Archives for August 2017

Solidarity and support for farm workers follow death of young laborer

Mass for Honesto Silva Ibarra

Fr. Scott Connolly, pastor of Assumption Parish in Bellingham, Washington, celebrated Mass at a migrant farmworker camp Aug. 8 in Sumas, Washington, with Fr. Francisco Cancino, priest administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Lynden, Washington. (Northwest Catholic/Stephen Brashear)

Editor’s note: The Field Hospital blog reports on parish and other grassroots efforts across the U.S. and Canada to accompany those on the margins. Pope Francis said he sees the church as a “field hospital” that labors “from the ground up” to “heal wounds.”

Nearly 350 people, a large number of them farm workers, took part in an Aug. 14 memorial Mass celebrated by the Seattle Archdiocese’s three bishops for Honesto Silva Ibarra, a 28-year-old agricultural laborer from Mexico who died Aug. 6 after becoming ill picking blueberries at Sarbanand Farms in Sumas, Washington.

The father of three, Ibarra had been complaining of headaches and was taken to a Bellingham, Washington medical clinic on Aug. 3. He was transferred to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he died.

About 70 temporary farm workers were fired when they went on strike over working conditions at Sarbanand after Ibarra’s death.

Federal and state agencies are now investigating. The Consulate of Mexico in Seattle has also become involved, and helped transport Ibarra’s body back to Mexico for burial, it was reported.

“Cliff Woolley, chief administrative officer for California-based Munger Farms, which owns Sarbanand Farms, said the company is cooperating with the agencies,” reported the Bellingham Herald.

“Ibarra was among 600 workers hired by the farm through the federal H-2A program, which allows foreign agricultural workers to work seasonally in the U.S.,” the newspaper added.

Woolley denied workers’ accounts of farm management ignoring their complaints about working conditions, including meals paid for by deductions from their pay, it was reported.

An exacerbating factor mentioned in news reports is the heat wave impacting the Pacific Northwest at that time along with poor air quality resulting from wild fires in British Columbia. Sumas sits on the Canadian border.

“We are very much suffering with this terrible tragedy with the death of Honesto,” Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo said following the Mass at Bellingham’s Assumption Parish, reported Northwest on Aug. 15.

Elizondo told Northwest Catholic reporter Mary Louise Van Dyke that his Spanish-language homily reflected on the plight of farm workers and of Ibarra’s wife and young children in Mexico.

Celebrating with him were Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg and Fr. Scott Connolly, pastor of Assumption.

Connolly had offered Mass at a make-shift camp Aug. 8 in Sumas with Fr. Francisco Cancino, priest administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Lynden, Washington, wrote Van Dyke. Terminated workers had been invited to stay on land owned by a Sumas couple.

Financial, logistical and additional support for the displaced workers and other laborers has come from several sources including Catholic Charities and the archdiocesan Missions and Pastoral Care offices.

Following the Aug. 14 Mass, workers and supporters “sat down to a meal of tamales and rice,” reported Van Dyke.

Worker Oscar Ivan Andrade told the reporter, “I want to thank all the people who helped from my heart. We did not expect all this support.”

“We are going to fight for what is just,” Andrade said. “For the rights of farm workers to be respected.”

[Dan Morris-Young is NCR’s West Coast correspondent. His email is [email protected].]

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Interfaith Worker Justice launches international investigative tour of outsourcing jobs 

Rev. Doug Mork (center) begins IWJ press event with a prayer. NFPC photo

NFPC was in attendance at a press event on Aug. 30 at the Chicago Temple that launched a seven city investigative tour of Nabisco’s parent-company, Mondelez decision to outsource hundreds of well-paying jobs to a new plant in Salinas, Mexico. In the mid-90s Nabisco accepted $90 million in taxpayer subsidies from the working people of Illinois as incentive to keep their production plant in Chicago. Today, Nabisco/Mondelēz is abandoning those same working people who invested in the company two decades ago.

