Nurses Union Fighting to Improve Patient Care Nationwide

Ordinarily when we think of labor unions and their activity, we focus on their ability to secure better wages and benefits for their members. This is a critically important function of collective bargaining but hardly exhausts what unions do. Workers generally want to do their jobs well – indeed they are often more concerned about the quality of their craft than management, which is focused primarily on the bottom line.

We saw an example of this last Thursday when National Nurses United (NNU) led actions in front of hospitals across the country – public and private, Catholic and secular, for-profit and non-profit – to draw attention to a staffing crisis in American hospitals.

The nurses contend that patient care is being undermined by a shortage of nurses on duty in the nation’s ERs, and for years have called for staffing ratios limiting the number of patients assigned to each nurse. NNU regularly makes staffing ratios the centerpiece of its bargaining demands – it was staffing ratios that brought 7,000 NNU nurses out on strike in New York City a few weeks ago, and that dominated bargaining for 12,000 NNU nurses in Minnesota last September. The union persuaded California legislators to enact staffing ratios in law in 1999 and is pursuing safe staffing laws in other states.

Seeing a union taking action for the common good rather than narrowly focused on economic gains for its members may be surprising for some, but it should not be for Catholics. Historically the Church has seen unions as successors to the medieval guilds. The guilds served to establish prices and work rules in their trades, to be sure, but they were also created to preserve standards of quality and practice in their craft. As Pope Leo XIII noted in Rerum Novarum, the guilds “were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art [49].” Clearly the Holy Father was hoping that the “workingmen’s unions” that he praised in the modern industrial economy would continue to do so. Nurses advocating for safe staffing ratios fall in this tradition.

Hospital administrators often object that they are doing their best and are struggling to hire and retain nurses as it is. Solving the problem may well entail offering nurses improved wages and benefits – after all, that’s how the market usually resolves labor shortages. But the nurses have made a sound and important choice – instead of leading with their economic demands, they have prioritized the issue of staffing ratios. Now they are trying to start a national conversation on the topic. Will we listen?

Breakthrough for Immigrant Workers

This month witnessed a breakthrough for labor law enforcement, one that specifically addresses the exploitation of immigrant workers. On January 13, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a guidance document on worksite immigration enforcement. The guidance describes how DHS, on a case-by-case basis, will temporarily forgo deportation proceedings against witnesses in important labor and employment law actions.

How would this work? Take the example of an undocumented immigrant who has worked 50 hours a week for an American custodial company for a year, but the company never paid her or her coworkers time and a half for overtime. If she should file a complaint with the Department of Labor, DOL investigators who needed her as a witness could request that DHS defer any deportation proceedings for up to two years as they pursued the case. She could even apply for work authorization during this period.

There’s a clear need for such a policy. Law-abiding enterprises can’t compete fairly with companies that cut corners by paying less than the minimum wage, fail to pay overtime, operate hazardous workplaces or deny workers the right to organize in unions. And when scofflaw firms get away with such behavior, they lower the standards for all workers. We have a strong public interest in seeing these laws enforced; witnesses who come forward are performing a public service.

Too often such unethical employers get away with these crimes by targeting undocumented workers, knowing that they will be hesitant to file a complaint out of fear of deportation. (When the Catholic Labor Network documented extensive wage theft in the Washington DC construction sector, many of the workers who told us about unpaid overtime said they were reluctant to make a complaint because of their immigration status.) But we need these witnesses to come forward. By offering deferred action or parole in acknowledgment to their contribution to the case, the DOL makes it more likely that even undocumented workers will stand up and report workplace violations.

Undocumented workers who report illegal labor exploitation are doing a service to the community. A temporary deferral of deportation proceedings is a price worth paying to obtain their testimony and secure justice for all workers.

Pope Benedict XVI, Friend of Labor?

Born Joseph Ratzinger, the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI first came to the world’s attention as an insightful theologian at Vatican II. He would become more widely known as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under Pope St. John Paul II, and was elected his successor in 2005. He is almost universally described as a conservative – and rightly so. But “conservative” in what sense?

In American politics we have developed a notion that “conservatives” favor small government and free markets while opposing government regulations and labor unions. That may be what self-styled “conservatives” in American politics stand for, but it’s a far cry from the original definition of “conservative” – one who is skeptical of change and wants to “conserve” traditions, customs and ways of life and governance.

