Pope vows to eliminate temp labor at Vatican

/ Catholic Labor Network

Every year, before the holidays, Pope Francis gathers the Vatican’s lay employees and their families to honor their service. He gives a short address praising their work and offering spiritual and temporal guidance for the year to come. This year, though, he also veered into a conversation about temporary workers. The Holy Father, who frequently preaches that workers deserve secure and dignified employment, had learned from one of the career employees that the Vatican itself employed temporary workers, and this concerned and alarmed him.

The Pope did not seem to be referring to temp workers in the American sense (i.e. workers obtained from temp agencies) but the Italian one. Under Italian law, workers who have passed a probation period have considerable employment security – and employers seeking to evade this obligation often choose to employ “temporary” workers on fixed, short-term contracts shorter than the probation period. Francis vowed to eliminate the practice in the Vatican as a matter of conscience.

The other day I had a meeting with Cardinal Marx, who is the President of the Council of the Economy, and with Monsignor Ferme, the Secretary, and I said: “I don’t want illegal work in the Vatican.” I apologize if this still exists…It’s a problem of conscience for me, because we can’t teach the Social Doctrine of the Church and then do these things that aren’t right.

Thank you, Francis, for affirming that employment is not just a matter of economics or even of law, but of conscience. You can read the Holy Father’s full remarks HERE.

Pope: For Christians, work is more than an occupation, it’s a mission

Pope Francis at the General Audience Oct. 11, 2017. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
.- In a letter for the conclusion of a conference on labor on Friday, Pope Francis said work is about more than just doing something for money, but about cooperating with Christ’s work of redemption in how we care for others and the earth.

“According to Christian tradition, (work) is more than a mere doing; it is, above all, a mission,” the Pope said Nov. 24.

“We collaborate with the creative work of God when, through our work, we cultivate and preserve creation; we participate, in the Spirit of Jesus, in his redemptive mission, when by our activity we give sustenance to our families and respond to the needs of our neighbor.”

Jesus of Nazareth, who spent most of his life working as a carpenter, “invites us to follow in his footsteps through work,” he continued. This way, in the words of St. Ambrose, “every worker is the hand of Christ who continues to create and to do good.”

Pope Francis sent the letter for the conclusion of a Nov. 23-24 international conference at the Vatican on work and worker’s movements, and how these are at the heart of sustainable and integral human development.

At the same time that we consider the value of work, the Pope stressed the importance of not exaggerating the “mystical” side of work, as observed by Pope Paul VI. The person “is not just work,” Francis said. “There are other human needs that we must cultivate and consider, such as family, friends, and rest.”

This is why, he stated, it is important to remember that work must always serve the human person, and not the other way around. Therefore, “we must question the structures that damage or exploit people, families, the companies and our mother earth,” he said.

In the letter, the Pope decried the utilitarian attitude faced by many workers, who in their struggle for just work, have been forced to accept the presence of a utilitarian mentality which does not care if there is excess waste, “social and environmental degradation,” forced child labor, or pollution.

“Everything is justified by the money god,” Francis said, noting however that many of the people who participated in the conference have contributed to the fight against utilitarianism in the past and are “well positioned to correct it in the future.”

“Please address this difficult subject and show us, according to your prophetic and creative mission, that a culture of encounter and care is possible,” he said.

Drawing a connection between the three topics of time, work and technology, the Pope criticized the constant intensification of a rapid pace of both work and life, saying it is unfavorable for sustainable development.

Technology as well, which we receive many benefits and opportunities from, can also hinder sustainable development when “it is associated with a paradigm of power, dominance, and manipulation,” he said.

To talk about development in a fruitful way, we must start from what we have in common, he said, which is: our origin, our belonging and our destination. “On this basis, we can renew the universal solidarity of all people, including solidarity with the people of tomorrow.”

“We will also be able to find a way out of a marketplace and monetary economy that does not give work the value it is due, and move it towards another in which human activity is the center.”

Communion, not competition, is key to job growth, pope says

Communion, not competition, is key to job growth, pope says

In this file photo, Pope Francis smiles during an audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican. (Credit: Claudio Peri/EPA via CNS.)

Pope Francis says the economy is part of human life, not some autonomous machine, and so it must be regulated either by governments or by input from people who know that making money is not the highest human value. “In the world of work, communion must be victorious over competition,” he said.

ROME – Working for economic growth based on increased consumption without concern for creating dignified jobs and protecting the environment “is a bit like riding a bicycle with a flat tire: It’s dangerous,” Pope Francis said.

The dignity of workers and the health of the environment “are mortified when workers are just a line on a balance sheet, when the cries of the discarded are ignored,” he said Oct. 26 in a video message.

Addressing participants at a week-long Italian conference on Catholic social teaching, Francis noted how many people in the Bible are defined by their work: Sowers, harvesters, vine dressers, fishers, shepherds and carpenters, like St. Joseph.

Work can give people dignity by allowing them to use their talents to support themselves and their families and contribute to society, the pope said. But “there are jobs that humiliate human dignity” like prostitution and child labor or “offend the worker’s dignity,” like jobs that pay under the table, offer only a series of temporary contracts or do not pay enough attention to worker safety.

“This is immoral,” the pope said. “This kills. It kills dignity, kills health, kills the family, kills society.”

Francis noted that Catholic social teaching formally began in 1891 with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical “Rerum Novarum,” which he said was written to “defend workers” from exploitation and to combat child labor, 12-hour workdays and poor working conditions in factories.

