Report from Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, 2016

In 1986, six Jesuit priests in El Salvador known for their bold social justice advocacy were murdered in their home by a right-wing deaignatian-family-teach-inth squad. For decades, Jesuit colleges, universities, high schools and other institutions have organized an annual teach-in for social justice. At this year’s teach-in, November 12-14, some two thousand students, staff and faculty in the Ignatian family have gathered for a weekend of workshops on Catholic Social Teaching and current events, to be followed Monday by visits with their representatives on Capitol Hill.

CLN President Phil Tabbita and I represented the Catholic Labor Network at the event. Criminal justice reforms addressing mass incarceration and protection for immigrant workers and families lead the agenda this year, but the teach-in also touched on themes gtown-workshopthat should be of interest to Catholic institutions seeking to model Catholic social teaching in their labor relations and purchasing decisions.

Alexandrios Taliadoros and Nick Wertsch from Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor held a workshop sharing information about Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy. The policy guarantees all workers on the campus a living wage and the right to join a union if they wish; it applies to both workers directly paid by Georgetown or paid through a contractor providing campus services. The workshop drew a lively crowd of students interested in promoting justice for workers at their collethicsmerchege.

We also met the team from Ethix Merch, a firm promoting union made T-shirts and other gear for Church and student groups that want to display their commitment to fair wages and decent working conditions.  (They produce for many local unions as well.) Does your parish organization, local union or other advocacy group need to outfit your team? Feel free to contact me for more info!

Catholic activists target Macy’s, Kohl’s on sweatshop garments

human-thread-logoThe horrible Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh threw a spotlight on labor conditions in the world’s garment factories. More than 1100 workers were killed when the building full of tenement factories collapsed in 2013, but unsafe working conditions are hardly the only hazard these workers face. Perhaps no other modern industry is so closely associated with poverty wages and child labor. In the wake of the tragedy, Pope Francis condemned the “slave labor” conditions that obtained there and called on people of conscience to take action. A group of Catholic activists in Wisconsin are taking up the challenge with The Human Thread.

In the mid-twentieth century, cutting and assembling ready-to-wear clothing was one of the first industries shipped from the developed world to the global south to take advantage of lower wages. But the retailers and brands — not to mention the customers they covet — remain largely in Europe, North America and Japan. Companies and consumers here can take action for fair wages and workers’ rights there.

How can you help? Currently the Human Thread is running a postcard campaign calling on Macy’s and Kohl’s to offer clothing produced under fair working conditions, giving consumers a chance to choose “no sweat” garments. If you are seeking “clothing with a conscience” you might also be interested in a report ranking clothing lines by their labor practices.

New Cardinal has Keen Interest in Worker Justice

blase_joseph_cupichEarly in October, Pope Francis announced his intent to create 17 new cardinals. The Catholic Labor Network was pleased to learn that Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago was among them – the Archbishop’s deep commitment to Catholic social teaching on labor and work is quite evident.

Archbishop Cupich is surely familiar to readers of the Catholic Labor Network newsletters and blog. When the Illinois legislature was considering so-called “right-to-work” legislation, the Archbishop challenged its political supporters to reconcile their proposal with Catholic social teaching – which calls for “the promotion of workers’ associations.” This summer he adopted a paid parental leave policy for Archdiocesan employees – in a single gesture, acting to advance worker justice, setting a good example for Catholic business leaders, and promoting Catholic teaching on life and the family.

Please keep our newest Cardinal in your prayers!

Seattle U.: Give me unions and give me social justice, but not yet


A Jesuit university with an Augustinian approach to worker rights

The adjunct faculty at Seattle University voted 73-63 for union representation by SEIU 925. The Seattle University administration has announced its willingness to recognize and bargain with an adjunct faculty union outside the NLRB process. Hooray! Problem solved, right? The administration and the union can sit down and bargain an agreement and agree to disagree about the NLRB matter.

