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.

What is YOUR Parish Doing for Labor Day?

The Catholic Labor Network, August 2017
What, no plans yet? Now is the time to talk to your Pastor about how to honor those who work this Labor Day – and reflect on the rich teaching of our faith about labor and work. Why don’t you share with him this great bulletin insert published by the USCCB, Selected Quotations from Catholic Social Thought on the Rights and Responsibilities of Workers and Labor Unions. With selections from the encyclicals and the pastoral letters, it would be just the thing to accompany a homily on the topic!

Labor unions are prophetic, innovative, pope says

Ironworkers are seen in Boston April 28, 2014. (CNS photo/CJ Gunther, EPA)

Michael Sean Winters  |  

Last week, Pope Francis spoke to a delegation from the Confederation of Trade Unions, Italy’s equivalent of the AFL-CIO in this country. It was a short but remarkable speech that mostly got lost because the pope had a general audience an hour later and a consistory to create new cardinals in the afternoon.He sketched for the group two aspects of trade unionism that he thought were especially necessary at this point in history. First, he called the union movement to perform a prophetic role, which it does when “it gives a voice to those who have none, denounces those who would “sell the needy for a pair of sandals” (cf. Amos 2:6), “unmasks the powerful who trample the rights of the most vulnerable workers, defends the cause of the foreigner, the least, the discarded.” He noted that the proudest moments in the history of the Italian trade union movement came when it performed this function.

In the United States today, who has been the stalwart ally of the Catholic Church is speaking up for the rights of immigrants? Organized labor. It was not always so. There was a time when organized labor saw immigrants as driving down wages, but under the leadership of President Richard Trumka and the reality of facts, the labor movement came to recognize that the problem was not the immigrants but the exploitation of immigrants that drove down wages. For the past 10 years or so, labor has stood arm-in-arm with the Catholic Church defending immigrants. The AFL-CIO, through its solidarity centers, also fights the exploitation of workers in those countries that create the supply of immigrants, working to create conditions that allow people the right to stay in their country and earn a decent living.

Who is standing with the Catholic Church in opposition to these draconian and Dickensian overhauls of the nation’s health care system? Organized labor. It is they who began running ads in key states, urging Republican senators to oppose the most recent iteration of reform, which would kick more than 20 million people off the insurance rolls. There are four member unions of the AFL-CIO that represent nurses, so they know from where they speak on this issue.

The second task the Holy Father gave the labor move was innovation. “Prophets are sentinels, who watch from their lookout, the pope said. “The union too must keep vigil over the walls of the city of work, like a watchman who guards and protects those who are inside the city of labor, but also guarding and protecting those who are outside the walls. The union does not carry out its essential function of social innovation if it watches over only those who are inside, if it protects the rights only of those who already work or who are retired. This must be done, but it is half of your work. Your vocation is also to protect those who do not yet have rights, those excluded from work who are also excluded from rights and democracy.” (emphasis in original)

For years, it has been organized labor that has pushed for full employment programs, advocated for better schools and training programs, and, as noted above, stood by immigrants in danger of being exploited by unscrupulous employers and inhumane economic and political “laws.”

Although the pope doubtlessly had such situations in mind, he made it clear that he also wanted labor to confront what is always the 600-pound gorilla in Western society and culture: Capitalism. “The capitalism of our time does not understand the value of the trade union, because it has forgotten the social nature of the economy, of the business,” the Holy Father said. “This is one of the greatest sins. Market economy: no. Let us say, social market economy, as St. John Paul II taught: social market economy. The economy has forgotten the social nature that it has as a vocation, the social nature of business, of life, of bonds and pacts.”

I have written before, as have many others, about the transformation in modern capitalism from one that valued all stakeholders to our current capitalism, which only values shareholders. There was a time when a CEO would negotiate in good faith with the union over wages because there was a stigma attached to union-busting: People did not want to be associated with the tactics of Henry Frick. Ronald Reagan broke the ice when he crushed the air traffic controllers’ strike, and Wall Street titans were only too happy to second the motion, seeing greater profits in lower wages for workers.

