled in rich people’s homes until, with help from women religious and others, she escaped in Italy. “O St. Josephine, assist all those who are trapped [and] help all survivors find healing. Those whom people enslave, let God set free… We ask for your prayer through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
Next month this blog will report on an anti-trafficking awareness campaign among hotel workers, spearheaded by women religious.
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter on faith and work.
by Bill Droel
Pope Francis recently uttered what should be regarded as one more ho-hum statement: “Never before has there been such a clear need for science.” This comment, given to a group of scientists, is notable only because many people (Catholics included) think that Catholicism in general and specifically the papacy oppose science.
The confusion can be attributed in part to a lack of knowledge about the Catholic approach to the Bible, explains Heidi Russell, the author of Quantum Shift (Liturgical Press, 2015).
In the United States the default setting for appropriating the Bible is fundamentalism–strict literal fundamentalism, soft or convenient or situational fundamentalism, or a widespread haziness on the historical background of individual Bible books. Catholics, by the way, are among those who use the default setting on occasion.
Russell told U.S. Catholic magazine (11/16) that once while waiting around in a concert venue she met a consistent fundamentalist. The gentleman was so consistent that he gave up his faith. Why so? He read that on the fourth day God created the sun and light. (Genesis 1: 14f) But he also read that on the third day God created plants and trees. (Genesis 1: 9f) “So how could you have plants before you had sun?” Russell could only reply: Sorry, we’re Catholic; we approach Scripture differently.
It is easy for atheists to think they can rattle Catholicism, continues Russell. Those atheists trumpet a theory (like multi-universes) that seemingly contradicts something the Bible, presuming that Catholics pull isolated pieces out of context and then read those verses literally. And lo and behold, some Catholics (including at times a bishop or two) react to the scattershot salvos from atheists.
“The Blue Cross” by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) is among the best of about 50 mystery stories featuring Fr. Brown as the sleuth. The criminal in this story disguises himself as a priest, but Fr. Brown uncovers the ruse. How did you know, the criminal asks him? Because in a prior conversation, Fr. Brown replies, “you attacked reason… It’s bad theology… I know that people charge the [Catholic] church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth the church makes reason really supreme.”
Is that true? What could it mean to say that the Catholic church “alone on earth” affirms reason or science? To be continued…
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.
In recent years, American universities have cut instructional costs by shifting an ever-growing share of teaching duties from costly tenured faculty to part-time adjunct instructors and graduate students with low salaries and few (if any) employment benefits. In response, adjunct faculty at several universities, including Catholic ones, have formed unions. In January 2016 adjuncts at Loyola University Chicago voted by 2-1 to join SEIU 73; they are currently bargaining with the school for a first contract.
Meanwhile, at Columbia University in NYC, graduate teaching and research assistants seeking to join the UAW asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to recognize that they were also university employees with the right to organize. The NLRB ruled in their favor in August 2016, and other graduate assistants around the nation seek to follow suit.
In December graduate research and teaching assistants at Loyola University Chicago requested a union representation election so they could vote on whether to join SEIU 73 as well. The NLRB accepted their petition and will do a mail ballot starting January 24. Votes will be counted February 8. Stay tuned!
Francis: As employer, Vatican “must follow the guidelines of the Social Doctrine of the Church”
Pope Francis would have a difficult time in his ministry without the labors of an estimated 3,000 lay Vatican employees. The Holy Father invited these workers and their families to the Paul VI audience hall in late December to thank them for their work and to exchange Christmas greetings. His remarks merit quoting at length.
Today we wish to thank God first of all for the gift of work. Work is extremely important, both for the actual person who works and for his or her family. As we give thanks, let us pray for the people and the families, in Italy and throughout the world, who have no work, or else, often, who do work that is undignified, poorly paid, or harmful to health…. We must always thank God for work. And we must be committed, each one with his or her own responsibility, to ensuring that work is dignified, respectful of the person and of the family, and just. Here in the Vatican we have an extra reason to do so, we have the Gospel, and we must follow the guidelines of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Here in the Vatican I do not want there to be work that is out of line with this: no undeclared work, no subterfuge.
Thus, let us all thank the Lord. However, for my part, today I want to thank you for your work. I thank each of you, each one, for the diligence you put forth each day in doing your work and trying to do it well, even when perhaps you don’t feel very well, or there are family concerns…. A good thing about the Vatican is that, being a very small entity, it is possible to perceive it as a whole, with the various tasks that form the whole, and each one is important. The various work sectors are close and connected, we know everyone somewhat; and we feel the satisfaction of seeing a certain order, that things function, with all the limitations, of course, we can and must always improve, but it is good to hear that every sector does its part and the whole functions well for the benefit of all. Here, this is easier, because we are a small entity, but this takes nothing away from the effort and personal merit; and for this I feel moved to thank you.