The Church’s concern for workers continues today, he said, and extends to those without work, those who are so discouraged they have stopped looking for a job, those who are underemployed and those who live in fear of losing their jobs.

The economy is part of human life, not some autonomous machine, and so it must be regulated either by governments or by input from people who know that making money is not the highest human value, he said.

“In the world of work, communion must be victorious over competition,” he said. Owners have a responsibility to invest in their workers and workers have a responsibility to do their best to make that investment pay off.

And, he said, governments have a role to play as well. Using the example of taking bids for public works, Francis said governments cannot focus only on getting the lowest bid “without taking into account the dignity of labor as well as the environmental and fiscal responsibility of the company.”

Francis revives the workers’ church

The Catholic Church in America—once an ally of workers and their unions—grew deferential to big money in recent decades. Now, prompted by the Pope, a new generation of labor priests and bishops is trying to change that.

John Gehring,    The American Prospect  October 23, 2017
This article appears in the Fall 2017 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here

Jorge Ramirez still remembers his Mexican immigrant father coming home with a bloody face after trying to organize his fellow workers in the Back of the Yards, a storied industrial area in Chicago. “My mom would stitch him up in the kitchen,” says Ramirez, 46, now the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. “It was brutal, but we always had the Catholic Church. There was always a Catholic priest around.”

As unions face an increasingly hostile political climate and grapple with fresh approaches to becoming relevant to a new generation, there are signs that an old ally is once again stepping up. The Catholic Church, which has an imperfect but long history of using its institutional muscle and moral voice to defend workers’ rights, is getting a serious pep talk from a pope who has put labor rights back at the forefront of the Church’s public agenda.

Unions are “prophetic” institutions that “unmask the powerful who trample the rights of the most vulnerable workers,” Pope Francis said in a June speech to the Confederation of Trade Unions, Italy’s equivalent of the AFL-CIO. While conservative politicians, corporate leaders, and well-funded organizations on the right have spent decades trying to dismantle the labor movement, Francis recognizes that what he calls the “dictatorship of an impersonal economy” is the result of an ideology that demonizes unions, worships individualism, and champions unfettered markets. “The capitalism of our time does not understand the value of the trade union because it has forgotten the social nature of the economy,” he said. “This is one of the greatest sins.”

American union leaders have been energized by this unexpected boost from one of the world’s most popular and influential religious leaders. The shout-outs from a pope with a global bully pulpit are not only symbolically potent. There are tangible signs of a “Francis effect” on the Church’s relationship with the American labor movement. When Ramirez of the Chicago Federation of Labor first met the new archbishop whom Pope Francis appointed to the Chicago archdiocese in 2014, it didn’t take long for Cardinal Blase Cupich to express his commitment to workers. In a major address at Plumbers Union Hall on the city’s west side two years ago, Cupich delivered a clear message. “I have come today to tell Chicago workers: The Catholic Church is with you. Pope Francis is with you. I am with you,” Cupich said.

International Longshoremen’s Association/AFL-CIO
On the Waterfront: Longshoremen’s union official Michael Vigneron with Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark

Nor did the cardinal stop there. He specifically took aim at “right to work” laws, arguing that the Church is “duty-bound to challenge such efforts.” He also made clear that the Church has “never made a distinction between private and public sectors,” a critical point as public-sector unions are frequently targeted by conservative opponents both inside and outside the Church.

For Ramirez, with his childhood memories of Catholic clergy standing up for his father, the speech struck a nerve. “Workers are so hungry for this message,” he says. “It resonates because it shows the Church is in touch with workers, and that the Church hears them and has the courage to speak out.” Ramirez notes that the Chicago Federation of Labor, which represents 300 unions and has more than 500,000 members, is reaffirming a project labor agreement with the Chicago archdiocese that ensures union labor is used on construction projects. The Chicago archdiocese, which employs 15,000 full- and part-time workers, also honors picket lines and encourages priests to support the labor movement.

Union leaders beyond Chicago are also buzzing about the new climate. Damon Silvers, policy director at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, admits he was surprised when Catholic scholars and advocates began reaching out to the federation after the Pope’s election in 2013. Silvers knew about the Church’s role in labor history, including Pope John Paul II’s support for the solidarity movement in Poland, but he wasn’t used to Catholic leaders beating down his door. The election of the first pope from Latin America was a game-changer.

“Pope Francis set the tone,” Silvers says. “The dignity of work really matters to him. Both the labor movement and the Church are remembering again that Catholic social teaching is one of the fundamental principles of the American labor movement.” Catholic immigrants from Europe found a refuge and an advocate in the Church and unions a century ago. Today Latino immigrants, a large percentage of them Catholic, make up a significant share of workers trying to climb up from the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Silvers recognizes not only the historical parallel, but a potential template for the future. “The labor movement needs a larger ecosystem to grow and thrive,” he says. “A critical part of that ecosystem is the Catholic Church. We have to be embedded in the lives of working people in a multidimensional way and have a connection to the spiritual life of its members. There is a deeper thing here we’re trying to do as a movement. People are not simply the sum of their economic parts. Workers are not a commodity. The Church at its best is trying to help people live as something more than a thing. In that sense, the Church and labor need each other because we’re engaged in a common project.”

