Full text of Archbishop Cupich’s Address to the Chicago Federation of Labor

On September 17, 2015, Archbishop Blase Cupich addressed the Chicago Federation of Labor. He defined the purpose of the meeting and his speech in his address: “One of my priorities since arriving in Chicago is to build bridges and partnerships. Today, I reach out to leaders of the labor movement and all who are here today. I see this opportunity as the first of many to build on the proud tradition of collaboration and common commitment between Labor and the Church.”

The Catholic Labor Network’s Fr. Sinclair Oubre called the address “… one of the finest labor speech that I have read in a very long time. …it’s message should not be limited to only those labor brothers and sisters in Chicago.”

All are encouraged to read the complete text of this powerful speech: Full text of Archbishop Cupich’s Address to the Chicago Federation of Labor

Labor News – Successes anticipated in minimum wage struggle

Organizers for a minimum wage increase are expecting success at the state and local level due to the fact that most people understand the plight low-wage income Americans. It’s common sense, according to a summary in the National Catholic Reporter (Jan. 6, 2015).

“Everybody wants a good job. Everybody wants to be able to work a full day and come home and spend time with their family, or have a life outside of work,” said Sara Niccoli, executive director of Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State. The coalition’s Faith for a Fair New York project mobilizes faith leaders to work for economic justice.

“These are very common goals that we all share, and when we talk about them, all of a sudden, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, city or country, we all basically agree.”

Of course there are divides and in New York State, the urban-rural divide is real. “If it were just upstate,” Niccoli said, “we’d be a red state.” She went on to say, “When we last passed a wage increase [in 2013], over 80 percent of New Yorkers supported it. Republicans, Democrats, men, women, across the age spectrum. And 80 percent of New Yorkers don’t agree on anything!”

For the entire NCR article, click here.

The effects of inequality

An opinion column in the Dec. 14 edition of the New York Times posits that the current protest demonstrations over the police killing of unarmed African American civilians and income inequality are linked.

The writer Mark Bittman, states in part, “The root of the anger is inequality, about which statistics are mind-boggling: From 2009 to 2012 (that’s the most recent data), some 95 percent of new income has gone to the top 1 percent; the Walton family (owners of Walmart) have as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the country’s people combined; and “income mobility” now describes how the rich get richer while the poor … actually get poorer.”

Bittman cites the $15 an-hour minimum wage movement and the right to organize a union and refers to Rev. Dr. William Barber head of the North Carolina NAACP who the writer quotes “All of these movements”? Yes: The demands of the fast-food workers movement — $15 minimum wage and a union — have helped to unite movements among airport workers, hospital workers, retail workers and more. [see NFPC This Week, #576, 7/27-8/2/2014].


For Mark Bittman’s entire column, “Is it Bad Enough Yet?” click here.

Wealth gap continues to increase

The New York Times (Dec. 13, 2014) citing a Pew Research Center report, noted that the wealth gap between minorities and whites continued even in the midst of an economic recovery.

According to the report, which analyzed data from the Survey of Consumer Finances from the Federal Reserve, the median net worth of white households in 2013 was $141,900, about 13 times that of black households at $11,000. For Hispanics too the gap is relatively large. In 2007, the median net worth of a Hispanic household was $23,600, and in 2013 it was $13,700.

For the entire NY Times report, click here.

For the Pew Research Center statistics, click here.


The other side of the eco-friendly culture: Layoffs and harder work for hotel housekeepers who stay

In encouraging hotel guests to conserve water and electricity, a major hotel chain has made the work of housekeepers harder because rooms tend to be dirtier. According to the Chicago Tribune (Dec. 15. 2014), the Starwood hotel chain has begun a program, which allows guests to decline housekeeping for up to three days, is part of Starwood’s efforts to reduce energy by 30 percent and water consumption by 20 percent by 2020. As an incentive, guests receive a $5 food and beverage voucher or 250 to 500 reward points each night they decline housekeeping. More than 5 million guests have voluntarily participated, “saving more than 223 million gallons of water and 961,000 kilowatts of electricity from 2009 to 2013,” the company said.

The Tribune report notes hotel housekeepers say the program is killing their jobs, their legs, and their backs.  Notes Lucila Chavez, “We are totally exhausted.” She says that housekeepers have been reprimanded for not cleaning rooms fast enough and some have resorted to working through breaks to avoid warnings. Still, she said, there are days when she looks at the clock at 2 p.m. and realizes she won’t finish on time. By comparison, before the program started, she could clean up to 20 rooms in a day because some rooms just needed a light touch.

The program has also led to layoffs. Earlier this month more than two-dozen women and Unite Here organizers marched into lobbies of several Chicago hotels to deliver a letter calling for the program to eliminated — or at least changed to one that doesn’t result in job losses.

For the entire Chicago Tribune report, click here.

Labor News – Jobs recovery hampered by wage disparity

Although the US economy is creating over 200,000 jobs per month, the numbers don’t bear out the fact that wages have not kept pace with inflation, specifically in lower-skilled professions.

According to an article in The Washington Post (Nov. 21, 2014), “Wages haven’t risen hand-in-hand with employment because the labor market isn’t back to full health, economists say. The United States still has enough job-seekers — and job-holders looking for different work — that employers have little incentive to boost wages and compete for talent.”