A theological conservative, Ratzinger spent much of his career defending Church orthodoxy. As Prefect of the CDF it was his job to do so, and it often put him at odds with Catholic progressives seeking changes in the Church. What does this have to do with labor? The right of workers to form unions is an orthodox element of Catholic Social Teaching, established clearly in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum and reaffirmed repeatedly by his successors. While some of Ratzinger’s “conservative” fans hoped he would change this, as Pope Benedict XVI he maintained Church teaching in this regard. In fact, in his social Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he offered the most emphatic endorsement of the right to organize you will find in a papal document:

Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. 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 therefore be honored today even more than in the past [25].

That’s Ratzinger’s conservatism in a nutshell. Skeptical of “social and economic change,” which he believed was harming workers and labor organizations. Favorable toward “traditional networks of solidarity.” Reminding the faithful of the “repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine” to promote labor unions – adding only the flourish that, in a globalized world, this traditional teaching is even more important now than it was in the past.

The Pope Emeritus had a lot to teach us about our faith, and a little about what it means to be “conservative” too. For another take on this theme, check out Michael Sean Winters, American conservatives don’t understand the late Pope Benedict’s legacy.


Arbitration, Unions and Catholic Social Teaching

A guest contribution from Catholic Labor Network member Michael Loconto. Michael teaches arbitration to union staff and officers at the Boston Labor Guild.

In the contentious world of labor relations, disagreements between workers and employers are frequent.  Collective bargaining agreements offer methods of self-help to the parties: grievance processes compel management and labor to meet and discuss dispute resolution.  When an impasse cannot be overcome through a grievance procedure or contract negotiations, a neutral and impartial third party may be called in to resolve the dispute.

Arbitrators and mediators are alternative dispute resolution (ADR) providers, mutually selected by the parties to serve in place of costly and time-consuming court systems.  Mediators help the parties reach agreement on an issue by facilitating dialogue and lifting up voices, drawing out the strengths and weaknesses of arguments, and by helping to establish mutually shared interests that provide a foundation for resolution.

When employers and workers cannot agree to settle a contract or resolve a grievance, arbitrators may be called upon to issue a final and binding resolution.  Arbitrators are both empowered and limited by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.  That contract is a product of negotiation between workers and employers; a set of established rules and norms for the workplace that represent collaboration and compromise between management and labor.

A former judge recently attacked the grievance arbitration process in an editorial calling for police union reforms, asserting as evidence of a broken system one finding that more than half of all disciplinary cases had been overturned in a large urban department.  Such criticism ignores the social values of dignity and agency that are present in the arbitration process, exemplified by the principle of just cause and the reality that managers who administer discipline are human and may be susceptible to error and bias in the same way that employees may be capable of committing offenses worthy of discipline.  At arbitration, the appropriateness of a penalty is reviewed through the lens of progressive discipline, which calls for corrective rather than punitive measures intended to provide the employee with an opportunity to correct behavior.  Arbitrators also guard against disparate treatment among individuals found responsible for similar offenses.

Anthony Annett writes about labor and management sharing a joint vocation in Cathonomics.  Unlike the winner-takes-all approach of litigation, no matter the outcome at mediation or arbitration the parties must show up at the workplace the next day and resume working shoulder-to-shoulder.  While the losing party may be disappointed by the outcome in an arbitrated dispute, employers and workers can have confidence in the expectation that an unbiased and objective arbitrator will consistently apply the terms of their collective bargaining agreement to resolve disputes.  This stability is key to industrial peace in a long-term collective bargaining relationship.


Pope Francis recently addressed members of the CGIL — Italy’s version of the AFL-CIO — about labor unions, worker justice and other themes. The English version of the Holy Father’s remarks comes courtesy of Google Translate.

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

I welcome you and thank the Secretary-General for his words. This meeting with you, who form one of the historic Italian trade union organizations, invites me to express once again my closeness to the world of work, in particular to the individuals and families who are struggling most.

There is no union without workers and there are no free workers without unions. We live in an age that, despite technological progress – and sometimes precisely because of that perverse system that calls itself technocracy (cf. Laudato Si’, 106-114) – has partly disappointed expectations of justice in the workplace. And this asks above all to start afresh from the value of work, as a place of encounter between the personal vocation and the social dimension. Working allows the person to realize himself, to live fraternity, to cultivate social friendship and to improve the world. The Encyclicals Laudato si’ and Fratelli tutti can help to undertake formation courses that offer reasons for commitment in the time we are living.