The workers in Mexico will reportedly be paid a $1.00 an hour for the same labor.

Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) is a national faith-based network that builds collective power by advancing the rights of workers through unions, worker centers, and other expressions of the labor movement and by engaging diverse faith communities and allies in joint action, from grassroots organizing to shaping policy at the local, state and national levels. It is based in Chicago.

The press event was facilitated by Rev. Doug Mork, chairman of the IWJ board and lead pastor of Cross of Glory Lutheran Church in Brooklyn Center, MN. He introduced other speakers including Robert G.  Reiter, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, Rev. Dr. James Hunt, founder and pastor of New Hope Christian Church in Monee, IL, Michael Smith, one of the Nabisco 600 who was displaced in the Mondelez outsourcing maneuver in 2016.

The essence of their messages was people before profits, a cessation of exploiting workers, and a stand against corporate greed.

Catholic leadership on the IWJ board includes Albany Bishop-emeritus Howard Hubbard, vice-chairman, and Dr. Joseph McCartin, executive director of the Kalmanowitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University and associate professor of History at Georgetown.

The decline of unions is part of a bad 50 years for American workers

Workers at an embroidery factory (iStock/andresr)Workers at an embroidery factory (iStock/andresr)

The current imbalance between supply and demand in the labor force should be good news for American workers still waiting to see a few extra bucks in their pockets after decades of income stagnation. Unfortunately, the nation’s 4.3 percent unemployment rate is not translating into fatter paychecks. Wages for most U.S. workers are still stagnant. In a tightening labor market, people are essentially working for less money than they did in the 1970s, at least when inflation is taken into account. What is going wrong?

According to some economists, part of the downward pressure on wages comes from the vast reserve of workers who, despite that low official rate of unemployment, remain on the sidelines of the formal economy. These discouraged workers are no longer tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics because of their long absence from the labor force, but many are still competing for full-time jobs. At the same time, mismatches between skills and job openings, as well as less direct effects on employment capacity (like the nation’s opioid epidemic), are keeping many U.S. workers from jobs with good wages.

But there are deeper issues that contribute to the withering of worker income and to destructive inequities in wealth distribution. The long-term decline of organized labor surely has had an impact. (See infographics on page 14.) In the not-too-distant past, organized labor could produce sizable ripple effects beyond its membership. Even nonunion workers benefited when organized labor pushed wages higher or scored improved job benefits or working conditions. Labor’s decline, in fact, just about matches up to the swan dive of middle-class income in the United States since the 1970s.

Worker productivity has steadily increased, but wages (and, not coincidentally, union membership) have been stagnant.

In the public sector, with 34.4 percent of workers represented by a union, organized labor is an embattled, if stubborn presence. But in the private sector, unions have essentially been eradicated. Nationally, organized labor represents just 6.4 percent of the workforce.

Without organized labor on the watch, upper management has claimed an increasing share of national income. In 1965, corporate C.E.O.s could anticipate earning 20 times more than one of their line workers; now, after peaking at 376 to 1 in 2000, that ratio is an astonishing 271 to 1. From 1978 to 2014, top management compensation increased by just under 1,000 percent—double the stock market’s growth and about 10 times the compensation growth experienced by workers over the same period. Class warfare indeed.

Union membership is now common only among public-sector workers.

Catholic social teaching has wrestled with such inequities in a number of ways, among them by calling for a just wage and a preferential option for the poor as mechanisms for mitigating imbalances, and even challenging the notion of private wealth itself with the concept of the universal destination of goods—under which, as St. John Paul II said, property “must always serve the needs of peoples.” But rarely has economic inequity been challenged as directly as it has been by Pope Francis. In “The Joy of the Gospel” he wrote: “Inequality is the root of social ills” (No. 202). In a 2013 speech at the Vatican, the pope targeted disparity as a “new, invisible…tyranny…which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules.”

