Catholic HS Students Get Jump on Apprenticeship

Parishes that choose an electrical upgrade or a solar installation by PRO Lighting & Solar may find themselves putting a parishioner to work. That’s because of a unique partnership between an area Catholic high school and IBEW Local 212. High school students at Cincinnati’s Elder High School have an opportunity to get a jump on a career as a union electrician by taking a course at the union’s nearby training center. Participants who take the elective visit the union’s apprenticeship and training center two days per week.

While many Catholic high schools focus exclusively on college placements, Elder appreciates that a construction apprenticeship can also be a promising career path. Union electricians can earn $30, $40, $50 or more per hour, depending on the region of the country they live – a salary competitive with many white-collar jobs. Most IBEW members (and other union construction workers) also enjoy fully employer-paid family health insurance as well as a defined-benefit pension, both increasingly rare in other segments of the economy. And many eventually go on to start their own companies.

Union apprenticeship programs are supervised by a joint committee of union representatives and contractors who employ them. “Half the JATC (Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee) are graduates from Elder High School,” says Training Director Charlie Kenser. “A lot of our members are Elder grads.”

St Monica-St George Parish Installs Solar Panels Using Union Labor

Inspired by Laudato Si, a growing number of Catholic parishes are reducing their use of fossil fuels by investing in energy efficiency and sometimes installing solar panels to meet their energy needs. That’s important, but in a construction industry marked by widespread wage theft and high workplace injury rates, what are they doing to make sure that the men and women performing that labor are being treated justly? Some are ensuring that workers on these projects are protected by a union contract.

That was the case at St. Monica/St. George, a parish located at the University of Cincinnati. When the care for creation team at the Parish started exploring their options for a solar conversion, the Archdiocesan facilities office connected them with PRO Lighting & Solar Read more

Senate Cafeteria Workers in Civil Disobedience Action

On Wednesday July 20 the cooks, cashiers and dishwashers who staff the Senate cafeteria escalated their fight for fair wages and working conditions with a civil disobedience action in front of the Senate’s Dirksen office building. After a rally, 17 workers and supporters were arrested for blocking traffic as they called on the Senators to ensure living wages and affordable health care for cafeteria employees.

Speakers at the rally included US Senators, Representatives and Fr. Brian Jordan, OFM, a labor priest and pastor of St. Camillus in nearby Silver Spring. Workers at the cafeteria, operated under contract by vendor Restaurant Associates, formed a union last year under a “card check” process validated by Fr. Martin Burnham.

The workers have negotiated a tentative contract with Restaurant Associates, but the Senate must take action to make sure the cafeteria is funded sufficiently to pay the promised wages and benefits. Operations at the capitol are supervised by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, chaired by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. Catholic Labor Network members have met with Senator Klobuchar’s staff about the situation but it remains unresolved.

“I was really moved by the dedication and perseverance of all the cafeteria workers and participants at the rally outside the US Senate Dirksen building,” said Fr. Jordan. “I am outraged that these US senators who are guaranteed a just wage, health care benefits and a pension plan–cannot force the food company Restaurant Associates to immediately provide a sound contract with benefits.  Where is the collective moral conscience of these US senators?”

CLICK HERE to send a letter to your Senators calling for just wages and benefits for the Senate cafeteria workers!

Broad Interfaith Support for the PRO Act

Will it Get a Senate Vote?

Our labor laws no longer effectively protect workers who want to form a union. Employers have learned that the penalties for retaliating against workers seeking to exercise their legal right to organize are minor, so firing the ringleaders of any union campaign can be a good investment. And even when workers successfully navigate the hostile landscape and form a union today, half of employers refuse to bargain in good faith to reach a first contract.

The Protecting the Right to Organize or PRO Act would address these obstacles and has passed the House of Representatives. The AFL-CIO is pushing hard for a vote in the Senate.

The Catholic Labor Network, of course, supports the PRO Act. Our perspective is rooted in Catholic Social Teaching, which has recognized the right of workers to organize since 1891 and Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Rerum Novarum. And we take note of Pope Benedict XVI’s words in Caritas in Veritate: “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 [60], for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past.”

What does the wider faith community have to say about this? It turns out, the right of workers to organize is recognized across many faith traditions, and support for the PRO Act is substantial. The Catholic Labor Network recently hosted an interfaith webinar where speakers representing a variety of faith traditions and organizations affirmed their support for worker justice and for this important legislation. Speakers represented national Catholic organizations such as NETWORK and the Franciscan Action Network; Protestant denominations, including the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, and the Society of Friends; as well as Muslim and Jewish organizations. While each tradition brought a unique theological perspective, all shared a commitment to worker rights and a desire to see the PRO Act pass.

CLICK HERE to view a videorecording of the webinar on the Catholic Labor Network’s YouTube Channel.

Promoting a Living Wage in Music City

When Pope Leo XIII issued his Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum in 1891, he contended that according to the natural law, every worker was entitled to a living wage. In a growing number of communities around the United States, activists have launched living wage certification programs for employers – programs that inform consumers which firms have committed to pay a living wage to their employees. The Catholic Labor Network has helped launch such a program in Nashville TN.