Behind-the-scenes conversations between the AFL-CIO and Catholic leaders led to a high-profile conference at the union’s headquarters a few months before Pope Francis’s 2015 visit to the United States. More than a dozen Catholic bishops and cardinals—several of them close advisers to Pope Francis—took part in public dialogues around the theme “Erroneous Autonomy: A Conversation on Solidarity and Faith.” It was the first time in recent years that a number of Catholic heavyweights, including a cardinal, spoke at the federation’s headquarters. In a keynote speech, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington cited a “renewal of appreciation” for the “Catholic idea of solidarity.” He told labor leaders in the audience that the church cannot be “bystanders” in the fight for workers’ rights and referred to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka as “our president.” A Catholic and the son of a coal miner from southwestern Pennsylvania, Trumka spoke in glowing terms about the Pope. “Part of the greatness of Pope Francis is that he sees everyone,” Trumka said. “And in seeing those who are excluded and suffering, he lifts all of us up so we can see and hear each other.”

Stephen Schneck, the recently retired director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, played a leading role in bringing AFL-CIO officials and the Catholic hierarchy together in recent years. “The picture of all those bishops standing with union leaders was amazing,” he said. “The optics sent a powerful message.”

When Pope Francis addressed the second Popular Movements event in Bolivia in 2015, he almost sounded like a fiery union agitator.

Mary Kay Henry grew up immersed in an environment where the priests, nuns, and lay Catholics in the pews at Holy Name parish in the suburbs of Detroit viewed the dignity of work as central to their faith. The president of the Service Employees International Union, Henry made her way through an eclectic gathering of faith-based organizers, union leaders, and Catholic bishops during a February meeting of “Popular Movements” in Modesto, California. Pope Francis had inspired the meeting as part of the World Meeting of Popular Movements, which he launched in 2014. Held in Rome, the first event brought together activists from five continents: migrants, landless peasants, indigenous leaders, and representatives from trade unions. The themes of tierra, trabajo, and techo (land, labor, and housing) structured the original gathering and have remained the guiding focus during subsequent events. When Pope Francis addressed the second Popular Movements event in Bolivia in 2015, he almost sounded like a fiery union agitator. “The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers, and the elites,” he said. “It is fundamentally in the hands of people and in their ability to organize.”

In Modesto, Henry chatted up a Vatican cardinal close to Pope Francis, briefing him about the Fight for 15 movement to raise wages of low-income workers, and told Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez she wanted to bring the union’s home health-care workers and janitors into closer dialogue with the church. More than half of SEIU members are Catholics, union officials estimate. “I’ve always felt the power of faith is key to any breakthrough that working people have made,” Henry told me. “I’m a Catholic, and my first experiences with solidarity came from the church and my family.” Several SEIU organizers and workers in the union visited the Vatican in 2015 for a round of meetings with church officials. Topics included the Fight for 15 movement, immigration reform, and mass incarceration.

“Pope Francis is really opening a space for those toiling in the vineyard to rise up,” Henry says. “The way he talks about economic inequality and links that to racism and care for the common home of our environment really affirms so much of what we’ve been fighting for over the years.”

One of the most significant ways a pope can steer the massive ocean liner that is the Catholic Church in a direction that reflects his priorities is through the bishops he appoints. In the United States, several Francis picks are emerging as strong allies of the labor movement. Cardinal Joe Tobin in Newark can bench-press more than 200 pounds, has the sturdy frame of a dock worker, and is at home at union events. This summer, he celebrated mass on the waterfront with members of the International Longshoremen’s Association who work for the Port of New York and New Jersey. The cardinal was also one of the keynote speakers at the New Jersey state AFL-CIO meeting in June held at Harrah’s casino in Atlantic City. He’s also been a vocal critic of President Trump’s aggressive immigration orders, calling them “the opposite of what it means to be an American.”

AP Photo/David Goldman

In a keynote speech at the AFL-CIO headquarters in 2015, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington told labor leaders that the church cannot be “bystanders” in the fight for workers’ rights. Here, Wuerl stands with Pope Francis following a mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

In Kentucky, Lexington Bishop John Stowe blasted his state’s right-to-work push in January. Strong labor unions, the bishop wrote in an open letter, “lead to more fair negotiations which benefit all workers in the state. The weakening of unions by so-called ‘right to work’ laws has been shown to reduce wages and benefits overall in the states where such laws have been enacted. This cannot be seen as contributing to the common good.”

Another sign that Catholic leaders are redoubling their efforts on worker justice issues is a project to create a new generation of “labor priests.” From the 1920s through the 1960s, clergy who stood with and advocated for workers were a central part of the labor movement. Priests ran labor training schools, often in parish halls, where workers learned about the minutiae of collective bargaining and the principles of Catholic social teaching. Reverend Clete Kiley, a Chicago priest and director for immigration policy at UNITE HERE, which represents more than 270,000 workers in the hotel, gaming, food service, laundry, and airport industries, is determined to revive that tradition. He launched a labor priest initiative in 2012, a loose network of more than 100 priests across the country who are trained to support workers through the framework of Catholic social justice. About half of the priests are immigrants. Most are under 40 years old. “Priests who work in immigrant communities are asking themselves what is happening to my parishioners when they go to work,” says Kiley, who is also chaplain for the Chicago Federation of Labor. “They hear about wage theft and unsafe working conditions. Some of the most egregious violations are against immigrants.”

Clergy receive training and opportunities to network at workshops hosted in different cities. Along with learning about Catholic teaching on labor, the clergy often hear directly from workers attempting to unionize. At one gathering last year, workers from several Las Vegas casinos shared their experiences about efforts to form a union.