The report goes on to note that men, especially, are struggling because they have long been the flag-bearers for blue-collar, middle jobs–positions that are harder to find post-recession. Since the depth of the financial crisis in 2009, median weekly wages for full-time men have fallen 3.5 percent (adjusted for inflation), while wages for women have held steady, according to population survey data from the Labor Department.

The report cites the plight of one worker, Thomas Gray, who took a job in one of the nation’s fastest-growing industries, food services, preparing meals for 500 students in a Head Start cafeteria. But after two years of work, his salary had not budged, so his mother came out of retirement and took a job at United Way. Four more years have passed, and Gray is skipping bills to manage his expenses. During that time, his salary has risen 58 cents, to $11.70 per hour. But after taking into account the rising price of goods and services — inflation — he has taken a 6 percent pay cut.

For the entire Washington Post report, click here.


NM chile pickers underpaid

New Mexico chile pickers, chileros, the workers who pick the prized green chiles sold at Albuquerque grocery stores, are not being paid the proper minimum wage, according to a report in the ABQ Free Press. According to a report in the journal, a 2012 survey of 273 farm workers by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty found their average household income to be less than $9,000, well below the $11,670 for a one-person household. That survey found that almost 70 percent of the workers interviewed were victims of wage theft. Wage theft is perpetrated in several ways. Until this year, farm workers were paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 when paid hourly for work like weeding, but they should have been paid New Mexico’s the slightly higher minimum wage of $7.50.

Another concern is that the chileros are not being paid for time waiting in vans for the sun to come up. They can’t work in the dark. “They can’t go anywhere and there’s nothing else for them to do but wait. Their employer brought them to the job site, therefore, their waiting time should be compensable because their workday has already begun.”

Jorge Matien, a 53-year old worker from Ciudad Juarez. Said, “Sometimes we get [to the fields] about 5 (AM) but we need to wait so we can see,” he said. “So we wait one hour, a couple hours.” He added that he’s paid “nothing” for that time. The New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty 2012 study found he’s not alone––95 percent of workers interviewed weren’t paid for their wait time.

SCOTUS hears arguments on pay for time waiting for mandated security checks

The New York Times (Oct. 8, 2014) reported that the US Supreme Court heard arguments on Oct. 8 on whether workers at an Amazon warehouse in Las Vegas must be paid for the time they spend waiting to go through a security screening at the end of the day. Workers say the process meant to prevent theft can take as long as 25 minutes.

According to the Times report there have been 13 class-action suits against Amazon and other companies involving more than 400,000 plaintiffs seeking hundreds of millions of dollars.

The case rests on interpretation of the 1947 “Portal-to-Portal Act” which states that companies need not pay for “preliminary” or “postliminary” activities, meaning ones that take place before and after the workday proper. The Supreme Court interpreted the law in 1956 in Steiner v. Mitchell to require pay only for tasks that are an “integral and indispensable part of the principal activities for which covered workmen are employed.”

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, allowed the Las Vegas case to proceed, saying the screenings were for the company’s benefit and were a necessary part of the workers’ jobs. That was enough, the appeals court said, to make the screenings “integral and indispensable.”

For the entire NY Times report, click here.


Labor News

Jesuit Father James Martin addressed the Catholic Finance Association in New York on Oct. 7. The address appears on the America magazine web site (Oct. 8, 2014). He spoke on the topic of just wages through the prism of Catholic social teaching and in light of the gulf in income between the CEO, the average worker and minimum wage worker. He cites statistics in the US indicating that CEOs “make something like 300 times as much as the average worker, and 700 times that of the minimum-wage earner.”

He ends his remarks with the following question: “What do you want to say to Jesus when you reach the gates of heaven? Do you want to say that you took as much as you can, even as much as the market would bear, because your board okayed it?  Or do you want to say you accepted what you thought was just, and understood the needs of your fellow men and women, who may have worked even harder than you?”

For Fr. Martin’s entire address and comments that follow, click here.

Income inequality a worldwide issue

The term “income inequality” has become, as pointed out by Chicago Tribune columnist, Rex W. Huppke, something of a “term du jour” for those seeking to divide the body politic. In his column, “I Just Work Here” (Sept. 29, 2014), Huppke points to a global study by the University of Thailand and Harvard Business School, which “found that virtually everyone––regardless of political affiliation, age, socioeconomic status. Or level of education––believes CEOs are paid too much when compared with unskilled workers.” “What’s more,” he writes, “people dramatically underestimate actual pay inequality.”

Huppke goes on to note that co-author of the report, Harvard Business School professor, Michael Norton, says, “It was in all the countries in the sample, but even more than that, among people all the way to the left of the political spectrum and all the way to the right, and from people all the way at the bottom of the economic spectrum to all the way to the top of the economic spectrum. Every single group thinks the pay gap is too large.”

The report shows, “that in the United States, CEOs of S&P 500 companies earned an average of $12.3 million a year in 2012. Citing an average worker’s pay as $35,000 per year, the CEO-to-unskilled-worker pay ratio is more than 350 to 1. But American respondents believe that ratio is much smaller, only 30 to 1. And what ratio do Americans think would be ideal? About 7 to 1. That means the actual pay disparity between CEOs and unskilled workers is about 50 times larger than what Americans of all political beliefs and income levels think it should be,” Huppke writes. 

For Rex Huppke’s entire column, click here.