Pope Francis, like the prophets of old, is not a revolutionary. He is calling us back to the best of our history, to a time when workers were respected, not always but mostly, when there was not so much economic inequality, when there was a sense of responsibility not only to a company’s workers but to the community that hosted the company. Today, companies pit different jurisdictions against each other in a bidding war to avoid paying taxes. Is that the face of solidarity?

I read the pope’s words. I saw that the AFL-CIO tweeted out the link and am told it brought tears to the eyes of some pretty hardened, non-Catholic union folk. I asked myself: I can see why a Catholic Democrat would be reluctant to quote the pope, but why are not non-Catholic Democrats quoting him?

We read article after article in which the Democrats admit they have a messaging problem. Well? Here is the answer to that: Talk like the pope, quote the pope, challenge our culture as he does, call the nation back to its finest moments, not its darkest ones, mindful of the challenges but know that deep down in the American psyche there is a secret that helps us liberals: Americans like to root for the little guy. If the Democrats remember the little guy, instead of following the lead of Wall Street, they can take back the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House.

[Michael Sean Winters covers the nexus of religion and politics for NCR.]

Pope Francis addresses Italy’s AFL-CIO

On June 28, Pope Francis addressed Italy’s CISL/Confederation of Trade Unionsan umbrella organization of labor unions much like America’s AFL-CIO. The pope had much to share, especially for those of us called to pursue justice in the labor movement. The Holy Father observed that today’s market economy is anti-union precisely because it has cast off ethical and social responsibilities.

The capitalism of our time does not understand the value of the labor union, because it has forgotten the social nature of the economy, of the company. This is one of the greatest sins. Market economy: no. We say social market economy, as Saint John Paul II taught us.

Because of this, Francis told his listeners, labor unions have a prophetic role to play in announcing justice to a broken world:

The labor union is expression of the prophetic profile of society. The labor union is born and reborn every time that, as the biblical prophets, it gives voice to those that do not have it, it denounces [the fact of] the poor one “sold for a pair of sandals” (Cf. Amos 2:6), unmasks the powerful that trample the rights of the most frail workers, defends the cause of the stranger, of the last, of the “rejected.”

But the Holy Father warned that when unions focus exclusively on the welfare of their existing members, they forfeit that prophetic role. Instead, they must also extend their solidarity to the excluded and marginalized:

In our advanced, capitalistic societies, the labor union risks losing its prophetic nature and becoming too similar to the institutions and the powers that, instead, it should criticize… Prophets are watchmen, who watch from their lookout.  A labor union must also watch on the walls of the city of work, as a watchman that guards and protects those inside the city of work, but that also guards and protects those outside the walls…. Your vocation is also to protect those who still do not have rights, the excluded from work who are also excluded from rights and from democracy.

Pope Francis concluded with two striking claims: there is no good society without labor unions, and there is no good labor union that does not exhibit solidarity with the poor and excluded:

There is no good society without a good labor union, and there is no good labor union that is not reborn every day in the peripheries, which does not transform the rejected stones of the economy into corner stones. “Syndicato” [i.e. labor union] is a beautiful word that comes from the Greek “dike,” namely justice, and “syn,” together: syn-dike, “justice together.” There is no justice together if it is not together with the excluded of today.


Labor/Immigration News – Union develops digital ringtone to remind immigrants of their rights

Father Clete Kiley, director of immigration policy for Unite Here, together with community leaders and union members gathered last Sunday in Chicago’s Federal Plaza to promote a campaign aimed at easing the minds of immigrants facing possible deportation.

The promotion involves a ringtone for cell phones that was developed for Unite Here Local 1. In Spanish the ringtone is in the form of a jingle – Nada, Nada. Con la migra tienes el derecho de no firmar nada y no decir nada. It translates  –  “If immigration comes to arrest you, keep calm. You have the right not to sign anything and not to say anything. You have the right to remain silent, and also the right to ask for an attorney.”