Work builds society. It is a primary experience of citizenship, in which a community of destiny takes shape, the fruit of the commitment and talents of each one; This community is much more than the sum of the different professions, because everyone recognizes himself in the relationship with others and for others. And so, in the ordinary web of connections between people and economic and political projects, the fabric of “democracy” is given life day by day. It is a fabric that is not made at a table in some building, but with creative industriousness in factories, workshops, farms, commercial, crafts, construction sites, public administrations, schools, offices, and so on. It comes “from below”, from reality.

Dear friends, if I recall this vision, it is because one of the tasks of the union is to educate in the meaning of work, promoting fraternity among workers. This formative concern cannot be missing. It is the salt of a healthy economy, capable of making the world better. In fact, “human costs are always also economic costs and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs as well. Giving up investing in people in order to make a greater immediate profit is a bad deal for society” (Enc. Laudato Si’, 128).

In addition to training, it is always necessary to point out the distortions of work. The throwaway culture has crept into the folds of economic relations and has also invaded the world of work. This is found, for example, where human dignity is trampled underfoot by gender discrimination – why should a woman earn less than a man? Why does a woman, as soon as you see that she begins to “get fat”, send her away to avoid paying for maternity? –; You can see it in youth precariousness – why should life choices be delayed because of chronic precariousness? –; or even in the culture of redundancy; And why are the most demanding jobs still so poorly protected? Too many people suffer from lack of work or undignified work: their faces deserve to be heard, they deserve union commitment.

I would like to share with you in particular some concerns. Firstly, the safety of workers. Your Secretary-General has spoken about this. There are still too many dead — I see them in the newspapers: there is someone every day — too many maimed and injured in the workplace! Every death at work is a defeat for the whole of society. Rather than counting them at the end of each year, we should remember their names, because they are people and not numbers. Let us not allow profit and the person to be put on the same level! The idolatry of money tends to trample on everything and everyone and does not guard differences. It is about training to care about the lives of employees and educating oneself to take safety regulations seriously: only a wise alliance can prevent those “accidents” that are tragedies for families and communities.

A second concern is the exploitation of people, as if they were performance machines. There are violent forms, such as the hiring and slavery of laborers in agriculture or on construction sites and in other workplaces, the constraint on grueling shifts, the downward game in contracts, the contempt for motherhood, the conflict between work and family. How many contradictions and wars between the poor are consumed around work! In recent years, the so-called “working poor” have increased: people who, despite having a job, cannot support their families and give hope for the future. The union – listen carefully to this – is called to be the voice of those who have no voice. You must make noise to give voice to those who have no voice. In particular, I recommend attention to young people, often forced into precarious, inadequate, even enslaving contracts. I thank you for every initiative that promotes active employment policies and protects people’s dignity.

In addition, in these years of pandemic, the number of those who resign from work has grown. Young and old are dissatisfied with their profession, the climate in the workplace, the contractual forms, and prefer to resign. They look for other opportunities. This phenomenon does not mean disengagement, but the need to humanize work. Also in this case, the union can do prevention, focusing on the quality of work and accompanying people towards a relocation more suited to the talent of each one.

Dear friends, I invite you to be “sentinels” of the world of work, generating alliances and not sterile oppositions. People thirst for peace, especially at this moment in history, and everyone’s contribution is fundamental. Educating for peace even in workplaces, often marked by conflicts, can become a sign of hope for all. Also for future generations.

Thank you for what you do and will do for the poor, migrants, fragile and disabled people, the unemployed. Do not neglect to take care of those who do not join the union because they have lost trust; and to make room for youth responsibility.

I entrust you to the protection of Saint Joseph, who knew the beauty and effort of doing his job well and the satisfaction of earning bread for his family. We look at him and his ability to educate through work. I wish a peaceful Christmas to all of you and your loved ones. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you. And if you can, pray for me. Thank you!

Ending 2022 with Wins for Workers

The year 2022 has ended with some important wins for workers. Last week we noted in this space how, after years of effort, domestic workers in the US capital won a bill of rights in a unanimous vote by the DC City Council. This week we mark three more important developments over the Christmas season.

The Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act passed! All year Catholic Labor Network members and friends have been emailing their Senators or meeting with their legislative aides urging the Senate to pass this bill. The bill, supported by labor, women’s groups, and the USCCB, requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant women in the workplace. At the last minute, Senators adopted the legislation as part of the Omnibus spending passage and voted it into law!

Maryland Public Defenders won their union. Maryland’s public defenders and their support staff have been struggling with overwhelming caseloads. Unable to provide indigent defendants the legal counsel they deserved, they turned to the Maryland legislature and asked for the right to organize so they could bargain over this. The Catholic Labor Network and an array of civil rights groups supported their request with legislative testimony, and enabling legislation passed in Spring 2022. In a late November mail ballot, the employees voted overwhelmingly for union representation. The defenders and their staff are now represented by AFSCME Local 423, the Maryland Defenders’ Union.

Chateau Marmont workers won their first contract. For years, workers at the legendary Hollywood celebrity haunt had complained of poor treatment by ill-mannered guests and exploitative management. Last December the Catholic Labor Network co-hosted a listening session at nearby Blessed Sacrament parish, where the workers – some of them parishioners – told their story to Los Angeles faith leaders. The workers organized a boycott and in the course of the year won union representation with UNITE HERE Local 11. Now they have ratified a first union contract that includes a 25% wage increase, a pension fund, protections and free legal services for immigrants, and recognition of Juneteenth as a paid holiday, among other benefits.

Congratulations to the workers of the Chateau Marmont, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, and pregnant workers everywhere in the United States!

DC Domestic Workers Win Bill of Rights

After a long journey toward justice, Washington DC’s domestic workers scored a major victory yesterday when the DC City Council voted unanimously to enact a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Until now, domestic workers – maids, nannies, au pairs, and many home health aides – were excluded from employment law protections that most workers take for granted. Now the District has joined several other cities and states in passing a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.

The legislation, known as the DC Domestic Workers Employment Rights Amendment Act, was announced in March. The legislation extends the protection of DC’s Human Rights law (which addresses both discrimination and sexual harassment) and its Occupational Safety and Health law to cover domestic workers. It further entitles domestic workers to a written contract explaining terms and conditions of employment.

The Catholic Labor Network has accompanied the domestic workers in their campaign for more than a year. In February, CLN co-hosted a “listening session” with domestic worker Antonia Sucro for area faith leaders, including several from DC-area Parishes and the Archdiocese of Washington. Like most domestic workers today, Sucro, a parishioner at St Catherine Laboure in Maryland, is an immigrant. She told of losing her job abruptly during the early spread of covid but – lacking a written work contract – was unable to access the supplemental unemployment benefits approved by Congress.

In the months since, the workers have tirelessly rallied and lobbied DC Council members to ensure that the legislation progressed. Catholic Labor Network has joined the domestic workers for these events and organized supporters to write letters and emails in support of the legislation.

Congratulations to DC’s domestic workers on their big win!

Clean Up Kingspan!

A guest contribution from CLN Member John Murphy

Clean Up Kingspan, a worker-led effort to make changes at Kingspan, the $11 billion dollar Irish-based global building manufacturer, has made progress in 2022 by working together and expanding their outreach to leaders in the green building community.

The campaign kicked off in 2021, when workers at the Kingspan Light + Air factory in Santa Ana, CA petitioned the company to clean up health and safety concerns and to agree to a fair process for workers to decide whether or not to join a union. They did this on the heels of an innovative air monitoring study carried out inside the factory, finding “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” measurements of PM 2.5 levels on a majority of the air monitors that workers carried and installed beside their workstations.

Kingspan management, in turn, dismissed the workers’ concerns, even going so far as to say the air inside the facility is safe to breathe and that they will not agree to a fair process for workers to decide whether or not to join a union.

CalOSHA and CalEPA were more receptive to workers. Both agencies took worker filed complaints seriously and, within a year, CalOSHA cited Kingspan with 22 health and safety violations (5 of them serious) and the Santa Ana Regional Water Board issued a notice of violation of its industrial pollution permit.

But that was not enough to alleviate all the workers’ health and safety concerns, not to mention their demand for a fair process was rejected. Then, in early 2022, an immigrant worker was discharged from his employment immediately after visiting Human Resources to update his social security number, an alleged violation of CA Labor Code § 1024.6.

Concerns over health and safety, immigrant rights and environmental injustice on the job have propelled workers and their community to expand the campaign throughout the year. With the support of union members in SMART, the sheet metal workers union, as well as labor, faith, environmental justice and political allies, they have reached out to the broader green building community with a message- they too have a role in changing Kingspan.

