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.

DC Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights Moves Toward Passage

DC Council votes unanimously for new law; second vote pending

The Washington DC Office of Human Rights is charged with preventing discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. But did you know that it has no power to protect domestic workers – nannies, housekeepers and others who work in the home?

That may be about to change. Although few workers are more isolated and in need of protection than domestic workers, many of our nation’s laws drafted to protect workers from exploitation and abuse have excluded them from coverage. But domestic workers have been organizing for years to change this, and in DC they are on the brink of success.

On Tuesday the DC Council voted unanimously in favor of the DC Domestic Workers Employment Rights Amendment Act. The Act would extend the DC Human Rights law to cover domestic workers; it would provide for their occupational health and safety; and it would also require employers of domestic help to prepare and sign a written agreement setting out terms and conditions of employment.

The Catholic Labor Network has been accompanying DC’s domestic workers on their campaign for justice for more than a year, starting with a “listening session” in which Catholic activists heard testimony from area domestic worker Antonia Surco. Last week CLN joined domestic worker advocates in a final round of visits with Councilmembers in support of the bill.

Passage of the Act requires a second Council vote on Dec. 20.

“Catholic Social Teach-In” at Loyola New Orleans

Connecting Catholic Social Teaching and Labor Relations on Campus

On November 17, UNITE HERE Local 23, the Catholic Labor Network, and student activists at Loyola New Orleans hosted a “Catholic Social Teach-In” attended by more than 100 students, faculty and dining hall workers. It was an opportunity for students and workers to connect and reflect on how labor should be treated at a Catholic university. The dining hall workers at Loyola’s Sodexo-operated cafeteria are seeking to join the union UNITE HERE.

Catholic Labor Network Executive Director Clayton Sinyai set the stage with a review of Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work from the time of Rerum Novarum to today, noting its witness in support of the right to organize in unions and the right of every worker to a living wage. But it was the dining hall workers whose testimony made the biggest impact. Cook Rob Johnson explained:

Hello, my name Is Rob Johnson I have been working for Sodexo at Loyola for one year in Simple Servings and I love my job and my coworkers. My role in simple servings is important, I cook to ensure that each student with a dietary restriction can be able to eat on campus. The students here are great and always have smiles on their faces and positive energy, I love the environment here.

By doing Simple Service I have built strong relationships with the students who I cook for every day. I make sure to talk to the students and check up on how they are doing and new things that they have going on. I’ve built strong relationships with students who have allergies, and I am invested in their growth and career. I’ll always be there for the students here because we are all a part of the same community.

I do not feel appreciated for the hard work that I do here. I sometimes have to work overtime to be able to pay for the things that I need. However, when I work overtime there is a bit of tension I feel because it takes away from the energy that it takes to do simple service during my regular shifts. I also feel the need to work overtime because we are understaffed, and I want students to be able to eat and the operation to run smoothly.

I want a union of Sodexo workers here at Loyola so that we can have more teamwork while working on this campus. I believe that with a union will make it so we all take pride in our work and stay in this community. I am asking the Loyola community to support the Sodexo workers the way that I support the Loyola community preparing safe and healthy meals.

Mr. Johnson and other workers who testified clearly love their work, but are burned out from working long hours at low wages, starting around $11/per hour – $22,000 per year for a full-time worker. Some mentioned working overtime to make rent even though the extra hours cut into time they would like to be with their families. Sodexo, which reported increased profitability in 2022, can do better than this.

Students and workers alike are waiting to see how the university administration responds. Many Catholic colleges and universities see labor relations on campus as part of their Catholic identity and expect contractors serving the campus community to honor Catholic social doctrine. Georgetown University in Washington DC has gone so far as to implement a Just Employment Policy that defines a living wage threshold, requiring contractors providing services to pay their workers accordingly.

The food service workers have been seeking to meet the university’s interim president to share their stories. So far he has refused to meet with the workers.


