U.S. Bishops on Labor Day: Defend the dignity of workers and pay them a just wage.

Good jobs and decent wages lead to stronger families, which leads to peaceful and stable societies, and Catholics have an obligation to provide assistance to those struggling financially while simultaneously urging their lawmakers to enact just employment laws.

That’s the message U.S. bishops are promulgating in their annual Labor Day statement, in which they also bemoan empty political promises and the lack of opportunity for middle and low-income Americans.

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“Millions of families still find themselves living in poverty, unable to work their way out,” says the letter, written by Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, in anticipation of the Sept. 5 holiday.

A lack of opportunity, it continues, has contributed to the breakdown of family life, often at the hands of divorce and substance abuse.

“The Rust Belt region now appears to have the highest concentration in the nation of drug-related deaths, including from overdoses of heroin and prescription drugs,” it says.

With the presidential election now about 12 weeks away, the letter takes aim at politicians for trying “to divide as a means to gain support.”

“When our leaders ought to be calling us toward a vision of the common good that lifts the human spirit and seeks to soothe our tendencies toward fear, we find our insecurities exploited as a means to further partisan agendas,” it says.  

“Our leaders must never use anxiety as a means to manipulate persons in desperate situations, or to pit one group of persons against another for political gain,” it continues. “For our dynamics to change, we must replace fear with a fuller vision that can be powerfully supported by our faith.”

The letter makes just passing reference to labor unions, calling them “imperfect” but conceding that they “remain an essential part of the effort, and people of faith and goodwill can be powerful leaven to ensure that these groups, so important in society, continue to keep human dignity at the heart of their efforts.”

The Catholic Church has historically been one of the stronger supporters of labor unions in the United States, though that fervor has seemed to wane in recent years.

For example, after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that adjunct faculty members had the right to organize, some Catholic universities fought unionization efforts on their campuses, citing religious freedom concerns.

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Just this week, the N.L.R.B. ruled that graduate students who teach classes also have the right to organize, which could launch more battles on Catholic campuses.

Still, some prominent Catholic leaders remain supportive of unions.

Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich, for instance, spoke to the Chicago Federation of Labor last September, as Republican leaders in Illinois work to enact “right to work laws” that critics say weaken worker protections and to dismantle the state’s very powerful public-sector unions.

“I have come today to tell Chicago workers the Catholic Church is with you,” Cupich told the crowd.

“Lawmakers and others may see it differently, but history has shown that a society with a healthy, effective and responsible labor movement is a better place than one where other powerful economic interests have their way and the voices and rights of workers are diminished,” he continued.

About half of all Americans hold a favorable view of labor unions, the Pew Research Center found in 2015, a number that’s remained stable in recent decades. But the number of people in private and public-sector unions has plummeted since the 1980s.

In 1983, one in five U.S. workers belonged to a union. By 2014, that number had fallen to about one in 10.

The church is not immune to wider trends, either.

According to a new report by the Catholic Labor Network, about 500 Catholic workplaces in the country are unionized.

That number represents a relatively low share of the total number of Catholic institutions in the United States, since there are some 6,800 schools, 630 hospitals and more than 240 colleges and universities.

The vast majority of unionized workers are in three distinct fields: health care, K-12 education and college education, with a smaller cluster in social services and other service professions.

“Catholic social teaching endorses the right of workers to form labor unions and calls upon labor and management to establish cooperative relationships to advance their craft and the common good,” said Clayton Sinyai, the report’s author, in “The ‘Gaudium et Spes’ Labor Report,” issued in mid-August.

Archbishop Wenski’s letter highlights the church’s teachings on solidarity and subsidiary, the notion that solutions to societal problems should begin at the local level, laying out steps Catholics can take to support better labor opportunities.

At the local level, that means offering those struggling with finding employment “food, money, counsel, friendship, spiritual support or other forms of love and kindness.”

The letter also reminds employers to treat workers fairly.

“If you are an employer, you are called to respect the dignity of your workers through a just wage and working conditions that allow for a secure family life,” it says.

Zooming out, the letter urges Catholics to work in the political sphere to “advocate for jobs and wages that truly provide a dignified life for individuals and their families, and for working conditions that are safe and allow for a full flourishing of life outside of the workplace.”

Last year, Archbishop Wenski and Sister Donna Markham, president of Catholic Charities USA, wrote to federal lawmakers urging an increase in the federal minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 per hour.

Material from the Catholic News Service was used in this report. Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.