The American Institute of Architects, Capital Group, Facades +, Lowes Home Improvement… all of these organizations, investors and businesses, have leadership in the community and can influence Kingspan- whether by engaging with the company about their record on immigrant rights, ensuring that ESG guidelines are adhered to, or supporting workers’ rights to a clean and safe workplace. They can learn about the issues, communicate with Kingspan and, if need be, end their partnership with the company.

Santa Ana Kingspan workers now look to 2023 focused on organizing around these issues with the faith that by doing so, along with solidarity actions from allies and movement on the part of the broader green building community, more progress will be made to clean up their workplace. If you’re interested in supporting Clean Up Kingspan and getting campaigns updates, sign up here:


A Catholic Labor Leader Reflects on Visit to Israel

A guest contribution from Don Villar at the Chicago Federation of Labor

I had only gotten a few hours of sleep when I was suddenly wide awake. My watch said it was 4:00 a.m. Friday, December 9. I was physically exhausted, but apparently not enough to fall back to sleep.

Since arriving in Israel as part of the Jewish United Fund of Chicago labor delegation five days ago, I logged dozens of miles (more than 125,000 steps on my Fitbit) walking around Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and near the Gaza Strip. We met with government officials, Israeli and Palestinian labor activists, workers, and struggling families. Besides visiting religious sites, we were immersed in Israeli history and geopolitics. The visit revealed the complexity, the challenges, and the promise of the region.

For another hour, I laid in bed. I tried to go back to sleep, but it didn’t work. I felt something  pulling at me, calling me to get up. I fumbled in the darkness of my hotel room to get dressed, and tried not to wake my wife Rose asleep beside me.

I walked out of the hotel to a dark and quiet Jerusalem street. Hours earlier, the streets were frenetic as people enjoyed the start of their weekend. It was a cold December morning as I made my way to the Old City. It was about a 15 minute walk, up winding streets, to get to the Damascus Gates, one of the entrances to the Old City. I had some rosary beads I purchased earlier in the Old City in my pocket, and began praying the rosary as I walked in the early morning silence.

When I visited during the day, the Old City was bustling with locals, tourists, merchants, children, and workers. The sounds of conversations, footsteps, and hum of city life echoed through the narrow streets and alleys. Now, the streets were silent, except for my own footsteps on the ancient cobblestones. The once crowded shops were now shuttered. I followed the signs to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, meandering through the dark alleys and narrow streets. The signs led me through an archway that opened up to the modest courtyard of the church, Christianity’s most holy place.

I stepped into the church. The chatter of tourists from the day before was replaced by chants, prayers and serenity. I made my way to the main rotunda of the church containing the Aedicule, a small chapel or shrine. The long line of tourists waiting to enter the Aedicule was gone. In this early hour, groups of pilgrims were gathered in the side chapels of the church, praying and waiting for their turn to enter the tomb.

In the Aedicule, about two dozen Polish Catholic pilgrims were celebrating mass. After they finished mass, the Polish pilgrims filed quietly out of the tomb. As they exited, a group of Italian Catholic pilgrims entered the Aedicule to celebrate mass. I made eye contact with the pilgrimage leader, asked if I could join them. After her group entered, she invited me to come into the Aedicule with them.

I was the last person to enter as they closed the wooden doors behind me for the mass. The Aedicule is made up of two very small rooms. The first contains a remnant of the Angel’s Stone. The stone that was rolled to cover the entrance of Christ’s tomb. On Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene found the tomb open and empty, and the angel sitting on the stone. The second room contains the tomb itself.

While the mass was in Italian, I could make out the parts of the liturgy and responses. I whispered the responses to myself in English. During the course of the mass, two pilgrims at a time would enter the tomb, kneel before and touch the place where Jesus was laid to rest. During the liturgy of the Eucharist, after nearly all the pilgrims had gone into the tomb, she invited me to do the same. Standing in the back of the crowded room, the pilgrims parted enough to allow me inside the tomb. I knelt, said a prayer, grateful for this moment, and kissed the place where our faith tradition tells us Christ was laid after he was crucified. After a moment, I got back up and returned to the room of the Angel’s Stone. I pressed myself into the corner near the entrance of the tomb to allow others to come forward.