He is right to be concerned.

Concentration of wealth is quickly followed by outsized political clout, closing a circuit that only exacerbates economic inequities. Because of this confluence of wealth and power, tax, spending and labor policies that favor the already wealthy become codified in Washington and state capitals around the nation. Among them has been so-called right-to-work legislation.

That legislative model is now being applied at the federal level. The National Right-to-Work Act, introduced most recently in Congress in February, has been gaining co-sponsors.

The president’s signature on a national right-to-work law could be the coup de grace for organized labor in the United States, a loss that will accelerate the wealth inequity that is already proving economically and socially ruinous.

Hurricane Harvey devastates Galveston-Houston Archdiocese

Calling for prayers and solidarity with all those impacted by Hurricane Harvey, Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated in part,  “The effects of this storm continue to put people in harm’s way, with horrific scenes playing out all around, such as those of people trapped on their rooftops as water continues to rise around them. Many dioceses of the Church in the United States have been affected; many others will be as the storm continues.”

He went on the say, “The USCCB is working closely with affected local dioceses, Catholic Charities USA and St. Vincent de Paul, along with other relief organizations, to assess the needs on the ground. In the next couple of days, we will share more about the best ways to assist those in the Gulf region with material needs based on the latest information.”

Catholic Charities USA already is taking monetary donations on its website:

For the USCCB News Release, click here.

For the Catholic News Service (Aug. 28, 2017) report, click here.

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NFPC This Week, #722 – 8/20/-8/26/2017

Of Note This Week –

Father Ron Rolheiser writes annual column on suicide

Every year Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI writes a column on suicide, “hoping it might help produce more understanding around the issue and, in a small way perhaps, offer some consolation to those who have lost a loved one in this way.”

In this year’s essay he begins by reflecting on the death in 2016 of Father Virgilio Elizondo.  Fr. Elizondo was not only “just a very gifted, pioneering theologian, he was also a beloved priest and a warm, trusted friend to countless people,” Fr. Rolheiser writes. “Sadly,” he continues, “and this is generally the case when anyone dies by suicide, the manner of that death becomes a prism through which his or her life and work are now seen, colored, and permanently tainted.”

Father Ron then lists a number of points that need to be said again and again about suicide. A link to his very informative column is below. As ministers his words are important to heed.

Father Rolheiser is president of Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. He received NFPC’s 2016 Touchstone Award. Fr. Elizondo received NFPCs Touchstone Award in 1992.

For Fr. Rolheiser’s entire column, click here.

Guest House names new president and CEO

Jeff Henrich. Photo courtesy of Guest House.

Guest House announced Jeff Henrich, MA, LAADC, is its new President and Chief Executive Officer. According to a press release, Henrich as served as Executive Director of the Guest House Men’s Program in Rochester, Minnesota, from 2011 to 2014; and prior to that time, as a counselor and Assistant Director of the Men’s Program. Returning to Guest House from his most recent position as Program Director of Champion Center, a former 80-bed chemical dependency treatment facility in California, Henrich brings leadership and a passion for recovery and the Guest House ministry.

For the entire Guest House Press Release (Aug. 14, 2017), click here.

Vatican II liturgy reforms irreversible: Pope Francis

In speaking to a group of Italian liturgical experts on Aug. 24, Pope Francis said. “We can affirm with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.”

According to a posting on the Crux web site (Aug. 24, 2017), the declaration came in a speech on Thursday to Italy’s “Center of Liturgical Action,” which sponsors an annual National Liturgical Week.

By “liturgical reform,” Pope Francis meant the changes in Catholic rituals and modes of worship, which followed from Vatican II, the most immediately visible elements of which included Mass facing the congregation, the use of vernacular languages, and a stronger emphasis on the “full, conscious and active” participation of the people.

For the Crux report, click here.

For the America magazine (Aug. 24, 2017), click here.

For the Vatican Radio (Aug. 24, 2017) report, click here.