During a recent visit to Owensboro, Kentucky, Kiley heard from priests who have watched well-paying factory jobs with solid benefits vanish from their communities, to be replaced by low-wage work with little security. Some clergy who are new to labor issues, especially in the South, can be skittish about speaking out. Kiley doesn’t force things. “I don’t start off talking about unions,” he says. “I talk about workers and their rights.”

The golden era between the Church and labor in the United States lasted roughly from the end of World War I to the late 1950s.

The golden era between the Church and labor in the United States lasted roughly from the end of World War I to the late 1950s. Inspired by Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical on labor and capital, Reverend John Ryan, a priest from Minnesota, became a nationally prominent social reformer whose writing and advocacy on behalf of living wages for workers later helped mold Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Ryan drafted a bold 1919 statement, the Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction, that put moral weight behind what were then radical social reforms: a minimum wage, public housing for workers, and unemployment insurance. During the Great Depression, a generation of priests who had firsthand experiences with injustice and poverty came of age in an immigrant church that reflected a working-class ethic.

In the postwar decades, this sensibility began to shift as American Catholics grew wealthier, moved out of urban enclaves, and the church came to reflect the upwardly mobile aspirations of its parishioners, according to Joseph McCartin, a Georgetown University history professor and director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. To be sure, caught up in the social activism of the 1960s and the spirit of Vatican II, Catholic leaders marched with Cesar Chavez behind banners of Our Lady of Guadalupe during grape boycotts organized by the United Farm Workers—and the U.S. Bishops’ Conference called efforts to bust unions “an intolerable attack on social solidarity” in a major 1986 economic justice national letter.

But McCartin points to well-funded efforts on the right in more recent years that have created a formidable counterweight to traditional church teaching on the economy and unions. “There have always been elements in the church that have not looked fondly on labor, but what is different now is the vast wealth pushing those points of view,” he says. The business school at Catholic University of America, McCartin notes, has accepted nearly $13 million from the Charles Koch Foundation over the last several years, despite the Koch brothers’ abysmal track record of labor violations, toxic chemical spills, and funding of anti-union campaigns. In October, Catholic University’s business school is hosting a $2,500-per-person conference called “Good Profit,” featuring Charles Koch. Another well-funded foe of the labor movement is the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, led by a Catholic priest, Reverend Robert Sirico. Acton has benefited from the Koch Foundation and the Christian conservative DeVos family, the billionaire heirs to the Amway fortune who have bankrolled anti-union efforts in Michigan.

The boards of trustees at Catholic universities are also often populated by wealthy CEOs and business leaders who made their fortunes in private equity. “Many of these people are in the top 1 percent and they profited from and helped lead the transformation in our economy that benefited the wealthiest few,” McCartin says. “Many college presidents have boards who say, ‘Why should we deal with unions?’ In their own businesses, they don’t deal with unions.”

While some Catholic universities such as Georgetown have unionized janitors, food service workers, and adjunct professors, a number have aggressively resisted organizing drives by citing religious freedom arguments. Gerald Beyer, a Christian ethicist at Villanova University and Donald Carroll, an adjunct professor of law at the University of San Francisco, challenge that posture as blatant hypocrisy. “By deterring unionization efforts, universities violate adjuncts’ ability to live out Catholic teaching,” they wrote in the National Catholic Reporter.

BEYOND HIS VOCAL SUPPORT for the role of unions, the Pope is striking at the heart of neoliberal economics and market fundamentalism in ways that make some well-heeled donors in Catholic circles jittery. After Francis wrote an encyclical that blasted trickle-down economics, questioned “the absolute autonomy of markets,” and said that poverty would never be addressed without “attacking the structural causes of inequality,” the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot complained to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan (not one of Pope Francis’s appointees). Ken Langone, who spearheaded a $180 million restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, confided to the cardinal that one of his wealthy friends was so upset by the Pope’s words that he was considering pocketing his contribution to the renovation. Cardinal Dolan told CNBC that he would assure the reluctant donor that he was “misunderstanding” Francis. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “The Pope’s Case for Virtuous Capitalism,” Dolan offered a much sunnier assessment of 21st-century capitalism than the pope has. The free market, the cardinal wrote, “has undoubtedly led to a tremendous increase in overall wealth and well-being around the world.” He argued it was a mistake to “reject economic liberty in favor of government control.” When Larry Kudlow, a CNBC commentator who had questioned the Pope’s understanding of capitalism, tweeted that he helped Dolan with the op-ed, the optics were awkward, to say the least.


L’Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP

The White Hat and the Hard Hats: Pope Francis meets with workers in Genoa.

Some wealthy Catholics seem content to blatantly co-opt and deliberately misconstrue the Pope’s words. John and Carol Saeman, who are active in a network of Catholic business leaders called Legatus, started by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, wrote a head-scratching Washington Post op-ed in 2014 in which they strained to align themselves with Francis. “For us, promoting limited government alongside the Kochs is an important part of heeding Pope Francis’s call to love and serve the poor,” wrote the couple, who are financial contributors to the Koch-backed Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. Every summer, wealthy Catholics active in Legatus and a cadre of the U.S. hierarchy’s more conservative bishops gather at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa Valley, owned by Catholic philanthropist Timothy Busch. The business school at Catholic University is named after Busch, who gave the university $15 million, its largest-ever donation. Busch has called the minimum wage “an anti-market regulation,” cites the Koch brothers as an inspiration, and hosted a conference at the Trump International Hotel in Washington earlier this year where he praised the president for being a staunch “pro-life” leader.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, a leading conservative voice in the hierarchy, acknowledged in a 2014 speech at the Napa retreat that the Pope’s views on economics are likely not in line with many of the Catholic CEOs gathered at the resort. “What Francis says about economic justice may be hard for some of us to hear,” the archbishop said. “So we need to read the Holy Father’s writings for ourselves, without the filter of the mass media. Then we need to open our hearts to what God is telling us through his words.”