When it was time for Holy Communion, the priest emerged from the tomb and began distributing the Eucharist. He placed the host in my hand. I paused, stared at the wafer, and thought about this moment. I was taking the body of Christ in the tomb where he had risen from the dead.

I placed the host in my mouth. As it dissolved on my tongue, I felt a sudden rush of emotions come upon me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, goosebumps ran up my arm. I felt a sensation throughout my entire being. It was something I have never felt before. I felt the immense solidarity of faith across the world and time. I felt small and humbled. I felt joy and elation. I felt so many emotions. We often talk about being in a state of Grace, about having the Holy Spirit come upon us. At that moment, I truly felt a state of Grace, the Holy Spirit.

After the priest gave his final blessing, ending the mass, we filed out of the Aedicule. A group of Korean Catholic pilgrims came in behind us to also celebrate mass. Mass in the tomb was a transformative moment. I was burdened when I entered the tomb. A half hour later, I emerged transformed, changed, uplifted.

As I exited the church, I felt a new sense of clarity. I had been preoccupied by work, family life, responsibilities, meetings, challenges, personal and professional relationships, image, disappointments, heartache, sorrows, joys, successes, and with absorbing all I had seen and heard during the past few days. The burdens, ebb and flow of life that preoccupy everyone weighed me down. For a moment, those burdens felt lifted. My daily prayer included a plea for God to guide me, show me the way, give me strength to continue on as a labor activist, as an advocate, as someone trying to live their faith, and advance the Labor Movement and the cause for worker justice.

When I first entered the church, it was dark outside. The darkness was now replaced by the morning light and blue skies. The sound of birds singing filled the air. The shops catering to tourists in the Old City were still closed, except for a bakery. The baker was placing dough into an old brick oven. The smell of fresh baked bread wafted from the oven, filling the narrow streets of the Old City. Jerusalem was slowly waking from its slumber to a new and beautiful day.

Rose was still in bed when I returned to our hotel room. I sat beside her and began to cry as I shared with her what I just experienced. I know I don’t always get life right. I make mistakes. I stumble. At this moment, I felt a renewed sense of purpose. I felt that God was answering my prayers to guide me, show me the way, and give me strength to continue on.

On this Friday morning, it was God that was calling me, pulling me from my sleep and exhaustion, to spend a moment of peace in the early morning in the Holy City and renew my spirit.


Labor Pilgrimage Brings Seminarians Face-to-Face with Worker Struggles

In late October, the Catholic Labor Network and interfaith labor solidarity organization Arise Chicago teamed up to lead a “labor pilgrimage” in Chicago for a group of seminarians from Mundelein Seminary and the Catholic Theological Union. After a review of the roots of Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work, participants visited the Haymarket Memorial to reflect on the fight for the 8-hour workday, met with workers fighting for justice at the El Milagro tortilla factory and joined Catholic labor leaders for lunch at the IBEW Local 134 union hall.

The seminarians were deeply moved by the experience. Brother Jason Damon OFM observed,

I found the experience to be a helpful and eye-opening one. It was powerful to see how values from the Catholic social teaching tradition can be and have been applied for the betterment of society and for the well-being of workers. It was moving to see how deeply the Catholic faith impacted some of the people we met. The encounter that sticks out the most to me was our conversation with the workers from El Milagro. It was obvious that they had such pride in their work and in their product, but that the conditions that they were subjected to were hurting their ability to flourish like they could have and wanted to. That was a conversation I’ve thought about a lot in the time since we had it.

Assistant Professor Sr. Kathleen Mitchell, who accompanied the Mundelein seminarians, was also enthusiastic.

It was wonderful to see how Catholic Social Teaching is inspiring Catholics to work for justice for laborers, especially workers who are vulnerable and exploited in our society. I was encouraged to learn of priests who are supporting worker rights, as well as many religious and laity who are dedicated to empowering vulnerable workers… The seminarians were able to make a meaningful pilgrimage for workers’ rights and meet laborers who are struggling to find justice in the workplace, as well as faith leaders who are committed to justice and human dignity. I believe all of the encounters helped the seminarians, many of whom will be priests in the Church, put a face to workers who are exploited, as well as see how faith is integral to fighting workplace injustice and how faith leaders are making a difference.

The Catholic Labor Network hopes that events such as these can serve as a model for seminarian engagement with the good news of Catholic Social Teaching.