Not so fast. Readers of the Confessions will recall how the young and randy Augustine asked God, “Give me chastity and give me continence… but not yet.” Seattle administrators, likewise, say they are willing to honor Catholic social teaching on the rights of labor…after the litigation is finished and their claim to immunity from NLRB jurisdiction is resolved.

Meanwhile, the long-impounded votes have been counted at St. Xavier University. (The adjuncts voted on union representation in 2011 but SXU legal objections have delayed the count for five years.) The contingent faculty, by a vote of 29-25, have chosen to join the Illinois Education Association.

The most important union you’ve never heard of

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Clayton Sinyai (CLN) with NACST President Rita Schwartz

On October 8, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual convention of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers (NACST) as a guest. The teachers were interested in learning more about the Catholic Labor Network, and after offering a few words on our work I was kindly invited to witness the proceedings.

The NACST is a union of Catholic schoolteachers with nearly 4,000 members. Wait a minute, you are probably asking… didn’t the supreme court rule in NLRB v. Catholic Bishop (1978) that the National Labor Relations Act didn’t apply to Catholic elementary and high schools because of the first amendment?

Well, yes. But the court didn’t rule that the teachers couldn’t have a union, just that the Labor Board couldn’t get involved. In 1986, America’s bishops affirmed that, Supreme Court jurisprudence notwithstanding, we answer to a higher law. Catholic social teaching required that “all church institutions must fully recognize the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively with the institution through whatever association or organization they freely choose.” Hundreds of Catholic schools bargain with unions representing their teachers.

The local unions of the NACST stretch from Massachusetts to Missouri. They include major school systems such as those in Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, and single-school bargaining units that dot the Northeast and Midwest. Their members are deeply committed to their Catholic faith. They must be: wages and benefits are substantially lower than those offered in the public schools. At a surprising number of Catholic schools, teacher salaries start below $25,000 per year. These teachers have chosen significant material sacrifice to deliver our children a quality education rooted in our faith.

Indeed, the union was established by teachers who found it difficult to reconcile their faith and commitment to Catholic education with the politics of the national teachers’ unions. Although powerful unions like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) could provide resources and support, they are firmly opposed to tuition voucher programs and have adopted positions on social issues (such as contraception and abortion) putting them at odds with Catholic teaching. In 1978, a group of local unions representing Catholic schoolteachers broke away from the AFT to form the NACST.

Without the protection of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), this was no small matter. The officers of NACST locals are working teachers who pursue union business on their own time; without the resources of a large union like the AFT or NEA they lack powerful political friends or large strike funds. For survival they rely in large measure on their employer’s fidelity to Catholic social teaching. If a bishop or school system decides to bust the union – as happened in the Diocese of Scranton, in 2006 – they have few tools at their disposal to resist.

Catholic schools may not have the resources that public school districts do, but they can certainly recognize their employees’ right to organize and bargain collectively. Surely that is the least we owe our teachers.

The Working Catholic: Holy Capitalist

by Bill Droel

A small number of Catholics more or less believes that capitalism is evil. On the other extreme an even smaller number of neoconservative Catholics believes that humanistic capitalism is God’s preferred system.
Most Catholics implicitly take a micro-position, confining judgment to particular cases. Thus these Catholics might see holiness in the work of a hospice nurse or a special-education teacher. These Catholics, if they thought about it, also see goodness in some small business owners, but probably not in a big-time financier.

John Raskob (1879-1950) was “an architect of the capitalist system,” his biographer David Farber details. He was also a serious Catholic.
Raskob was involved with many tycoons of his time. His name, however, is lost to popular history, Faber writes, because he “never ran a major corporation. He never invented a noteworthy product.” Rather, Raskob was passionate about credit markets and leveraged financing. He was fluent in asset valuation, bond divestures, real estate markets, stocks and the like. He put together the deal that made DuPont Company a major business. He then did something similar for General Motors. Yet, according to Faber, “Raskob was driven not by greed or avarice or by the desire for adulation and power.” He disliked awards and avoided recognition. For example, Raskob financed a skyscraper in Manhattan. It is not called Raskob Tower, but rather The Empire State Building. “He was the anti-Trump of his time,” says Faber.

