At PeaceHealth, 1,000 techs say union yes

union-yesMany employees of the Catholic PeaceHealth system in the Northwest already have union representation – and another thousand will before the curtain falls on 2016. Last week a group of 100 health care techs at Longview’s PeaceHealth St. John’s voted to join SEIU Local 49 – and another 900 at PeaceHealth facilities in Vancouver have just completed voting. The latter group voted in favor of joining a union last month by a 3-1 margin, but needed a runoff to decide whether an AFT or SEIU health care affiliate would win the job. The election procedure demonstrated that a union organizing campaign doesn’t have to be a bitter and conflictual affair if all sides bring a charitable perspective. According to the Columbian newspaper, PeaceHealth management was positive about the tone of the campaign:

“We greatly appreciate the respectful manner in which our caregivers considered this issue and one another’s point of view,” said Wade Hunt, PeaceHealth Southwest interim chief executive, in a notice sent to employees after the first vote. “The respectful nature of the discussions leading up to the vote were a credit to our people and to the special culture we have created at PeaceHealth.”

What is the Worker Rights Consortium?

wrc-logoLong before global corporations chasing low wages started outsourcing production of car parts, televisions and smartphones to the global South, the garment industry had paved the way. But a growing awareness that workers in these factories were exposed to hazardous chemicals and unguarded machinery, paid poverty wages, and suffered retaliation or even imprisonment when they tried to organize in unions, led consumers to demand action from the global brands sitting atop of the supply chains. They wanted to know that their jeans, shirts and shoes weren’t being produced in sweatshops.

In 2000, a group of universities, student groups, and labor activists formed the Worker Rights Consortium to make sure workers who cut, stitched and assembled college-logo gear were treated fairly. The WRC drafted a code of conduct for suppliers and conducts inspections and production facilities to monitor compliance. The affiliated schools demand that the multinational corporations receiving a license to produce gear bearing the college name ensure that the code of conduct is followed. Today, the WRC reports nearly 200 members, including many familiar names in Catholic higher education: Georgetown, Fordham, Villanova, Duquesne, Boston College, Gonzaga, Loyola University Chicago, Xavier University, Creighton, and many others.

Reports of serious labor abuses at Hansae, a Nike supplier in Vietnam, have circulated for years. The company is stonewalling WRC monitors, and Nike is refusing to intervene. Nike’s license to produce Georgetown gear expires at the end of 2016, and the university says it will not be renewed unless the global firm and its suppliers comply with WRC inspections.

Nike’s war on labor monitor reaches Georgetown


Credit: Georgetown Solidarity Committee

The Washington Post reports that Georgetown student activists ended a two-day sit-in on December 12, with the university committing to end Nike’s licensing agreement if the apparel maker does not secure access for an independent labor monitor throughout its supply chains. The sporting goods supplier produces athletic gear bearing the Georgetown logo, but actual production of shoes and tees is subcontracted to facilities in the global South – and Nike is on the hot seat over labor practices at a now-notorious production facility in Vietnam.

Georgetown was a founding member of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an alliance of universities, student organizations and labor rights activists formed to stamp out sweatshop production of college-logo gear. Today nearly 200 colleges are affiliated with the WRC, including leading Catholic universities (see What is the Worker Rights Consortium?). WRC monitors visit facilities across Asia and Latin America to report on labor conditions and give workers an independent venue to pursue complaints and grievances.

In the wake of the horrible Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, Pope Francis has urged greater attention to working conditions in the global garment industry, and many Catholics have taken up the call by asking hard questions about how their clothes are made. The WRC is an admirable attempt to put this moral imperative into practice – but Nike has spent 2016 defying the WRC system in defense of a dubious supplier. Dire reports of unsafe, unhealthy and abusive labor conditions at the Korean-owned Hansae production complex in Vietnam have circulated for years, but the crisis has come to a head because Hansae is denying WRC monitors access to the facility.

Nike’s license to produce Georgetown gear expires December 31. It’s a unique opportunity to bring the company into compliance – or make Nike CEO Mark Parker explain to shareholders why shielding an abusive employer was important enough to forfeit the lucrative Hoya contract. The students’ action, and the university’s decision, is a timely affirmation of our faith in the midst of the Christmas season. It tells the world that our faith comes first – even when doing justice carries an economic price.