FAR FROM NAPA VALLEY, a union leader in Atlantic City often found himself wondering why it was so hard to find Catholic clergy ready to stand with workers fighting against casino bosses who squeezed their employees. Bob McDevitt, the president of UNITE HERE Local 54, started in the union as a 19-year-old bartender’s assistant in the Playboy casino. He now leads a union that has lost 40 percent of its members over the last decade. Five casinos have closed since 2013. He recalls one civil disobedience action with workers at the now shuttered Taj Majal casino. Only one priest showed up, and he came from outside the city.

“From a practical standpoint, if so many people in your pews are in organized labor it doesn’t make sense for the church to be tone-deaf to this experience,” McDevitt says. “I’m not the best Catholic, but I know the church talks all the time about social justice. It’s just a matter of doing what you said should be done.”

Things started to change when a new young pastor, Reverend Jon Thomas, was assigned to McDevitt’s church, the Parish of St. Monica, in 2015. Thomas is part of the labor priest network. The pastor teamed up with McDevitt to plan a special mass dedicated to solidarity with workers. The local bishop fully supported the idea, and while he couldn’t attend because of an illness, his letter was read to the congregation. After the service, Thomas and his parishioners marched down Atlantic Avenue in a procession behind a banner of St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers. It was the kind of visual, public support that showed the church and labor walking side by side. “So many of my parishioners are union members, and they bring their fears of downsizing or losing their jobs to church,” Thomas says. “I need to be involved. I’m trying to make the church relevant to their lives.”


The Pope video 10-2017 – Rights of workers and the unemployed – October 2017

Faith group investigates conditions among Nabisco workers in Mexico


From NW Labor Press:

by Don McIntosh

In late September, Houston activist Martha Ojeda of the group Interfaith Worker Justice traveled to Mexico to see the massive new Nabisco bakery. Parent company Mondelēz calls it the world’s largest cookie manufacturing plant. It’s in an industrial park outside of Monterrey, near the town of Salinas Victoria, about three hours south of Laredo, Texas. She never got past the gate.

In 2016, Mondelēz got rid of half the Nabisco production lines at its flagship Chicago plant and laid off about 450 workers — and shifted production to its new “Salinas” bakery. That led to an ongoing nationwide union boycott of Mexican-made Nabisco products by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers (BCTGM) union. The boycott has the support of the AFL-CIO.

Now Interfaith Worker Justice — a network of groups that bring together labor and religious leaders — is gathering information on the decision to shift production to Mexico. It will publish a report, possibly in December. Representatives of the group have interviewed Nabisco employees in Chicago, Illinois; Fairfield, New Jersey; and Portland, Oregon. Next up are Richmond, Virginia and Atlanta, Georgia.

Ojeda’s trip to Monterrey was part of that effort. As she waited at the plant gate, a guard connected her by phone to a Mondelēz manager. He told her that the company doesn’t employ any production workers: They’re all provided by a staffing agency called Human Quality. Workers are brought to the fenced-in industrial park on buses. BCTGM believes they work 12-hour shifts — for less than $2 an hour.

The products they make —Oreos, Chips Ahoy and other Nabisco snacks — can now be found everywhere in the United States, often on the same shelf as Nabisco products made by American union members who are paid $26 an hour. BCTGM Local 364 member Lamar Kennedy, a 25-year employee of the Portland Nabisco bakery, says Mexican-made Nabisco products were even brought to his workplace for an employee product sale that takes place several times a year.

“I want everybody to check the label and make sure they’re buying American-made products,” Kennedy says, “not because we don’t want Mexican workers to survive, but because they’re being exploited.”

Nabisco’s Salinas workers supposedly work under a union contract too. But the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) — a federation of 340 labor organizations in 163 countries— has been highly critical of how most Mexican unions operate. Most labor agreements in Mexico would be more accurately described as “employer protection contracts.” Unions sign the contracts with employers without the participation or knowledge of workers. Workers don’t vote on the contracts, or their union leadership. Often they may not even know there is a union.

The laid off Chicago workers are not the only ones harmed by Nabisco’s shift to Mexican production. Workers at other Nabisco bakeries, including Portland’s, have suffered temporary layoff as their plants closed down for a week at a time — while shelves remain full of Mexican-made Nabisco products.

The BCTGM contract covering about 2,000 Nabisco workers at five U.S. bakeries expired Feb. 29, 2016, and 19 months later, the union is no closer to agreement with the company. For BCTGM, the sticking points are Mondelēz’ refusal to commit to no further layoffs or plant closures, its plan to diminish health benefits, and its proposal to withdraw from the union-sponsored pension plan, which is headed for insolvency. The two sides have not met to negotiate since mid-2016. Yet there’s been no work stoppage — neither strike nor lockout. Nor has Mondelēz unilaterally implemented the final offer it presented last December. For the time being, Mondelēz is continuing to abide by the terms of its previous collective bargaining agreement with BCTGM.

BCTGM leaders hope a new Mondelēz CEO will break the stalemate: Dirk Van de Put, who is currently CEO of Canadian french fry giant McCain Foods, will replace Mondelēz CEO Irene Rosenfeld in November.

Read more from NW Labor Press

Reunion! Can the Church & Labor Join Forces Again?