The title of Raskob’s biography is taken from one of his slogans, Everybody Ought To Be Rich (Oxford University Press, 2013). Though the slogan can be misinterpreted, he meant that the economy’s wealth should be open to more people, including hourly workers. Raskob believed that, given the appropriate instruments, the market can help stabilize families. It was Raskob, for example, who created the consumer credit that is taken for granted today. William Durant (1861-1947) had a small company called General Motors. Raskob got involved with it, envisioning competition with Ford Motor. His innovation was car-buying on the installment plan with GM and other entities floating the credit. Likewise, all of today’s 401K plans have a Raskob lineage.

Raskob was generous toward Catholic causes, both stateside and through the Vatican. It is no surprise that Raskob eschewed public recognition for his donations.
Raskob tried to donate in ways that would yield more predictable income for Catholic institutions. For example, he instituted the first endowment fund for a diocese. Hundreds of Catholic institutions today use Raskob’s plan. He also pioneered the separate incorporation of auxiliaries to Catholic institutions, which is also common now. He popularized the idea of matching-grant fundraising drives.
Raskob’s most significant contribution to internal Church operations was his insistence that lay people should assume responsibilities for which their character and training is better suited than those trained primarily in theology, Faber writes. He fought to give laypeople a greater role inside the church and to a degree his life reflected the role of the layperson in the world.

One more area of Raskob’s life is worth mentioning and retains relevance. Day-to-day he was not affected by prevalent and overt anti-Catholicism and by hostility toward immigrants. Raskob hung out with the elite and had an upper-class lifestyle. But he was opposed to the second-class treatment given to immigrants. He saw right through Prohibition; that it was disguised anti-Catholicism.
At some point Raskob met Al Smith (1873-1944) through a club. When it came time for Smith to launch his 1928 presidential campaign, he chose Raskob as campaign manager and chair of the Democratic National Committee. All of Smith’s advisors opposed the choice. First, the advisors knew that Raskob had no prior political experience. Second, the advisors were sure that the opposing campaign, already using Smith’s Catholicism against him, would claim that Catholics are taking over the government. (Today, the Ku Klux Klan is associated with racial bigotry. But the Klan began as a mostly anti-Catholic movement. True to their hatred, the Klan vilified Smith as a “papist puppet.”)

Some time ago, I participated in a conference for Catholic leaders. One of the presenters made a startling announcement: “I find no spiritual nourishment in the United States. I am moving to England.”
I was baffled as to why she would pick England as a spiritual oasis. But more importantly, I was disturbed that a Catholic would give a wholesale condemnation to our society. Obviously, our culture has serious defects. But isn’t it better for a Christian to start with society’s achievements and to faithfully engage the ebb-and-flow of daily life?
Raskob was not perfect. He could be judgmental toward others. He made some poor business decisions. And there are huge structural downsides to the capitalist system. Raskob is simply one U.S. Catholic who lived his spirituality in the context of finance.

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

Who is Linna Eleanor Bresette?

Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact

CUA Archives

I didn’t know either until a few days ago. Our friends at the Catholic University of America Libraries have put together a fascinating profile of this early twentieth century labor activist who worked as a factory inspector in her home state before joining the Bishops’ Social Action Department. CUA archivist William Shepherd writes:

Linna Eleanor Bresette (1882-1960) was a teacher and pioneering social justice advocate in her native Kansas for nearly a decade before serving for thirty years as the field secretary of the Social Action Department (SAD) of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). It was with the SAD that she worked with legendary labor priests John A. Ryan, Raymond McGowan, and George G. Higgins as a tireless field worker on behalf of the working poor regardless of race or gender…

Visit the CUA Archivists’ Nook to read the whole story!