The Working Catholic: Signs of the Times by Bill Droel

How do we become aware that a new age has dawned?
Did anyone in November 1492 proclaim that the modern age began the previous month when Native Americans discovered Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)? Did anyone in November 1517 realize that the modern age began the previous month when Rev. Martin Luther (1483-1546) challenged the Roman Catholic bureaucracy? Yet looking back to those events we trace global commerce, exploration, cultural imperialism, a turn to individualism and soon enough new forms of governance.
Did anyone in December 1947 say that modernity has been superseded by a post-modern age because the transistor was invented at Bell Labs the previous month? Did anyone in August 1954 mark the beginning of postmodernism because Elvis Presley (1935-1977) recorded That’s All Right in a style fusing country with rhythm and blues? Yet those events and others were forerunners to a youth culture, to a pervasive cyber-dimension of life, to a view of the earth from outer-space, to instant and world-wide communication of prices, weather patterns, celebrity gossip, political conflict and more.
The same lack of awareness and ambiguity applies to naming generations. After all, someone was born yesterday and someone tomorrow. So, can we really demarcate and easily differentiate Baby Boomers from Gen X from the Millennial Generation?
Yet we need markers to understand our place in history, to understand the forces that shape our lives and contour our agency in our place and time.
Gary Gerstle explores the signs of the times in The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order (Oxford Press, 2022). Gerstle calls each of his stages a type of liberalism. He admits confusion in terminology. For example, today’s neoliberals are usually called conservatives. But whatever the labels, every modern society accepts the basics of classic Liberalism. For example, according to classic Liberalism individuals are not bound by heredity and knowledge (science and reason) is better than superstition. Though the British and others still like the trappings of monarchy, citizens in all classic Liberal societies have a right to participation in governance. Classic Liberalism, no matter the labels of the moment, insists that the rule of law replaces vengeance and property acquired legitimately (including intellectual/creative property) is a protected possession.
Classic Liberalism was influential in the late 1700s and somewhat in the 1800s. It had an intellectual comeback after World War I, says Gerstle, because of economists like Friedrich Hayek (1899), Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and others.
Gerstle applies the label New Deal liberalism to the second stage of liberalism. He associates this worldview with President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945), to a degree with President Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) and with President Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973).
New Deal liberalism differs from the classic type of liberalism in that government, labor unions, associations and consumer groups play a role in society and the economy. The shift recognizes that without countervailing forces individual liberty and laissez-faire capitalism make for “an economic disaster.” The market needs an umpire to enforce contracts, to use the military to stabilize trade, to enforce tariffs and the like. Society also needs government to restrict businesses that disregard the public good, to employ workers when hiring slows, to soften the blows of poverty, to purchase when inflation dampens consumer activity, to tackle big projects (health care delivery, utility delivery, infrastructure construction and the like) when private enterprise is incapable.
Gerstle’s third type of liberalism is called neoliberalism. It harkens back to classic Liberal themes and is thus a reaction against the socially-minded New Deal liberalism of Roosevelt and others. Gerstle associates neoliberalism with Presidents Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and with others.
Neoliberalism promises to recover imagination and serious aspirations in contrast to the deadening bureaucracies of the 1960s and 1970s. It says that private enterprise can be efficient and therefore government should use contractors for toll way collections, public transportation, garbage collection, some overseas military operations, space exploration, schools and more. Neoliberalism favors deregulation, free trade and information technology.
In the neoliberal view all encounters are monetized; that is, everything is for sale—even health care, recreation, personal information and water. Its centers of interest are Wall St., Silicon Valley, Hollywood and tech hubs in the Boston and Seattle areas. For neoliberals “cosmopolitanism [is] a cultural achievement,” writes Gerstle. Regardless of their rhetoric, neoliberalism applies to most Democrat and Republican politicians. Neoliberalism perpetuates an old strain of moralizing common in the rugged individual days. It assumes that some liberty can be denied those who are unable to handle responsibility. Neoliberals distinguish the deserving poor from the undeserving poor.
Gerstle hints that neoliberalism has lost luster and that we might be entering a new phase. The crash of 2008, the disruptions from Covid-19, the incompetence of President Donald Trump’s administration, a brutal war in Europe and more raise doubts about the neoliberal promise. What might be signs of a new era? Reports are welcome.

Droel is affiliated with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629). It distributes two encyclicals that critique neoliberalism; one by Pope Benedict XVI, the other by Pope Francis ($15 for both).

Delta Flight Attendants Launch National Organizing Campaign

The airlines are one of the most unionized economic sectors in the United States. Whether you are boarding a United, American or Southwest flight, you can expect that the workers you encounter have the protection of a union contract – whether they are pilots, mechanics, flight attendants or ramp workers.

Then there’s Delta.

The airline with historic roots in the Mississippi delta has successfully fended off multiple attempts to organize its workers. To date, only Delta pilots and dispatchers have succeeded in forming a union and securing a contract.

That may soon change. Delta flight attendants are on the move, in one of the nation’s largest current organizing campaigns. These 25,000 workers want a voice on the job and are turning to the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA). And you can help.

Normally, the Catholic Labor Network encourages members to patronize unionized businesses – it’s the only way you can guarantee that the workers who provide your goods and services have a voice on the job. But in this case, the flight attendants are asking supporters who fly Delta to use the opportunity to voice support for their cause.