The Working Catholic: Silence

by Bill Droel

Martin Scorsese was vaccinated with “a Catholic imagination,” writes Fr. Andrew Greeley (1928-2013). For Scorsese this means that the use of Catholic images and themes in many of his films is “not a matter of choice but of necessity.” The Catholicism of the films, Greeley emphasizes, is not churchy. Sorrow for sins plus redemption “is worked out not in church.” The quest for holiness occurs in the messy world itself. For Scorsese and for others with a Catholic imagination, it is down-to-earth ordinary life that “hints of what God is like.”
The Catholic imagination also means that people are entangled with and obligated to their extended families, neighborhoods, religious orders and the like. This worldview is different from the dominant creed of libertarian individualism that equates freedom with maximum options. Catholicism says that it is precisely within constraining bonds that genuine though complicated freedom is found.
Two clarifications: 1.) Not all Catholics use a sacramental imagination and likewise a non-Catholic might have an analogical or sacramental take on the world and on God. 2.) To have a Catholic squint on things, a filmmaker or another type of artist, or any other worker might not be exemplary in every way, on every day. Scorsese, for example, has been married even more times than Donald Trump (who, by the way, is representative of the individualistic worldview). Scorsese admits he has sinned. But, he says, “I am a Roman Catholic; there’s no way out of it.”

Scorsese’s latest film, Silence, is a historical drama set in 17th century Japan. It is based on a 1966 novel of the same name, written by Shusaku Endo. Paul Elie, writing in New York Times Magazine (11/27/16), summarizes the plot, details the production process and connects the new film with Scorsese’s Catholic imagination.
Two Portuguese priests undertake a mission to Japan. They happen to be Jesuits, which accounts for the meeting Scorsese had with Pope Francis in late November. The missionaries are persecuted. As the plot develops, the tormentors present a choice: Continue to assert your foreign creed and face martyrdom or deny your creed and save other people. Thus the film asks: Do intentions count when determining morality? One interpretation of the film, as Elie writes, can be that “a seeming act of profanation can be an act of devotion if done out of an underlying faith.”
On the surface the film is about Jesuit missionaries. But its lesson is not churchy, just as its setting is not inside church institutions. Further, the film’s protagonist does not work things out by rising above the entanglements and obligations around him. Instead, he moves deeper into the limitations and only thereby—as some moviegoers might conclude—does he experience freedom.

Elie tells us that in 1988 Most Rev. Paul Moore (1919-2003), Episcopal bishop of New York, recommended Endo’s novel to Scorsese. From then until now, almost 28 years later, it was Scorsese’s passion to put the story onto the screen. Despite financial, legal and technical complications, Scorsese felt obligated (or more accurately, felt called) to complete the project.

A new edition of Endo’s novel is available from Acta (4848 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640; for $16. The same publisher has two reflections on the novel: Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura ($26) and Faith Stripped to Its Essence by Patrick Reardon ($12.95).

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free printed newsletter. Its next edition will feature a reflection on Silence by Greg Pierce.

Retracing Francis’ footsteps among the Argentine poor

pilgrimage-bookMark Shriver, inspired by Pope Francis’ life and ministry, traveled to Argentina and retraced the footsteps of our surprising Pontiff – and writes of his journey in a new book, Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis. As Mark Zimmermann reports in the Catholic Standard,

The future pope, who encouraged his seminarians and priests to have “muddy shoes” in their service to their people, especially the poor, did just that, catching the bus, even on his vacation days, to visit the priests and people at the parish in the slums, joining processions and taking part in Masses held outside train stations and under a tent in a city plaza, bringing to life what some call a “theology of the people.”

Shriver also meets a man named Sergio Sanchez, the leader of a Buenos Aires cooperative of thousands of workers who make their living by picking up cardboard and plastic bottles for recycling. He said Cardinal Bergoglio first got to know the workers by baptizing their children and later supported them in their organizing efforts. Sanchez sat in a seat of honor at Pope Francis’s inaugural Mass and has attended Vatican conferences on ending poverty.

John Carr of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life will host Mark Shriver for a book talk Monday, Dec. 5. If you would like to attend, click here to RSVP.

UAW-Ford partners with Pope Francis Center to assist area homeless

The Michigan Chronicle reports that UAW-Ford, a charitable endeavor that brings together labor and management at the automaker, is sponsoring meals this winter at the Pope Francis shelter for the homeless:

This holiday season, warm meals await area homeless men, women and children at Pope Francis Center in Detroit. Thanks to a generous donation from UAW-Ford, the non-profit is now launching its Nutritious Food Program. It serves hot meals to 80-100 people daily and is expected to now serve up to 20,000 healthy meals annually, including a meal for Thanksgiving. “We’ve found that homeless men and women have extremely limited access to healthy food, which causes and exacerbates serious health problems; consequently, we started our nutritious food program,” said Jesuit Fr. Tim McCabe, executive director of the Pope Francis Center.