Unite Here, a hotel and restaurant workers union has a large immigrant membership.

At the unveiling on Sunday, Father Kiley, who is also founder of the Priest-Labor Initiative and special adviser to Cardinal Blase Cupich stated , “Every person has a fundamental human right and rights guaranteed under the constitution of the United States.”

“One of those sacred rights is the right to remain silent,” he continued

He went on to say, ““These new and aggressive ICE tactics are causing immense fear and confusion in our communities, within our families and in our work places,”

For the Chicago Sun-Times (June 5, 2017) report, click here.

To download the ringtone, go to:

Pope Francis speaks on business and work at Genoa steel mill

The Catholic Labor Network, May 30, 2017

On May 27, Pope Francis visited Genoa’s ILVA steel works, addressing managers, steelworkers, and unemployed members of the community about Christian values and business operations. Francis praised Christian business leaders who treated workers with justice and respect, but feared that creative entrepreneurship was giving way to speculation. Crux reported:

“An illness of the economy is the progressive transformation of businessmen into speculators,” Francis said. “A speculator is a figure similar to what Jesus in the gospels called “money-changers” as opposed to pastors. He doesn’t love his company or his workers, but they’re solely a means for making profits. He fires people, relocates the company, because it’s instrumentalized and eats up people and products.”

The Pope also insisted that work is essential to human flourishing, so we must address technological unemployment in a way that preserves work for all, not just income. As Vatican Radio summarized:

“It is necessary, therefore, to look fearlessly and a sense of responsibility on the technological transformations of the economy and of life, he said, “without resigning ourselves to the ideology that seems to be gaining a foothold wherever one looks, which envisions a world in which only a half or maybe two-thirds of employable people actually work, and the others maintained with a welfare cheque.”

“It must be clear,” Pope Francis continued, “that the true objective to reach is not ‘income for all’ but ‘work for all’.”

Wegmans Among Businesses Putting Catholic Social Teaching to Good Use

(Courtesy of Wegmans)
Supermarket chain is one of a number of companies that are living out Church principles by putting the dignity of the person at the center of their business plans.

Peter Jesserer Smith, National Catholic Register, May 2, 2017

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — “Never think about yourself; always help others.”

The motto of the late Robert “Bob” Wegman, who pioneered the Wegmans Food Markets founded by his father and uncle, hangs up with his portrait in his one-stop supermarkets. But the business philosophy on which the Catholic merchant founded the family-owned company came from the lesson the Sisters of Mercy taught him as a boy in Catholic elementary school: The most important thing in life is getting to heaven.

Today, Wegmans Food Markets, headquartered in Rochester, New York, has 92 stores in six states and is recognized as one of 12 companies in Fortune magazine’s “Great Place to Work Legends.” In fact, Fortune recognized Wegmans in 2017 as the second-best place to work in the U.S. — runner-up only to Google.

The company attributes its success to Robert Wegman’s vision that it is “essential to treat customers and employees right.” Wegmans is among a cadre of privately held companies that have put into practice the Catholic social vision that the dignity of persons, not the pursuit of pure profit, must be at the center of the marketplace.

Sarah Kenton has worked at Wegmans since 2010, when she was 15 years old working part time as a cashier at the Canandaigua, New York, store and, later, as a customer-service representative in the produce section.

“Everyone at Wegmans is a family,” she said. While it may sound “cliché,” Kenton said it “really is true.”

Wegmans later invited her at age 17 to think about a permanent career in the company, providing her an internship that allowed her to experience various store operations under department managers. She has an offer for a full-time position as a team service leader after her graduation from Niagara University in May.

“I consider myself fortunate to have a great employer who supports me,” she said. “Wegmans wants you to do your best and learn … and it really makes them better.”