The union has set up a website where allies can sign up to receive a button to wear supporting the campaign and palm cards to hand to your flight attendants to tell them you stand in solidarity with them. A friendly note from you can go a long way for a flight attendant summoning the courage to resist management’s pressure tactics. CLICK HERE to sign up now!

Religious Orders Use their Assets to Promote Worker Justice

Catholic religious orders are known for their works of mercy, often running hospitals, nursing homes and schools. But in the course of their activity, many of these orders accumulated substantial assets, including stock holdings in major US corporations. That gives them power, and, increasingly, they are using this power to advance worker justice.

This work is coordinated by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), where Catholic and other religious organizations come together and use their power as activist shareholders to promote justice. The ICCR came together in 1971 and was originally focused on fighting apartheid in South Africa. Today ICCR members control some $4 trillion in assets work in a variety of program areas, including – since June of this year – “Advancing Worker Justice.” They are engaging some of the nation’s leading corporations about living wages, freedom of association, occupational health and safety, paid sick leave, and other essential topics.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, a community of more than 300 in Southeast Pennsylvania, have been on the front lines of this work. As Sr. Nora Nash explained,

“The old adage ‘an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay’ is still at the heart of worker’s rights and responsibilities. A just wage reflects equality, opportunity, transparency and a decent life for the worker which includes a safe working environment, paid time off for sickness, personal days, vacation, etc. We’ve spent many years working with major corporations to draw attention to the extreme inequality between the CEO and the lowest paid worker.”

The process usually begins with a letter to the corporate target asking for a dialogue on the topic of concern. If dialogue is rejected or proves fruitless, they may file a shareholder resolution. For the activist shareholder, it’s not enough to object to a corporate practice – you need to make a “business case” for resolving it. Fortunately that’s not an insuperable obstacle: for instance, it’s perfectly plausible to argue that eliminating known occupational hazards or reducing occupational injury rates is good for the bottom line.

The Sisters have an active agenda this year. In the worker justice field they are looking to engage Darden Restuarants (think Olive Garden or Longhorn Steakhouse) and FedEx. At Darden they are concerned about low wages for restaurant workers; at FedEx they are seeking information about paid sick leave policies.

Labor unions have long leveraged pension fund investments to initiate similar dialogues with major corporations in order to promote worker justice. It’s great to see religious orders stepping up their activity in this field!

Senate Cafeteria Workers Win First Contract!

The cooks, cashiers, dishwashers and others working in the Senate Cafeteria have finally secured their first union contract – complete with living wages (starting at $20/hour) and affordable family health care. Banquet Server Paulo Pizarro said:

I just went from paying $120 per week on health insurance to $7 per week—and there’s no deductible. It is such an incredible feeling to know that it was me and my coworkers that won this. It feels so great to know that this whole fight was worth it in the end.

The union contract also gives workers a grievance procedure to settle future disputes, paid time off to vote, immigration protections and more.

The Catholic Labor Network has been accompanying the Senate Cafeteria workers on their march toward justice for more than a year. Read more

Richmond Hotel Workers Take First Steps toward Organizing

A guest contribution from Catholic Labor Network member Tony Miller

When the Richmond Times Dispatch asked Marty Barnett about why she supports the effort to unionize, she said, “We are not peons. We are human beings” and “We need to be respected — and that doesn’t just go for me or [the people who work at] this hotel — it should be a global thing.”

Think about the last time you or your family stayed at a hotel.  Most hotels in America are charging anywhere from $150 to $300, some more, per night.  In today’s economy, that is a lot of money to spend for 48 hours in a hotel room you barely use.  You probably checked into a hotel room that was far cleaner than your room at home, housekeeping is tough work.

If I told you that for $300-$600, the lady who cleaned that room back to excellence only got $6-$7, how would you feel about that?  Worst of all, she was probably forced to clean that room in under 30 minutes, and then told to clean up to 20 more before her day was over.  Hotel owners generate tons of cash, but they typically pay their hardest working folks very low wages.  How can a housekeeper with children afford to live on $6 per room cleaned?

On Thursday Sep 29, Hotel Workers United successfully filed their Petition for Certification with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  Our first hotel we seek to organize is the Hampton Inn Richmond West Innsbrook in Glen Allen, VA.  The hotel has about 18 total employees.  We have gathered cards from many members of the team including housekeeping, front desk, and breakfast hostess.  Marty, pictured above, is a breakfast hostess. We not only hope to win an election, but to negotiate with ownership for better wages and working conditions.

We know the owners of large hotel portfolios can afford to pay more, and we want to continue to raise awareness and support around our organizing efforts.  For more information, please visit or email us at [email protected].