Vatican lay employees are represented by a trade union, the Associazione Dipendenti Laici Vaticani (ADLV). The Holy Father’s entire speech can be found on the Vatican website.
The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel and John Erb
In a series for this blog we say that the majority of U. S. families are economically stressed. Some worry about income and expenses now and then during the year; some worry every week. The chart in this installment of our essay is an imperfect attempt to make a point about income in our society.
The Wealthy, the Top 5%
This entire top 5% category could be conflated. But we divide it into three sections to note the stratification among the wealthy. The top-top people are far above anyone else.
Percentage of Families = Top 1/10% of Families.
Income = Over $2million annually. This top 1/10% is stratified; that is, the top-top ultra-wealthy are deriving an income even greater than the super-wealthy.
Description = These families are winner-take-all types in sports, business, communications and the like. This type of family lives in luxury. Their excess goes to investments thereby adding to their wealth. (This essay does not focus specifically on the unprecedented wealth gap.) Private equity executives are on average getting $211million salary per year. Major bank executives average $22million. A well-known TV newsperson now gets $20million. The University of Michigan football coach gets $9million.
Percentage of Families = Next 9/10%.
Income = Average of $1,150,000 each year. Of course, there is a significant geography variable. The income of families in this category is higher in the suburbs around New York City than it is for Alabama or Mississippi families in the same category.
Description = These are top professionals. They have significant surplus after their expenses. Most of the surplus is invested. This category is distinguished from the top 1/10% only because the annual increase in their income is at a smaller rate than the runaway super-wealthy.
Percentage of Families = This category of lower rich makes for about 4% of all families.
Income = From $300,000 to $1million, again with a geographic variable.
Description = These are executives who, for example, manage a state-wide chain of drug stores or retail stores; some surgeons are in this category as are some sports agents; it also includes some commercial bankers, college presidents, a lawyer in acquisitions and mergers and the like. Workers in this category routinely clock 60 or more hours per week.
The Traditional Middle-Class
Percentage of Families = About 15% of all families are in the upper middle class. These families, as with those in the categories above, have a degree of security.
Income =$111,000 to $250,000.
Description = These are pharmacists, college administrators, some college teachers, some doctors, some real estate developers, some local bank executives. These families are susceptible to drop-offs in income, but they recover. These families have retirement savings.
Percentage of Families = About 20% are in the standard middle class. This is where the economic stress line begins. These families are employed, but still experience periodic income shortfall.
Income = $86,000 to $110,000 with some overlap with upper middle class.
Description = These are teachers, social workers, some information technology workers, some health service managers. This category also includes some municipal workers in a union and some contractors. These families have some savings and can be homeowners. However, an illness, a divorce or a downturn in the local economy poses a setback.
Percentage of Families = About 10% are lower middle class. Somewhat regular economic worry sets in below $85,000.
Income = $57,000 to $85,000. Our nation’s median income is currently $56,000, which is at the bottom of this category. Half of all families are either wealthy or middle class; the other half earns less than a middle class income.
Description = These are families with a job, though not a secure one. They are retail floor managers, computer technicians, cable installers, some teachers, some registered nurses, government office workers, some service workers. Some of those in this category might hold a college degree; others have taken college courses but not completed a degree program.
The Working Class
This section (in two categories) includes about 50% of all families.
Percentage of Families = About 20% of all families are in the upper working class.
Income = About $34,000 to $56,000 with fluxion year-to-year. Our nation’s median income ($56,000) comes at the top of this category.
Description = These are people in the service industry, in retail, in fast food; also in sales, data entry, licensed practical nurses and more. They are prone to unemployment episodes.
These families have no discretionary income. In a given month they often spend more than they make. The difference between earnings and spending is offset with government programs, tax credits and mostly with debt—first credit card debt, and as necessary with payday loans. A $400 emergency (a car repair or medical situation) can mean a payday loan and the downward spiral that the loan’s high interest causes.
Percentage of Families = About 30% of families are in this category of working poor.
Income = Less than $33,000, including subsidies.
Description = Included in this category are parents who work in restaurants, are seasonally employed gardeners, or who sell scrap metal and repair cars for neighbors, are home health aides and the like. Plus those who work “here and there,” but are regularly experience unemployment.
The Working Catholic by Bill Droel and John Erb
In this and previous installments on this blog site we attempt to put a small frame around the expansive topic of family stability. We now come to a controversial juncture.
