ACT NOW to Support Right to Recall for workers in the nation’s capital

The Catholic Labor Network asks our members and friends based in Washington DC to act NOW to support the Displaced Workers’ Right to Reinstatement and Retention Amendment Act of 2020, currently before the DC Council. This critical bill will be up for its first Council twice, on Dec. 1 and Dec. 15, before going to the Mayor for her signature.

This important legislation directs employers who are reopening after pandemic-driven closures to offer furloughed employees their old jobs back before hiring replacement workers. It promises a lifeline to workers laid off as hotels, restaurants, sports arenas and entertainment venues shut down in the early months of the pandemic, a hope that as their employers resume normal operations they will be able to resume their service.

If you represent an organization based in the District of Columbia, we ask that you add your organization’s name to the Sign-On Letter in Support of Right to Return to Work. CLICK HERE to read and sign the Letter!

If you are an individual living in Washington DC or represent a DC-based organization, and are willing to contact your local elected officials directly in support of this important bill, please contact me ASAP at No experience necessary! I will provide additional information about the issue and the legislation, as well as any assistance needed to prepare and submit your comments.

Thank you for your support for DC workers displaced by the pandemic!

The UFCW and the Grocery Industry

The right of workers to organize in unions is one of the earliest and most basic premises of Catholic Social Teaching. In most of the United States, every time you shop for groceries you have an opportunity to choose between shopping at a supermarket whose employees have the protection of a union contract, and one that doesn’t. That’s because the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) represents more than 800,000 supermarket clerks, cashiers, stockers and other employees at many of the nation’s leading grocery store chains – but they face tough competition from nonunion competitors in every community, competitors that offer substandard health care benefits and little retirement security.

At one time, the supermarket industry was largely organized, and UFCW members represented most of the industry’s employees. However, large new non-union actors entered the scene, such as Wal-Mart and Whole Foods, and successfully beat back efforts by their workers to form unions.

Want to support union workers and the right to organize? Look for these names:

  • Albertsons
  • Kroger
  • Ralphs
  • King Soopers
  • Fred Meyer
  • Albertsons
  • Safeway
  • Jewel-Osco
  • Stop & Shop
  • Giant

The UFCW is one of the nation’s largest unions, reporting 1.3 million members. Outside of the grocery chains, they represent cashiers and clerks at many drugstores and workers at meatpacking plants, as well as other segments of the economy.

UFCW 400: How a union saved retirement for thousands of Mid-Atlantic grocery workers

Two weeks before the COVID-19 crisis, 25,000 workers at Giant and Safeway grocery stores in the Greater Washington DC area overcame a push by the companies to end their pension plans and curtail health benefits. The members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) endured months of difficult negotiations and settled excellent contracts before facing a pandemic crisis.

Giant and Safeway are among the largest chains in the Washington-Baltimore region, but the rest of their competitors like Harris Teeter and Walmart are largely nonunion. At one time, grocery stores were heavily unionized and offered decent middle-class jobs with benefits for blue collar workers. Over time, the retail sector has become increasingly part-time low wage and insecure jobs and the unionized companies face stiff competition from retailers like Walmart, which constantly seeks to drive down labor costs by pushing part time workers to do more work with less help.

While workers in unionized grocery stores can face similar challenges, a union contract makes these jobs more secure with much better benefits than the nonunion chains. Though wages are comparable between union and nonunion grocers, the union contracts give workers healthcare and retirement as well as a voice in decisions by the company. Jean St. Louis, a Catholic UFCW member in Maryland, appreciates the protection and support being a member gives her and her coworkers at Safeway.

Jean, who was part of the negotiations team, saw early on that Giant and Safeway wanted big concessions including dismantling the pension plan altogether. Holding onto the pensions became the number one issue immediately for Jean and her fellow members. She and other members were worried about the members that already retired, many of whom are disabled, and could not go back to work. Jean wondered how she could make up for 28 years in a pension plan that would be suddenly gone.

Pensions have become increasingly rare because companies do not like to have liabilities on their books and prefer to push retirement savings entirely on the shoulders of workers. Mark Federici, president of UFCW Local 400, pointed out that this system of retirement is a big problem for hourly workers because they can see decades of savings erased in a day (as we just experienced) and then put off retirement or simply retire without enough to live in dignity.

UFCW members did months of talking to their coworkers and building their union in preparation for a potential strike in order to preserve their benefits. Ultimately, the members reached an agreement with Giant and Safeway that preserved their pension plan.  The settlement also included raises and minimal healthcare increases. Jean St. Louis and President Mark Federici both expressed pride in the new contracts and President Federici believes it is the best the local has negotiated in decades.