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William Rydberg
1 year 2 months ago
It's seems really extraordinary reading an article in this magazine in my opinion about social justice and American working class people as well as the unemployed (many have given up looking, hence are excluded from the official statistics). There was once a time, that in a Jesuit Magazine, the challenging everyday concerns of ordinary Americans was regularly spoken about. Now it seems that the Bishop's Statement is almost an anachronism. Let's face it the concerns enumerated in the pages of America, would not be out of place at a Georgetown colloquium. Which run to Elite concerns revolving around posturing at the Family Synod, discussion of changes to Holy Orders. Along with a smattering of subjects that have included the "ordinariness" and raw "humanity" of the BVM. Not much discussion about the potential ill effects of TPP to government's ability to regulate work, and the handing over of working people's rights to corporations. No scholarly analysis from a social justice perspective-at least not much in my opinion... Seems that in my opinion, that there is a deafness to Pope Francis, and his concerns about working people, the profit motive and Catholic fairness. Anyhow, nice to read at least one article on the subject.... Not telling tales out of school, one only needs to scan the last 12 months of subject matter and compare concerns to secular publications like People magazine, or even the New York Times.... Just my opinion, in Christ
Lena Dalvi
1 year 2 months ago
I personally oppose the unions. The hierarchy of the union bosses to me is very similar to communism where the very top enjoys the benefits of the working class mass. I must agree that at one time the employees benefited from the protection of the Union, now the 1% top layer of the union bosses enjoy the political power they flex. The ranking file pays their dues and have no say who they want their contributions or donations to support. The Union bosses hire thugs to bully corporation and the public to get what they want and have become violent. Is this what the Catholic Church want to support and bless? I should think the church should and must do some serious investigation before they render their support to any Union. I'm in serious conflict with my church and my faith in this area. I've seen first hand what the Union members can do and are willing to do outside Walmart. It is a disgrace and borderline against the law.
William Rydberg
1 year 2 months ago
I would check out what TPP actually is because it was an agreement paid for by multinational corporations crafted in secret (Note: that is secret FROM the general public, for it is clear as day for those that crafted it). Its really bad news in the long run for future governments AND small corporations and local entrepreneurs And Ordinary non-Unionized workers And also Unionized workers. It a power grab in my opinion. It's democracy handing over sovereignty to the multinationals. Don't know where you are getting your information about Union thugs. If only the Jesuit Fathers who run this Magazine would put down their cucumber sandwiches and speak to these issues from a Catholic Social Justice perspective. Sadly, in my opinion, even the Catholic Universities are not much better in my opinion. So cocooned in multinational corporate donations. So sad...in my opinion... Think of your kids rights. in Christ, who was an ordinary workman...
Joseph Guiltinan
1 year 2 months ago
The union bosses hire thugs and get what they want by bullying people? What decade do you live in?
Chuck Kotlarz
1 year 2 months ago
The link below shows the average household will earn nearly $7,000 more in a union state ($56,266 vs $49,414). http://politicsthatwork.com/graphs/union-membership-income
L J
1 year 2 months ago
I particularly appreciate the paragraph where it decries partisan attacks, pitting one group against another. == "When our leaders ought to be calling us toward a vision of the common good that lifts the human spirit and seeks to soothe our tendencies toward fear, we find our insecurities exploited as a means to further partisan agendas,” it says. “Our leaders must never use anxiety as a means to manipulate persons in desperate situations, or to pit one group of persons against another for political gain,” it continues. “For our dynamics to change, we must replace fear with a fuller vision that can be powerfully supported by our faith.” === We see it all the time particularly in so called Christian / Catholic periodicals. It is the usual "left" vs "right", republican vs democrat, liberal vs. conservative. It is anti-Christian to be separating people based on such ad hominem pigeon holing. We need to tell our Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative friends to stop debasing their "opponent". For every moment a Left winger attacks a Right winger, and vice versa, they have contributed to our national divide. Stop it. Tell your friends to stop attacking / dividing the masses on their unChristian pigeon holing of traditional vs progressive.
Chuck Kotlarz
1 year 2 months ago
The link below indicates that seventy-five per cent of personal income growth since 1930 has occurred under Democrat presidents. Since 1980, seventy-five per cent of the abortion rate decline has also occurred under democrat presidents. Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, reports, “While the abortion rate is increasing for the poor, it’s gone down for everyone else.” Sister's comment perhaps suggests a link between personal income growth and a falling abortion rate. http://politicsthatwork.com/graphs/personal-income-by-president

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