By Clayton Sinyai, September 20, 2017, Commonweal Magazine

Father Clete Kiley and Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City talk with men at the Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Mexico, March 31, 2014. The center, run by the Kino Border Initiative, was one stop a group of U.S. bishops made during their tour of the border area near Nogales. Father Kiley is the director for immigration policy at Unite Here labor union. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Last January, as labor union activists struggled against the odds to stop Kentucky from becoming a “right-to-work” state, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington addressed a letter of opposition to every state legislator. In Iowa, public employees were targeted, and the state’s Catholic Conference counseled legislators to preserve their union bargaining rights. And in the Lone Star State, Texas bishops and union leaders lined up to defend immigrants, testifying against the now-notorious SB4 or “show your papers” law targeting “sanctuary cities.”

The 2016 elections transformed our politics overnight. Church leaders preoccupied with religious freedom issues during the Obama administration woke on November 9 to find new federal, state, and local officeholders who were eager to accommodate the church on religious liberty—but sharply at odds with Catholic doctrine on labor, immigration, and social justice. Increasingly bishops, priests, and lay activists found themselves alongside labor unions, fighting to defend “the least of these.” But after years of drifting apart, can church and labor work together again? And will it make any difference if they do?

President Donald Trump began his term with a flurry of executive actions targeting immigrants and refugees: a travel ban denying entry to refugees fleeing violence in the Mideast, plans for a vast crackdown on undocumented workers and their families, denial of federal grants to “sanctuary cities” whose police did not cooperate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and a headlong rush to start work on a massive wall along the Mexican border. These actions drew vigorous protests from both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the AFL-CIO.

These protests went well beyond press statements critical of White House policies. Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin earned national headlines by accompanying Catalino Guerrero, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, to the Peter Rodino Federal Building to challenge his deportation order. The AFL-CIO issued “know your rights” publications to advise workers confronted by immigration enforcement agents. Unions like the Hotel Workers (UNITE HERE) put immigration-related demands on the bargaining table, calling on employers to demand a warrant before permitting ICE agents on their property.

The political shockwaves weren’t confined to the federal level; similar events unfolded in many states. Iowa’s Republicans captured the Senate, securing complete control of state government, and abruptly targeted the union rights of government workers. Taking their cue from Governor Scott Walker’s 2011 actions in Wisconsin, Iowa legislators debated a measure stripping bargaining powers from unions representing public employees. As teachers protested and lobbied, Iowa’s bishops pointedly reminded legislators that “workers retain their right of association whether they work for a private employer or for the government.” Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines personally buttonholed Governor Terry Brandstad and several state legislators to make his concerns known. But the bid failed, and Iowa public workers face the same calamity that has decimated unions in the Badger state.

In Kentucky, it was private-sector workers who found their union rights under siege. As in Iowa, Kentucky Republicans had at long last captured unified control of the state’s levers of power, and moved quickly to propose “right-to-work” legislation that would gravely weaken the state’s labor unions. (Right-to-work laws permit individual workers to opt out of paying union dues, even when the majority of their peers have voted for union representation. Since such “free riders” continue to enjoy the wages and benefits of the union contract, many workers drop their union membership.) Bishop Stowe responded with a remarkable letter to the Kentucky legislators, expounding Catholic teaching on labor unions and concluding that

The falsely named “right-to-work” legislation proposed does not in fact create new rights to work, but rather strives to limit the effectiveness and power of the unions.  When all workers benefit from the negotiations of the labor unions, through better wages and conditions, it is only just that the workers should participate by paying dues to the union which represents them in the workplace. The weakening of unions by so-called “right to work” laws…cannot be seen as contributing to the common good.

In the event, Kentucky legislators had no more interest in prophetic voices than their Iowa counterparts, and the state is now “right to work.”

The bitter fight over the Texas “show-your-papers” law earned more national attention than all these other setbacks combined. In several Texas cities, city governments and police departments had set a policy of steering clear of immigration matters in order to win the trust and cooperation of immigrant communities; they wanted undocumented immigrants to report violent crimes and testify against criminals rather than keep silent for fear of deportation. Governor Greg Abbott and his supporters in the legislature advanced a bill to end this practice, requiring city and county governments to assist ICE and granting police sweeping powers to question suspects about their immigration status.

The Texas AFL-CIO and the Texas Catholic Conference strongly supported immigrant groups fighting the punitive legislation. “We reject the premise that persons who are merely suspected of being undocumented immigrants should be rounded up by state and local police agents,” testified Austin Bishop Joe Vasquez. “The overwhelming majority of immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, are not criminals.  They simply need a job or need to flee from desperate situations. God has brought them before us—perhaps not in the way that you or I would have preferred for them to be brought before us—but they are before us now and we need to care for them.” But in the end, neither immigrant nor labor nor faith groups could defeat the bill. Governor Abbott signed SB4 into law in May.

Catholic social doctrine has defended workers’ right to organize in labor unions since Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum—issued just a few years after America’s young labor unions banded together in 1886 to form the American Federation of Labor (the “AFL” in today’s AFL-CIO). Both groups have advocated strongly for a living wage and safe and healthy working conditions ever since. The church in America has been a passionate defender of the newest Americans since the Irish mass migration of the mid-nineteenth century. American trade unionists once favored limiting immigration, believing that it depressed wages, but began changing course in the 1980s. Union activists became convinced that both prudence and justice pointed toward organizing immigrant workers rather than barring the door, and have worked hard to build support in union ranks for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the undocumented.