St Leo’s Announces Intent to Bust Faculty Union

Up until now, St. Leo’s University in central Florida bore witness to an important element of Catholic Social Teaching – the right of workers to organize – by bargaining with a union representing its faculty. No more. In a surprise move, the Board of Trustees recently decided to withdraw recognition from the faculty union, citing their exemption as a religious institution from coverage of the National Labor Relations Act.

As a matter of civil law, the university is not required to bargain with a union representing its employees. Catholic social teaching is another matter. Since the first modern Papal Social Encyclical, Rerum Novarum (1891), the Church has taught that workers have the right to organize in unions. In his letter Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed this teaching, concluding that “The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must be honoured today even more than in the past [25].”

While the National Labor Relations Act exempts religious institutions from its protections, Catholic social teaching offers no such exemption. Lest there be any confusion on this point, the US Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on the Economy in 1986 (Economic Justice for All) explicitly stated 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 [353].”

The expansive freedom enjoyed by religious institutions under the First Amendment is a great gift, but it is subject to abuse. Managers and administrators in all institutions – civil or religious, for-profit and non-profit – prefer to issue orders rather than bargain with representatives of their employees. It is to be expected that they will be tempted to do away with unions when possible and substitute their own judgment and authority in place of negotiating with their employees in pursuit of the common good. The civil law provides at least some restraint for employers at for-profit institutions; not so in the case of religious institutions.

The trustees of St. Leo’s, and others who use the impunity guaranteed by the First Amendment to evade their obligations under Catholic social teaching, bring our cherished right to religious freedom into ill repute.

Florida voters approve minimum wage increase

In a big win for just wages, 61% of Florida voters supported raising the state’s minimum wage (gradually) to $15 per hour.

Catholic Social Teaching holds that every worker deserves a living wage, and most everyone agrees that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour – less than $15,000 per year for a full-time worker – is not a living wage anywhere in the country. That’s why a growing number of states have opted to set a higher one, either by legislative action or by popular vote as in Florida. Indeed, as the Washington Post noted:

Minimum wage increases are typically popular among the electorate. Since 2000, states have held 21 referendums on the minimum wage, and all have passed, according to a tally kept by Ballotpedia. Public opinion surveys have shown broad support; a 2019 Pew survey found that two-thirds of Americans supported raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Florida’s current minimum wage is $8.56 per hour. The constitutional amendment just passed would phase in a series of step increases, with a $10 minimum taking effect in September 2021 and climbing to $15 per hour in 2026. More than 2 million low-income workers are expected to get a raise due to the amendment.

Healthcare unions demand OSHA infectious disease standard

Despite what you might hear from business lobbyists about alleged “overregulation,” insiders understand that OSHA seldom issues a regulation unless pushed by worker advocates. Although there are thousands of toxic chemicals in use in industry, regulations only cover a few dozen – usually in response to lobbying or lawsuits by labor unions and public health organizations. Nurses and health care workers have been waiting more than a decade for a workplace safety standard governing infectious diseases, and the pandemic has been the last straw: three unions have filed suit demanding that OSHA lay out what employers must do to protect health care workers.

OSHA began exploring an infectious disease standard in 2009, responding to a petition by health care worker unions during the swine flu epidemic. The 2014 Ebola scare strengthened the case for action, but after President Trump’s 2016 election OSHA dropped the subject. Now, after dozens of hospital and nursing home employees have died from COVID-19 while caring for the ill, workers are no longer willing to wait.

AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), AFT (American Federation of Teachers), and the WSNA (Washington State Nurses Association) – each of which represent substantial numbers of health care workers – filed suit. The suit demands that OSHA prepare and issue an occupational safety and health standard protecting workers exposed to infectious diseases in the workplace.

Please pray for the safety of our health care workers, and rapid action by OSHA to keep them safe.

Workers Discuss “Right to Recall” in Online Forum

Some employers replacing furloughed workers with temps

The covid-19 pandemic required many hotels, restaurants, theaters and sports venues to close their doors, at least temporarily. Many were forced to furlough longtime employees. As they gradually reopen, will they call these loyal workers back to service – or take advantage of today’s depressed labor market to hire lower-paid replacement workers?

A recent WORKERS SPEAK OUT online panel discussion bringing together hotel workers and union representatives from Chicago, Boston and Baltimore revealed a range of responses, and a national movement to create “right to recall” laws that would require reopening employers to offer furloughed workers their old jobs before hiring off the street.

Justice would seem to require that firms gearing up after a pandemic interruption recall the career employees whose labor helped the employer build the firm in the first place. But in the absence of laws requiring this, the actual behavior of firms is hit-or-miss and often depends on the power of the workers and their union to secure fair outcomes.