Nashville Living Wage (NLW) is a regional, membership-based organization in Nashville, TN, whose mission is to educate the community on the importance and urgency of a more just minimum wage and raise the wages of workers in Davidson County to a living wage ($17.40/hour, roughly $35,000 per year for a full-time worker) by organizing workers and certifying qualified businesses through a voluntary certification program.  The living wage rate is the “survival wage” for a single adult without dependents, according to the 2020 United Way ALICE Report, which is updated every two years. NLW envisions Nashville as a livable community where all workers can not only survive, but prosper.

Nashville Living Wage grew out of a coalition-based “Nashville Rising Forum” in April 2019, focused on “Work, Wages, and the Future of Nashville”.  The NLW Board and Advisory Committee includes employers, activists, restaurant workers, immigrants, refugees, non-profit leaders, the union/labor community, and those with legal and production/design expertise. Aimee Shelide Mayer, a Nashville Representative of the Catholic Labor Network, chairs the Board and handles much of the day-to-day work until funding is secured for a paid coordinator who will handle outreach to workers, employers, and community partners and process applications for certification.

To date, NLW has certified nearly a dozen employers from both corporate and non-profit sectors, with a goal of certifying 40 employers by Labor Day 2022. Once an employer is certified, they become part of a living wage directory and receive related resources, including a “living wage employer” seal and education materials for their business patrons & employees.  A vibrant social media campaign will bring the voice of workers to the forefront on discussions about living wages, and introduce the community to an online directory of certified businesses who are upholding a “more just minimum wage” by being certified.  NLW benefits the community by strengthening the local economy, challenging employers to increase wages, educating workers on living wage standards, producing a directory of living wage employers, and engaging consumers in their ethical purchasing decisions.

NLW addresses the inadequate minimum wage rate (currently $7.25 in Tennessee, less than $15,000 per year for a full-time worker) and provides an alternative approach to raising wages than local legislation, which has been preempted at the state level in the past.  By creating a living wage certification program, NLW brings the conversation about wages and economic equity into a more prominent place in the public arena.

The Nashville community is known for its philanthropy and friendly hospitality.  Building on the strengths of what makes Nashville “great,” NLW partners with groups centered on social, economic, and worker justice to elevate business standards by raising the wage floor.  NLW mobilizes and advocates for a just economy in which workers are paid equitably, employers are innovative and successful, and the entire community thrives as a result.

Report from the “Moral March on Washington”

Poor People’s Campaign Brings out Faith, Labor Activists for Economic Justice

Have you heard of the Poor People’s Campaign? Back in 1968, Martin Luther King had a vision of poor people organizing across racial lines to transform American society. Fifty years later, that vision was picked up by leaders such as Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, who aspire to mobilize 140 million poor people and low-income workers around an agenda anchored in economic justice. As part of the campaign, on Saturday June 20 thousands rallied near the U.S. Capital to call for a “third reconstruction.” Labor and faith organizations were strongly represented in the effort.

Most of the speakers at the six-hour rally were grassroots leaders and activists, low-income workers and poor people testifying to their personal stories. These ranged from residents of Louisiana’s “cancer alley,” where industrial emissions of toxic waste threaten public health, to workers employed at Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks who were fighting for a union and a living wage.

Among unions, the SEIU had a high profile, with busloads of members traveling from New York, Ohio and Florida to participate in the rally. “We’re here for the workers, for us – for a living wage,” explained SEIU 199 member Tommy Smith (pictured). “We aren’t getting what we deserve. The fat cats are.” Members of the IAM, UNITE HERE, and other unions were also in evidence.

Several Catholic organizations began the day with a short prayer service organized by the Franciscan Action Network in front of St. Patrick’s Church in downtown DC. These included Pax Christi and a large delegation of sisters from the Loretto community, among others. After the prayer service, the groups walked out in formation to join the March.

Other Catholic activists were already at the rally site, including Fr. Ty Hullinger of the Maryland Catholic Labor Network, who took a bus with the United Workers Association of Baltimore. “It is important for us as Catholics to show up and be part of these movements,” Hullinger explained.

In addition to grassroots activists, the rally also heard from a few labor leaders, including SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond. “Poverty is a failure of the system, not poor people,” Redmond observed.

Catholic Labor Network testimony on DC Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Legislation

Dear Chairperson Silverman and members of the Committee,

My name is Clayton Sinyai and I am here today to testify today in support of B24-712, the Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022.

I testify as Executive Director of the Catholic Labor Network. My organization brings together Catholic union activists with Catholic clergy, religious and lay social ministry leaders to promote worker justice. We are a national organization but are based here in Washington DC at Georgetown University and have many members in the District of Columbia.

We understand that there are more than 9,000 domestic workers in the District of Columbia – maids, nannies and home health care workers who serve in the homes of District residents. Many are recent immigrants. Unlike most workers, domestic workers do not have the right to organize in labor unions to fight for better wages and working conditions. Their workplace safety is not protected by OSHA. They frequently face sexual harassment and wage theft.