But pouring this old wine into today’s bottles is no easy task. In the 1950s and 1960s, shared experiences and innumerable personal relationships tied church and labor together, creating mutual trust and making teamwork common sense. They had a common history supporting the economic reforms of the New Deal, including the Wagner Act (the law that gave workers the right to organize in unions without retaliation from their employers) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (the law that created the federal minimum wage). Moreover, the people who attended a union meeting on Thursday evening were in the pews Sunday morning. A local union president might have a brother who was a parish priest; bishops and national labor leaders sat on civic boards together. Both sides understood each other: their needs, their challenges, and their aspirations.

Today the situation is very different. Neither church nor union commands the social influence it did in the mid-twentieth century. There are a lot of empty seats at today’s union meetings—and at Sunday Mass. There’s a good chance the pastor no longer knows any shop stewards, and the union president no longer serves on the parish council. That means the pastor probably doesn’t understand “right to work,” and doesn’t realize that unions are lobbying for his immigrant parishioners in their visits to the state capitol. The local union president, in turn, is likely unfamiliar with Catholic social doctrine, and probably doesn’t know that his state’s Catholic Conference has been campaigning for a bill to increase the minimum wage.

Our polarized political environment aggravates this problem. Potent social issues such as abortion and gay marriage—not on the agenda in the 1950s—have entered our politics and driven a wedge between the two groups. Most of today’s labor leaders and activists (if not all union members) see themselves as part of a progressive movement in the Democratic Party, a movement that believes contraception, abortion, and gay marriage are civil-rights issues. Catholic leaders and activists (if not everyone in the pews) see these issues as moral ones, with progressives on the other side of a great ethical divide. Worse, after the Affordable Care Act contraceptive mandate and a platform promise to repeal the Hyde Amendment (which ensures that taxpayer dollars are not spent on abortion), many Catholics are convinced that the Democrats are waging a purposeful assault on their religious liberty by compelling them to pay for practices violating the tenets of their faith.

These differences should not prevent labor and church from working together to promote the values they already hold in common: social solidarity, economic justice, workers’ rights, and protection of the immigrant and the stranger. But as a practical matter, collaboration is built on relationships, and relationships are built on mutual respect. In today’s hypercharged political debates, we tend to stay in our own partisan corners, talk with people we already agree with, and see opponents not as mistaken but as malevolent. I can cooperate with a well-meaning person who has different political positions, but it’s hard to work productively with someone I’ve labeled a callous baby-killer or an irrational homophobe.

Can church-labor cooperation still happen today? It has in Maryland, where a coalition of faith, labor, and community organizations called Working Matters has been campaigning since 2012 for a paid sick-leave law. While most professionals and white-collar workers enjoy a paid sick-leave benefit, most low-wage service workers don’t, say advocates—leaving custodial workers unable to take a day off to care for a sick child, and food-service workers reporting to kitchens while ill. Although the Democrats control the state legislature, the campaign has been a grueling one, with many legislators hesitant to endorse a new government mandate on business. In 2016 the bill finally passed the Maryland House, but remained bottled up in the Senate.

SEIU (Service Employees International Union) State Council Director Terry Cavanagh, who’s  an active parishioner at St. Ignatius in Baltimore, has worked closely with Maryland Catholic Conference Executive Director Mary Ellen Russell during the campaign, developing a close rapport. Both point to the strategic benefits of a partnership on the issue: labor organizations can round up progressive votes, but the church can help worker-justice advocates get beyond the usual suspects. “From past work on life and education issues, we knew some of the conservative Democrats who were on the fence on paid sick leave,” said Russell. “It was easier for us to reach them on this issue because of our existing relationships.” In 2017 the bill won strong majorities in both houses. Though Governor Larry Hogan vetoed the bill, supporters had enough votes for an override—and plan to bring the bill back when the legislature reconvenes.

The events in Maryland reveal the church’s unique opportunity to witness for social justice in today’s political environment. With commitments ranging from the right to life to the preferential option for the poor, Catholic Conference staff work with legislators across the ideological spectrum. In a time of especially bitter political division, the Catholic Church is one of the few remaining actors routinely crossing party lines. If worker-justice advocates want a dialogue with red America, Catholic social action is one of the few vehicles left. That should be reason enough to work toward a renewed labor-church alliance.

Clayton Sinyai is the executive director of the Catholic Labor Network, an organization that brings together Catholic trade-union leaders with clergy and lay Catholic activists committed to Catholic social teaching on labor and work. You can reach him at [email protected]atholiclabor.org

How much is our labor worth?

Sep 4, 2017, Brian Strassburger, SJ  The Jesuit Post

How much is our labor worth? Think about these questions:

  • How much money should a barber make for cutting hair? The same basic haircut in Mexico costs half the price it does in the United States.
  • How much should a nanny get paid? NPR’s Planet Money reported on a nanny in New York City making a staggering $200,000/year (!!!). Yet salary estimates peg the average nanny wage in NYC at a much more modest $19/hour (or around $40,000/year)- still a lot more than a nanny is making in India, or even Indiana.
  • What about a coffee picker? Nicaraguan coffee laborers annually cross the border into Costa Rica, where wages for the exact same work of cultivating coffee can be five times higher.

So how much is our labor worth? It is not so easy to stamp a price on it.

Right now, a debate over the value of labor is raging across the United States as the Fight for $15 movement advocates a raise in the minimum wage to $15/hour.

