EPA Union President Describes Dire Circumstances at the Environmental Protection Agency

In his day job, Catholic Labor Network Vice President John O’Grady serves as President of AFGE Council 238, the labor union representing EPA employees. O’Grady files this report from that embattled public agency:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reeling not only from the nomination of Scott Pruitt as the Agency’s next Administrator, but also from gag orders, the government hiring freeze, temporary holds on litigation and enforcement, as well as contracts and grants. While Mr. Pruitt states that the climate is changing, he believes our ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue. Hogwash! All you need to do is look at the changes in the polar ice caps to know something is not right at the North Pole.

In 1999 EPA had a staffing level of 18,110 FTEs (Full-Time Equivalents); by 2015, the FTE level was under 15,000. Sixty-five (65%) of EPA’s budget is passed through in the form of contracts, grants, inter-agency agreements, etc., to states, tribal authorities, municipalities and contractors. EPA’s budget has been relatively flat over the past ten years and cutting EPA’s budget would cut into the ability of states and others to properly enforce environmental laws. Most states are already under heavy budgetary pressure and due to low salaries, have trouble holding onto their experienced staff. EPA has over 50 major and minor laws passed by Congress that must be enforced (e.g., Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, etc.). The question is, “How much do we value the air you breathe and the water we drink?” What’s truly important – a little extra profit for the corporations (which will not be shared with the employees), or an America that we can pass on to our children and grand-children? Remember – there is no ‘Planet B!’

O’Grady was among several government employees quoted in a Washington Post article describing the challenges of federal employees trying to pursue the legislative mandates of their agencies, even as some new Cabinet appointees seem intent on the opposite. To read Resistance from within: Federal workers push back against Trump, CLICK HERE.

For more information on the AFGE campaign to protect the EPA…


The Church Responds to Executive Actions Targeting Immigrants and Refugees

Sadly, our new President has begun his term with a series of executive orders and memoranda targeting immigrants and refugees. Happily, the Church and organized labor are swiftly speaking out in defense of these vulnerable workers.

The Church is emerging as a major voice of opposition to the new policies. On January 30, 2017, USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Vice President Archbishop Jose Gomez issued a statement on the executive order blocking Muslim refugees from entering the United States, reading in part:

We call upon all the Catholic faithful to join us as we unite our voices with all who speak in defense of human dignity… Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life. It is the very form of Christianity itself.  Our actions must remind people of Jesus. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity.  Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him.

Our desire is not to enter the political arena, but rather to proclaim Christ alive in the world today. In the very moment a family abandons their home under threat of death, Jesus is present.  And He says to each of us, ‘whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’ (MT 25:40).

The USCCB is circulating an Action Alert asking Catholics to petition the president and their elected representatives to end the ban and resume refugee resettlement. (CLICK HERE TO PARTICIPATE)

This action by the USCCB leaders followed a series of statements from Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, in his capacity as chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, opposing presidential moves to stop refugee resettlement, suppress sanctuary cities, and start construction of a wall on the  US-Mexico Border.

For detailed information and additional resources, the bishops maintain a web page filled with Catholic Social Teaching links and resources addressing immigration and another concerning migrants and refugees.

What’s happening in your Diocese, Parish or Catholic organization? Drop me a line at [email protected] or add your story in the comment field below!

The Labor Movement Responds to Executive Actions Targeting Immigrants and Refugees

Sadly, our new President has begun his term with a series of executive orders and memoranda targeting immigrants and refugees. Happily, the Church and organized labor are swiftly speaking out in defense of these vulnerable workers and families.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has issued a statement on the executive actions, which begins:

President Donald Trump has announced three executive orders addressing immigration that are an affront to core union and American values. Building a wall on our border, scapegoating immigrants and refugees, and shutting out people of Muslim faith will do nothing to uplift working people in our country. To the contrary, these orders sow fear of raids among workers, promote racial profiling and erode core constitutional protections. As such, they are a clear attack on our members, and elevated fear is a direct obstacle to workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. We call on President Trump to revoke these orders.

We are better than this. Our nation must never turn its back on people fleeing violence and oppression based simply upon where they are from or the religion they practice. We call for our nation’s leaders to stay true to our long and proud tradition of providing safe harbor to those seeking to build a better life. We offer our solidarity and support to the working families harmed by this discriminatory ban.

The AFL-CIO has a page of resources for union members and other workers threatened by the administration’s actions.

Leaders of several major labor unions have issued similar statements, among them:

  • Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), representing many immigrant workers in healthcare and cleaning services
  • D Taylor, President of UNITEHERE, representing many immigrant workers in the hotel and hospitality industry
  • Art Pulaski, President of the California Labor Federation (AFL-CIO)
  • Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

What’s happing in your local union or labor federation? Drop me a line at [email protected] or add your story in the comment field below!

Kentucky Bishop on Right to Work: “This cannot be seen as contributing to the common good”

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

Bishops, AFL-CIO President discuss “Dignity of Work” at Catholic University

Cardinal Sean O’Malley (Courtesy CUA)

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:

San Diego bishop warns against nationalism, market rule, overconfidence in technology (NCR)

Lack of just wages, benefits a threat to human dignity (NCR)

Getting ready for Trump: Catholic leaders condemn the ‘imperialism’ of free markets (America)

Social doctrine is about solidarity, Catholic leaders insist (Crux)

Trump’s rise and GOP economics may shift Catholic Church’s priorities (Religion News Service)

Working Catholic: Stop Trafficking

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.

The Working Catholic: Scientists

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.

Loyola Graduate Student Instructors, Researchers to Vote on Union

Credit: SEIU 74

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!

Pope Honors Vatican Employees

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.

Income Chart

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.