The Lifestyle Variable
Income parallels family stability. Family stability parallels lifestyles–some lifestyles are conducive to family stability, others less so. It is important, however, to repeat that the relationship among these three factors (money, lifestyle and stability) plus other factors is not an easy cause-and-effect. That is, we cannot say that because there is a strong association between a specific lifestyle and stability, a change in lifestyle automatically causes more stability or less stability.
Further, we recognize that people do not wake up each morning and choose a lifestyle. It is like one’s spirituality. Despite what the self-help gurus imply, one’s spirituality is to a significant degree conditioned by one’s heritage, by the surrounding culture and by many experiences. A lifestyle too is in part an imitation or rejection of one’s parental example, an imitation or rejection of one’s cultural environment and a continuation of or break with one’s many experiences.
And finally—because this is controversial—this essay does not measure love; as if anyone can do so. All types of families cherish their members and love their children. Just as all types and income levels of families are capable of callousness; a parent in any income bracket can be distant from his or her children.
Family living arrangements or lifestyles can include a two-parent married family, two-parent non-married family, one-parent family with one partner for that parent, one-parent family with multiple partners for the parent and more. Upper economic class families, for the most part, are of the two-parent married type and, as this essay shows, those families are relatively stable over the years. The median income for one of these married-couple families, presuming each parent is employed at least part-time, is $104,000. Many families in the lower economic categories are likely to be two-parent non-married families or one-parent families. These families have greater degree and duration of instability.
Interestingly, the education gap is a mirror image of this family stability index. In excess of 90% of college graduates use the institution of marriage and those families tend to be relatively stable. Those who lack a degree do not always marry. These families have higher instability.
The non-married type of lifestyle has been increasing. In fact, last year the majority of living arrangements in the United States were between unmarried couples. Interestingly too, there is no longer a race gap when it comes to marriage. That is, white families now have a percentage of non-married or single heads of the household that approximates the percentage among black families.
And as our chart to follow will show, a clear majority of Americans are economically stressed.
A Political Variable; Maybe Not
Pundits incessantly speak and write about a polarized citizenry. Our chart provides strong basis for a proposition that the polarization is not so much driven by political philosophies, as it is by economic insecurity. The number of Americans who are economically stressed continues to grow. Outsider political candidates will continue to appeal to the economically stressed. Yet, so-called Beltway insiders and many pundits dismiss these outsider challengers. That is because they are not really in touch with the financial realities facing a majority of Americans.
To repeat once more: Our chart (in the next installment of this series) shows that economic stress visits the majority of families—almost constantly for some.
Stay in touch through INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a print newsletter on faith and work.
Don’t miss this post on the AFL-CIO blog, featuring an interview with Catholic Labor Network member Fr. Anthony Shonis. Shonis is a longtime union activist who urges union members, “If you belong to a church, a synagogue or a mosque, you should tell the pastor, priest or imam that you are a union member and proud of it,” said Shonis, who is proud of his union roots. He encourages local unions and labor councils in turn to engage local clergy by inviting them to lead prayers…
Shonis says some younger priests might need to be educated about unions. “A lot of priests used to come out of blue-collar union families. But today, most of them come out of professional families and have parents with college degrees.
“They know that the official teaching of the church supports unions and collective bargaining, but they’ve never had a concrete experience with unions. To learn about unions, there is no substitute for being around union members.”
He says welcoming faith leaders to union meetings “lets them see for themselves that union members are honest, decent, hardworking, God-fearing men and women who want a better life for themselves and their families and for all working people.”
Courtesy of Meg Olson, Organizer at NETWORK, a Catholic Social Justice Lobby
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) held its annual Raise the Wage conference in Washington D.C. this past week. Attendees were a mix of labor leaders—traditional unions and Fight for $15; organizers from worker centers; economists; labor lawyers; staffers from labor rights champions; and advocates from faith-based organizations and the faith community, including NETWORK and the Jesuit Conference.
There was some great news shared at the conference: since Fight for $15 was launched in 2012, low-wage workers have won $61.5 BILLION in annual raises! However, the new administration and the 115th Congress aren’t exactly friendly to labor, and advocates are expecting legislation that could be very harmful to working families, including a national Right to Work law and repealing aspects of the National Labor Relations Act.
One pillar of our Catholic Social Teaching is the dignity of work and workers. From Rerum Novarum to Economic Justice for All to nearly daily reminders from Pope Francis, we hear, “All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions, as well as to organize and join unions or other associations.” Now more than ever, Catholics must stand in solidarity with those who are not making a living wage and say “no to an economy of exclusion.”
As people of faith, we have a special place in this new fight for economic justice. It is our Baptismal call to lift up the moral imperative that no one should have to work full-time and raise their children in poverty.