The Fight for $15 movement has gained traction in the past year. The states of California and New York have passed laws to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour through a series of gradual increases in the upcoming years, along with dozens of other cities and municipalities. The city of Seattle is the furthest along in the journey, as they just bumped wages to $13/hour at the start of 2017 on their way to a $15/hour minimum.

How do we end up with such varied wages for the same work? What is the Fight for $15 movement all about? And what do economists have to say about it?


The barber, nanny, and coffee picker examples highlight the wage differences (often extreme ones) that exist between cities and countries.

Six-figure nanny salaries, cheaper haircuts in Mexico: how the heck does this happen? Prices for locally produced and consumed services, like restaurants, taxis, and barbers, vary based on area income levels. In places where incomes are high (like New York City), average price levels for these types of services are higher. In places where incomes are low (like Mexico), average price levels for these types of services are lower. Thus you find more expensive nannies in New York and cheaper haircuts in Mexico.

A higher paycheck might sound like an inherent advantage, but it can be offset in higher income areas where basic goods are more expensive. A taxi driver in San Francisco will make more money than a taxi driver in Santiago, Chile, but the prices for renting an apartment and riding the local bus will be much higher in San Francisco than Santiago. So a worker might make more, but also has to spend more for basic necessities.


The objective of the Fight for $15 movement is a raise in the minimum wage, but the motives are deeper. They are fighting for minimum wage earners to be able to support themselves and their families with their labor. Too many workers across the U.S. work full-time jobs, and still can’t afford to cover their daily expenses of housing, transportation, food, health care, and education for their children. Many people resort to working multiple full-time and part-time jobs in an attempt to make ends meet. Despite their efforts, they can still come up short.

Remember that the United States is a high income country, so its average prices are high. It costs a lot to afford a place to live, to get around town, to eat healthy, to see a doctor, and get a good education. These necessities are expensive.

The Fight for $15 movement and its supporters want workers to be able to earn a living wage: sufficient payment for their full-time labor so that they can live a healthy life and care for those dependent on them. Given the cost of living in the United States, the current federal minimum wage at $7.25/hour fails to meeteven the lowest estimates for a living wage in the cheapest parts of the countries. Thus minimum wage earners are stuck in poverty, even as they log full-time hours at their job. This is unjust and unacceptable.


What are the effects of a minimum wage increase? Economic models propose that in a perfect market, wage floors like the minimum wage are counterproductive and lead to lesser demand for labor by employers, which is called the employment effect. In other words, those who work might get paid more with a higher minimum wage, but fewer people are able to get jobs because fewer employers are inclined to hire someone at that wage.

A problem with these economic models is that they assume a perfect market, and the real world market is anything but perfect.

There are other potential economic pitfalls as well. An employer trying to grow a profit has the incentive to look for cheaper labor. Thus factories leave the U.S. and move abroad, which has been happening for decades. A higher minimum wage could further decrease opportunities for manufacturing workers within the US. Fast food restaurants and beauty salons cannot outsource their services, but other industries can, and they would be further incentivized to do so if the costs of labor are higher.1

Who will pay for higher minimum wages anyway? The assumption is that profitable corporations can afford to pay their workers more money instead of passing on all the profits and benefits to owners or shareholders. These companies can still turn a generous profit if their payroll expenses are higher. Of course, corporations might not want to see their profits decrease at all. They could respond by raising prices, thus deferring the cost of higher wages to the consumer. Workers might start making more money, but if prices start rising as well, the cost of living will rise. Will the higher wage be enough to cover these rising costs?

Enough about theory: how do things turn out in the real world? All eyes have been trained on Seattle this year as its minimum wage rose to $13/hour on its way to $15. It has become a real world test model for economic theory. Politicians and economists across the country are following closely. What will happen as minimum wages rise?

Courtesy FlickrCC user Joe Brusky.

An early report was published this summer as a working paper produced by economists at the University of Washington. These are preliminary findings and have not been subject to a peer review. The report suggests that the initial increase in the minimum wage from $9.47 to $11 had negligible effects, but the more recent increase from $11 to $13 led to overall employment losses. In short, the report makes the case that the recent increase has been counterproductive for workers. It could be that the increase to $13/hour has taken the minimum wage too high or risen too quickly.

In contrast, a separate report from the University of California, Berkeley looked at just the Seattle food services industry. The results of this study found that wages increased in this sector and that employment was not affected, which suggests that the minimum wage increase had a favorable impact for workers.

Supporters of the increase have jumped on the latter report that supports their cause, and those opposed to the raise are citing the first report. Suffice it to say that at this point, the jury is still out as these theoretical economic problems get tested in the real world arenas of cities and states across the country.


How much is our labor worth?

At the heart of this question is the dignity of work and the dignity of the worker. In the words of Pope Francis, “Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work, to use an image, ‘anoints’ us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works, who always acts; it gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family, to contribute to the growth of one’s own nation.” This should be at the heart of the debate over the minimum wage.

Fundamental to the dignity of work is a living wage that can provide for the livelihood of a person and their family. Full-time work that does not cover basic material necessities degrades and exploits the worker. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice” (No. 2434). Although they have not published a position on the Fight for $15, the USCCB has long supported increases in the federal minimum wage to “ensure that no full time worker and their family lived in poverty.”

It remains unclear whether raising the minimum wage to $15/hour will be able to overcome the theoretical economic problems it faces. Nonetheless, as we engage this issue and evaluate results, we need to avoid the temptation to make it purely about numbers and economic theory. Let’s keep our mind on the worker and the just wage that he or she deserves. This is the minimum that we can do.

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 Catholic.org 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].]

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.