One of her best memories was working on Wegmans’ Organic Farm, getting firsthand experience on how the stores’ “farm-to-table” process worked. She said helping with the harvest gave her a new appreciation for Wegmans’ produce.

And as an intern, she and her team were asked to propose how Wegmans could improve food product “best by” dating. The company has been concerned about wasted food, especially when some people in the communities they serve are going hungry. Kenton said she and the other interns tackled the problem — and were asked to present their recommendations to Wegmans’ corporate leaders. Kenton said their response was “amazing.”

“They said, ‘Thank you so much. This is great. We’ve really got to do something about this,’” she said. “Since then they really tried to implement the suggestions and make the place an even better version of itself. That spirit of continuous improvement really makes Wegmans successful.”

Wegmans’ Philosophy

Wegmans stores — in the U.S. Northeast — employ 47,000 employees.

“We’re very much a values-based company,” Jo Natale, Wegmans’ vice president for communications, told the Register.

Natale has worked with the company for nearly 30 years and said Wegmans’ business philosophy is “always to take care of our employees, and they’ll take care of our customers.”

“It was a belief the family held as very important,” she said.

Wegmans considers its employees as their “most valuable asset,” Natale explained, so they provide competitive pay and benefits, including health care, dental care, prescription plans and retirement options. They also provide flexible scheduling to their employees, so they can care for their families.

The Wegmans employee scholarship program has awarded $105 million in scholarships to more than 33,000 employees since it started the program in 1984, including $5 million in college-tuition assistance to employees for the 2016-2017 school year.

That kind of investment in employees was a big help to Kenton as she pursued her undergraduate degree and an MBA at Niagara.

But Wegmans also truly regards itself as a member of the community where their stores are located and where their employees and customers live. Besides the Wegmans’ scholarships to help youth achieve higher education, they also work with communities to feed the hungry.

Natale said Wegmans’ success all comes down to their employees. She added that the company does not hire based simply on skills — they can teach people how to do the necessary work — so they look for employees whose “values match” Wegmans, whether they are pharmacists or chefs.

“We really look for people who have a desire to serve others, who smile and are engaging,” she said.

Catholic Social Doctrine

The Catholic Church’s social doctrine rests on four pillars: solidarity, subsidiarity, the dignity of the human person and the care of the common good. William Bowman, dean of The Catholic University of America’s Busch School of Business, told the Register that this social teaching is rooted in the natural law.

Wegmans and a number of privately owned companies, he said, are living those principles in their business “day in and day out” without necessarily realizing that they have made Catholic social teaching part of their practices.

Bowman, a graduate of Harvard Business School and an experienced CEO, said a company’s lived commitment to Catholic social doctrine can be seen in how it treats its five stakeholders — the employees, the suppliers, the investors, the customers and the community at large — according to those principles.

Bowman said Wegmans practices “incredible subsidiarity” with employees, by giving them a lot of discretion to exercise responsibility and initiative, even at age 17 and 18, relative to the store’s competitors. He said, “They’re not just trained in best practices, but to think about how to improve what they do.”

Another company exemplifying Catholic social teaching, Bowman said, is Nucor Steel, which became the second-largest U.S. steel company. The company has a strong culture of solidarity linked with subsidiarity, where helping each other do better — like one plant team helping another team become more efficient on the line — means the company does better.

Compensation for the CEO and employees rises or falls together depending on the company’s success. The company has three levels — the CEO, plant manager and plant workers — which enables speedy communication and delegates authority to people to exercise judgment.

“They’re given a lot of latitude to act and do the right thing, and that just stimulates the creativity in people,” Bowman said.

The Wine Group, the second-biggest wine company in the U.S., Bowman added, is another company that exemplifies key principles of Catholic social teaching.

Senior executives are only rewarded with stock bonuses for their work 20 years down the road, and planning for the company is based on a “20-year time horizon,” as opposed to issuing quarterly reports, where research and development often gets cut to bolster quarterly returns, he explained. This has allowed the company to grow at a faster pace than its competitors, increase its stock value in the long term, and reward its employees.