In a striking contrast, participants in the panel heard from two Chicago-area hotel workers, one protected by a union contract and one who was not. Adrian Aguirre, a bartender at the Omni Chicago, had successfully organized in a union with his co-workers and secured a contract with two-year recall rights in the event of a layoff. Carlos Perez, a houseman employed at the Hyatt Century, has no union. The Hyatt told all the furloughed workers they were fired, and has hired replacements from a temp agency.

This is why the hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE is working across the country to pass city and state laws protecting workers’ “right to recall.” Readers of this newsletter will be familiar with the situation in Baltimore, where CLN and Catholic social ministry leaders recently organized an appeal to the Mayor to sign two “right to recall” bills approved by the City Council. The legislation would protect ALL hospitality workers in the city, whether they belong to the union or not. The CLN is working with the union in other jurisdictions to pass similar initiatives.

CLICK HERE to view a recording of WORKERS SPEAK OUT on Right to Recall after the Pandemic!

Baltimore Catholic social ministry leaders call on mayor to sign “right to recall” bills

Bills would require hotels reopening after pandemic to rehire furloughed employees

More than 15,000 Baltimore workers employed in area hotels, casinos, restaurants and sports arenas have been laid off, through no fault of their own, due to the pandemic. After huddling with furloughed workers and union representatives on October 6, representatives from 9 Baltimore City parishes called on Mayor Bernard Young to sign legislation guaranteeing their “right to recall” when these businesses reopen.

The two bills, recently approved by a large majority in the City Council, do not require the hotels and other venues to rehire these workers now, but would insist that when they do hire, they offer the furloughed employees the jobs before recruiting replacement workers.

The audience of nearly one dozen Baltimore City pastors and lay social ministry leaders was deeply moved by the testimony of Jose Ramirez, a public area cleaner at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel. UNITE HERE union organizer Tracy Lingo translated the testimony and shared how the City Council had voted for two local ordinances protecting hospitality workers’ right to recall whether they belong to the union or not. The group agreed to submit a joint letter to the Mayor urging him to sign the essential legislation. (CLICK HERE to view the letter.)

To date the Mayor has taken no action. If he vetoes the bills they will be returned to the Council for further action.

Catholic Labor Network supports launch of 3rd MC3 cohort in Nashville

The Central Labor Council of Nashville & Middle Tennessee, in partnership with the Nashville Area Building Trades, is launching its third Apprenticeship Readiness Program in the construction trades November 9-20, 2020.  This free, 120-hour training program follows NABTU’s national MC3 (multi-craft core curriculum) and has been adapted to the local vernacular of Nashville to be dubbed, “Music City Construction Careers.”  Locally, MC3 has graduated 15 participants to date.

Aimee Shelide Mayer, Representative of the Catholic Labor Network in Middle TN, is once again working to recruit from community partners, most specifically Catholic Charities and local parishes with a population who might be interested in a construction career.  The Building Trades of late have focused on intentionally inviting women, veterans, and people of color to join their apprenticeships, and Aimee’s outreach has followed this approach.

Respecting the new social norms of COVID-19, information sessions were held virtually and a recording of the first session can be viewed on the MusicCityMC3 Facebook Page here.  Applications are currently being received and reviewed, with interviews to take place between October 21-30. Interested applicants can apply online here, and questions may be directed to or 615.669.4694.


Is the Church losing touch with working-class Catholics?

America magazine probes disturbing data

In a recent, wide-ranging article examining data on Church attendance, America magazine editor Kevin Clarke asked: Is the Church losing its working-class flock?

There’s great reason to be concerned. Despite a popular media narrative about secular elites looking down on blue-collar believers, survey data suggests that while mass attendance has declined for many social groups, the sharpest fall seems to be concentrated in the lowest income brackets.

When Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, ran the numbers for America, he located the greatest drop-offs in Mass attendance among self-described Catholics in the lowest income bracket. Those who said they “never attend” Mass jumped from 6 percent in 1972 to just under 25 percent in 2018. In the bracket just above these Catholics, Mr. Burge found another significant leap in never-attenders, from just over 1 percent to 21 percent.

Meanwhile, at the top income quartile, never-attenders went to 13 percent from 4 percent, and in the quartile just below the top, the percentage jumped to 17 percent from almost 2 percent.

Clarke spoke with many members and friends of the Catholic Labor Network for insight on this, from steelworker Charles Perko to Bishop John Stowe (who celebrated our recent Labor Day Mass) – not to mention Nashville representative Aimee Shelide Mayer and board member Joseph McCartin. CLICK HERE to check it out.