This bill would begin to address the challenges domestic workers face in the workplace. This bill would ensure that domestic workers are protected from discrimination and sexual harassment under DC’s human rights law and that they are protected from unsafe working conditions under the District’s occupational safety and health laws. It would also guarantee domestic workers a written employment contract, reducing the incidence of wage theft and exploitation.

Scripture tells us in Matthew 25 that we will be judged according to how we have treated the least privileged of our brothers and sisters. Consequently the Catholic Labor Network urges the DC Council to adopt the Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022.

CLN, faith leaders testify for DC Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

On June 16, the Catholic Labor Network joined DC domestic workers and other faith leaders testifying in support of a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights bill in hearings before the Labor Committee of the Washington DC City Council. While Catholic Social Teaching holds that all workers have dignity and deserve protection of their rights, historically domestic workers – nannies, housekeepers, and many home-based health care workers – have been excluded from the protection of our labor laws. Consequently, pressed by the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, a growing number of cities and states have passed legislation to extend workplace protections to those whose workplace is a private home.

The DC Human Rights Act, which protects workers from discrimination and from sexual harassment, currently excludes domestic workers from its protection. The proposed legislation, the Domestic Worker Employment Rights Amendment Act of 2022, would amend the act to include domestic workers. It would also extend the protection of Washington DC’s occupational safety and health law to cover domestic workers, and guarantee these workers a written contract of their terms of employment, which should reduce the frequency of wage theft in this sector.

In February, the Catholic Labor Network hosted a “listening session” for faith-based activists in the District of Columbia, where domestic worker Antonia Surco related her experience as a domestic worker. Surco, an immigrant from Peru (many domestic workers in DC today are recent immigrants), also testified before the Council. She explained,

It was a great surprise to me, after years of work, to learn that we, domestic workers, are EXCLUDED from the Washington, DC, Bill of Human Rights. We know from history since eras of slavery, that this is an inhuman legacy left for us. It is unbelievable that this beautiful and important work of caring for human lives does not have the protection that it deserves by the laws of Washington, DC. That is why today the echo of our voice asks to be INCLUDED in the Washington, DC, Bill of Human Rights.

Michele Dunne of the Franciscan Action Network, who attended the listening session, also testified in support of the legislation. She noted,

As people of faith, we are called to care about the common good and to respect the dignity of work as well as the rights of workers; both are core principles of Catholic social teaching. We are called to be in solidarity with our sisters and brothers, particularly when their rights are not respected as they should be. This is certainly the case with the more than 9,000 domestic workers in DC, who have been excluded from the normal protections extended to other workers for far too long.

Matthew 25 warns us that we will be judged by how we have treated the least advantaged of our brothers and sisters. It’s time for DC to join the 10 states that have already passed legislation to extend the protections of our employment law to domestic workers.

Half Moon Bay Ritz Workers Form Union

Supportive Pastor Instructed them in Catholic Social Teaching

When hotel workers at the Ritz-Carlton in California’s Half Moon Bay, many of them recent immigrants, decided they wanted to form a union, the company hit back – hard. Several of the workers were parishioners at nearby Our Lady of the Pillar Parish, and they turned to their Pastor, Fr. Jose Corral.

After meeting with the workers and hearing their stories, Fr. Corral reflected on Catholic Social Teaching and then penned a remarkable letter to the group, explaining…

To all my concerned Parishioners regarding protecting your family by promoting a more secure and prosperous common life: The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of supporting workers and workers’ rights dating back two centuries to Pope Leo XIII. The Church’s teachings tell us we are to support the dignity of every human including those that provide us with our basic needs whether it be providing our tables with fruits & vegetables or providing a myriad of services from hospitality, cooking and serving food at our restaurants… I feel obliged to communicate to you, your right to organize and ask for workplace protections through representatives. Unions are a way for workers to negotiate for just wages, benefits and better working conditions, and to look after the rights of vulnerable workers…

The letter was exactly what the workers needed to take courage and exercise their rights. The workers voted 110 to 103 to form a union and join UNITE HERE Local 2. Congratulations to the Ritz-Carlton workers, and please pray for their speedy success in winning a just contract!

To read Fr. Corral’s letter in its entirety, CLICK HERE.

Catholic Labor Network holds synod listening sessions for workers, allies

As you may know, Pope Francis has put the Church in “listening mode” in preparation for a worldwide gathering or “synod” of Bishops in 2023. Perhaps your parish has held a “listening session” about the challenges facing the Church and about how the Spirit is moving among us today. At the invitation of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, national Catholic organizations like the Catholic Labor Network were also invited to participate in this process.

We answered the call by organizing five synod listening sessions conducted via zoom – including one special listening session exclusively for Catholic union members, and another specifically for priests and religious active in ministering to workers. Facilitated by Jeff Korgen of Korgen Associates, the listening sessions sought to discern how the Church is responding to workers in the current day.

A number of common themes emerged from the discussions Read more