God bless the men and women of Ford, and the staff of the Pope Francis Center, for their important work!

Pope Francis: Businesses should not exist to make money, but to serve

pope-francis-casa-rosadaIn a Vatican conference for Catholic business leaders, Pope Francis drew notice when he reminded business leaders that the Church believes riches are good when they are placed at the service of our neighbor; otherwise they are iniquitous. The conference theme was “Business leaders as agents of social and economic inclusion.” According to news reports first publicized on, the Holy Father instructed attendees that “money must serve, not govern…Businesses should not exist to make money, even if the money serves as a measure of how they function. Businesses should exist to serve.” The conference called upon business leaders to be “agents of social and economic inclusion.” Francis also shared his concern for migrants and refugees. He called on the business leaders to “collaborat[e] in creating a source of dignified work, stable and abundant, both in countries of origin and host countries, and in these latter, both for the local population and for immigrants.” [my italics]


AFL-CIO, USCCB Tell Immigrants “We are with you”

liuna-organizing-immigrantsAfter a year marked by ugly campaign rhetoric directed at migrants, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the AFL-CIO strongly reaffirmed their defense of immigrants this November.

The bishops, gathered in Baltimore for their fall annual assembly, endorsed a statement congratulating President-elect Donald J. Trump on his election while offering “a special word to migrant and refugee families living in the United States: be assured of our solidarity and continued accompaniment as you work for a better life.” They continued,

We will work to promote humane policies that protect refugees and immigrants’ inherent dignity, keep families together, and honor and respect the laws of this nation…. We stand ready to work with a new administration to continue to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans. A duty to welcome and protect newcomers, particularly refugees, is an integral part of our mission to help our neighbors in need.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka struck some similar notes in a post-election statement. He too congratulated the president-elect on his election win and anticipated working with him to fix an unjust and unfair global trade system. But he continued,

Make no mistake, we can never back down from our values. The presence of racism, misogyny and anti-immigrant appeals caused damage in this campaign and we must all try to repair it with inclusion, decency and honesty…. We hope to work with President-elect Trump to help him carry out this solemn responsibility. Regardless, America’s labor movement will protect our democracy and safeguard the most vulnerable among us.

Many of our brothers and sisters are hard-pressed, suffering from job loss or other economic setbacks, often traceable to the new global economy. They deserve our solidarity, but we cannot address their needs at the expense of the immigrant in our land. As the Lord commanded the Israelites,  “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).” And lest we forget, we too are strangers and aliens on the Earth whose true homeland lies elsewhere (Hebrews 11:13-14)

In the mid-20th century, Church and labor cooperated to advance critical elements of economic and social justice – things like the federal minimum wage, the social security system, and collective bargaining. Today, as Catholics and as trade unionists, we are suddenly called in a special way to the defense of the immigrant.

Go Home

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, OP of Peru is rightly receiving awards these days for his role in developing liberation theology. His 1973 book, A Theology of Liberation, signaled the end within Catholicism of the Western European theological monopoly. It is also now worthwhile to recall Ivan Illich (1926-2002). In early 1964 he gathered several Latin American theologians and church leaders in Brazil. It was there that the methodology and major themes of what would become libration theology took shape. Thus, Illich “played a major role in fostering liberation theology” and subsequently in its propagation, writes Todd Hartch in The Prophet of Cuernavaca (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Illich was born in Austria and was ordained to the priesthood in 1951. Later that year he was sent to Princeton University to do research. He served among Puerto Ricans in a Manhattan parish. Cardinal Francis Spellman (1889-1967) was impressed with Illich and so appointed him a rector to a university in Puerto Rico. Illich, at age 31, was made a monsignor—the youngest ever in the United States.
Today, the required reading list for a college class might include one or another book by Illich. The class will be in education, philosophy or social science. Hartch’s contribution is to put Illich squarely inside Catholicism and inside the priesthood. “He is best understood as a Catholic priest of conscious orthodoxy grappling with the crisis of Western modernity,” says Hartch. Thus, Illich’s later critiques of education, medicine and other institutions are but further examples of his prime example, the church.
The church loses its mission, said Illich, when it adopts a modern business model with its preoccupation with status, obsession with money, a fondness for measurable outcomes, a disposition to bureaucratic processes, an overuse of vacuous language and more. Illich devised an unusual way of reforming the church. He started, Hartch details, “an anti-missionary training center designed to discourage would-be missionaries” at the very moment that the Vatican and the U.S. bishops made a significant commitment to sending missionaries to Latin and South America.
Illich believed that the church’s mission effort had lost its original aspiration. Like many modern institutions, the unintended bad side effects outweighed the good intentions. Programs directed from North America to South America under the banner of development amounted to more colonialism, he said. Illich, to be clear, was not against the church and its essential missionary endeavors. Nor subsequently was he opposed to medicine, education, transportation and the like. He felt, however, that once a threshold of modern bureaucracy had taken hold, the church impedes faith, the schools hamper learning and hospitals discourage wellness.
Hundreds of missionaries attended Illich’s center in Cuernavaca because it offered the best language class, the best cultural analysis and on-and-off again the latest theological insights—all the while telling the missionaries, in effect “to go home.”