Roundup of Labor Day 2016

How did those of us who weren’t voting in a union representation election celebrate Labor Day? Well, I joined the Labor and Income Inequality team at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington VA – they organized a special Mass with AFL-CIO President Emeritus Thomas Donahue serving as a lector. Later I read John Gehring’s thoughtful essay “A Catholic-Labor Revival?”  in CommonwealFr. Anthony Shonis (a CLN member) gave the keynote speech at the Owensboro, KY Central Labor Council. Ed Langlois wrote up a fine history of labor activity in the Archdiocese of Portland, OR in the Catholic Sentinel. (Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the diocese hosts one of the nation’s largest concentrations of unionized Catholic hospitals!)

Did you do anything interesting to put your faith in action this Labor Day? Tell us!

NJ, CA Catholic Conferences take action for worker justice

In each U.S. state, the Bishops have established Catholic Conference exists to coordinate faith-based advocacy at the state level. The conferences are not partisan organizations that endorse candidates, but issue-oriented groups that testify to our Catholic values in the public policy arena. This year has witnessed an important effort by the NJ Catholic Conference to support a minimum wage increase in the Garden State and the California Catholic Conference backing legislation extending overtime protections to farmworkers.


Farmworkers Lobby for Overtime Bill ( UFW)

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay premium wages for work beyond 40 hours per week – but many people don’t realize that the Act excludes some categories of workers, including agricultural workers. In California, the AFL-CIO and the California Catholic Conference have backed a determined effort to change that. It met with success this September when erstwhile Jesuit seminarian Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation making farmworkers eligible for overtime pay.

Meanwhile, in the Garden State, the New Jersey Catholic Conference joined with the NJ AFL-CIO and several state labor unions to bring the fight for $15 to the floor of the NJ State Legislature in Trenton. “We must always remember Pope Francis’ wisdom on the importance of the worker as he reminds us that labor is “not a mere commodity,” but has “its own inherent dignity and worth,” said Bishop Sullivan of Camden. NJ Catholic Conference representative James King brought the message to Trenton, testifying

On behalf of the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey, I ask the Senate Labor Committee to release Senate Bill 15 favorably. S15 would incrementally increase New Jersey’s minimum wage from $8.38 per hour to $15.00 per hour over four years while maintaining an annual increase based on the Cost of Living Index. Catholic Social Teaching supports workers’ rights for a just wage…. We realize that increasing the minimum wage will not eliminate poverty. However, Senate Bill 15 would  be an important step towards helping the working poor and providing the opportunity for them to enjoy a greater sense of self -worth and dignity.

Sadly, the bill was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie. Backers promise that the issue will return in 2017.

Labor Priests at their side, Boulder Station casino workers win union

For workers at the Boulder Station Casino & Hotel in Las Vegas, Labor Day 2016 will always have a special meaning: after years of struggle, they won their union. By a margin of 2-1 the workers voted to join the Hotel and Restaurant workers’ union. And right by their side were their Bishop and a mission of Labor Priests organized by Fr. Clete Kiley, Director of Immigration Policy for their parent union, UNITEHERE. Fr. Bob Bonnott described their pastoral visit to the union hall:

I was privileged to attend the pastoral visit of Bishop Pepe to the workers in the Culinary Workers Union Hall. More than 200 workers gathered. They shared their stories –– their backgrounds, their work experiences, their labor with only two raises totaling 60 cents over six years, their lack of a contract, of benefits and of any pension after decades of work. Bishop Pepe listened. As he introduced Bishop Pepe, Deacon O’Callahan shared his own experience with labor and unions, starting with Cesar Chavez. Bishop Pepe then discarded his prepared text and spoke movingly from his heart. He shared his own immigrant story, concluding that “Catholic teaching affirms your dignity as persons and workers and supports your rights. The Church is with you and I am with you.” His words provoked tears and cheers from the workers, many if not most of whom are Catholic… Labor Day has always meant something to me, but never as much as it has this year. I invite my brother priests to consider becoming ‘labor priests’ themselves, and as well, ‘capital priests.’ We must help both workers and owners know Catholic Social Teaching.

To read Father Bob’s complete account, CLICK HERE