Illich, like all prophets, was contradictory. For example, here was a missionary of sorts who came from Europe to New York, then went to Puerto Rico and onto Mexico saying that imported religious education and devotions are types of disabling help. No surprise then that his anti-missionary effort had contradictory results. The number of Western European and North American missionaries to Latin America indeed dropped well below the goals set by bishops. At the same time, members of religious orders and other missionary types went back into their North American and European settings with a passion for opening the whole church to its global mission, particularly its solidarity with the poor.
As for Illich, his influence on many Catholic leaders was significant but his footing within Catholic structures was unfixed. He was for a time in regular conflict with one or another bishop and with the Vatican bureaucracy. “Many have assumed that [Illich] was forced out of the priesthood or even that he renounced Catholicism,” writes Hartch. Not true. Illich knew and believed “that priestly identity was permanent.” During 1967 to 1968 Illich gradually withdrew from active priesthood so that he would not be a source of embarrassment. His precise status defied the usual categories—not exactly a leave of absence, not at all a suspension.

Illich was a radical thinker; a person willing to experiment. He was churchman, always “trying to understand the nature of the church and its relationship to his age,” Hartch concludes.

Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

What sins constitute a firing offense for Church Employees?

Our nation’s Catholic parishes, diocesan offices, K-12 schools and related organizations employ hundreds of thousands of lay men and women. Since none of us is without sin, this puts a difficult charge on the bishop, pastor, principal or other administrator: which sins disqualify one from employment? The editors at America magazine recently took a swing at this daunting topic. In “Unjust Discrimination,” they write:

The church in the United States is living in a complex and challenging time. Regrettably, on a variety of subjects—from views on the death penalty to support for contraception and same-sex marriage—the teachings of the church and the practices of its members often do not match. Meanwhile, the church relies on a large number of lay employees to help administer parishes, schools and hospitals across the country. Very few of them subscribe to the totality of Catholic teaching. How can the church continue to sustain its ministries while bearing witness to the timeless truths of its teaching when its own employees do not accept them all?

The editors’ immediate concern is a wave of high-profile firings of employees in same-sex unions. While defending church teaching on marriage, the editors also remind readers that the catechism forbids “unjust discrimination” against homosexuals persons, including in employment. They suspect that employees entering gay marriages are being singled out, while the same administrators turn a blind eye to other violations – for instance, divorced Catholics who remarry outside of the Church. The editors fully support Church teaching on the nature of marriage, but fear that a personnel policy focusing on this violation to the exclusion of others creates an impression of hypocrisy.

Catholics are called to preach difficult truths about a range of subjects, including but not limited to marriage and sexuality. But what is the best way to do that? It is true that sometimes an employee of a Catholic institution can cause scandal by his or her public words or deeds. But it is also true that treating employees unfairly, by holding them to different standards or dismissing them abruptly or without consultation, can itself cause scandal.

Although employees in same-sex unions are this year’s flashpoint, the real issue is more fundamental. We are sinners all: if Church institutions fire everyone who violates Church teaching in some fashion, they will have no employees. At the same time, Catholic institutions must demonstrate their fidelity to the faith, or they are no longer Catholic. Administrators must make difficult decisions about what violations are severe enough to justify dismissal. Should people be dismissed for violating Catholic social teaching as well as teaching on marriage and family? What about doctrinal issues? Or should we reserve enforcement on those who publicly challenge any element of the faith? There are no easy answers to these issues, but they call for careful reasoning followed by consistent practices.