Bowman said, generally, large, publicly held companies have a “much tougher” time implementing the business practices Catholic social doctrine calls for because their boards base their decisions on strict metrics for return on investment.

“That in itself is a minor violation of Catholic social teaching, because the person is the purpose of the business, and not the dollar, and that has to be reflected in how the company operates,” he said.

However, he said Google is one case of a big business whose success has been propelled by a culture of “radical subsidiarity” in which employees are nurtured and given the freedom to dream up new ideas and business ideas.

Reward of Integrity

A company that acts with “integrity” toward its employees, suppliers and customers has a long-term business advantage over those that do not, Frank Hanna III, CEO of Hanna Capital, told the Register.

The companies Hanna has seen act with integrity and follow the virtues that build up the human person, such as Wegmans or Chick-Fil-A, tend to have a wealth that is counted in happier employees and executives as well as happier customers, who patronize them because they enjoy doing business with them.

“That’s a form of wealth and well-being that may or may not show up on the balance sheet,” Hanna said.

That is not to say that a company that does the right thing will always make money over those that don’t. Hanna said that is a “prosperity Gospel” mentality. The true Gospel shows that acting with integrity may get you “crucified” instead.

“But you do the right thing because you have integrity, not because it will make you more profitable,” Hanna said.

In the end, he added, “eternal salvation” is the only victory that a person who acts with integrity should look toward — just as Robert Wegman believed.

A message from Father Clete Kiley, Director of Immigration Policy for UNITE HERE and founder of the Priest-Labor Initiative

MAY 4, 2017

The Temporary Protected Status for Haitians is set to expire on July 22. There are more than 50,000 Haitians who will be affected by this to return this many to Haiti at this time will create a humanitarian disaster there once again. It will also disrupt and break apart families. Fr. Kiley reports that the current administration in Washington is not inclined to extend it.

Haiti is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Matthew, which struck in October 2016 and is said to be the nation’s largest humanitarian emergency since the 2010 earthquake. That’s why the TPS was put into effect and extended several times.

In Florida, if TPS is allowed to elapse, there will also be an incredible social and economic crisis. The Florida Hotel and Lodging Association and UNITE HERE, the hospitality union , along with Disney, Hilton, and other employers, predict a major disruption in the hospitality work force. This will be felt most strongly in Miami and Orlando. For UNITE HERE, there are more than 500 workers in a Orlando at Disney who will be affected. in Miami, half of the local union is made up of Haitians.

In addition nursing staffs will also be negatively affected

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski has been a champion of the Haitian Community.

There will be a community meeting on Saturday, May 13 at L’Eglise Baptistery Haitienne Philadelphia, located at 800 N. Pine Hills Road, Orlando.

The Haitian Community is overwhelmingly Catholic and we encourage a strong Catholic Community turnout at this meeting.

For the Justice for Immigrants Action Alert to DHS: Extend TPS for Haitians, go to:

April 28 – Workers’ Memorial Day

April 28, 2017 is observed across much of the world as Workers’ Memorial Day. On this day we pause to remember the millions of workers who give their lives each day planting and harvesting our food, building our homes and cars, paving our roads and shipping our goods. The International Labor Organization has estimated that more than 2 million workers each year die in traumatic accidents or from occupational diseases such as black lung, asbestosis and cancers caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Four years ago Pope Francis fixed our eyes on this issue with his sharp response to the Rana plaza disaster, when more than one thousand Bangladeshi garment workers were killed in a building collapse. But we don’t need to go to South Asia to find examples of this injustice. In America every year nearly 5,000 workers die from traumatic workplace injuries, and an estimated 50,000 from occupational diseases (cancers, heart disease and respiratory disorders caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals or other unhealthy working conditions).

Want details? Check out Death on the Job, the AFL-CIO’s annual report on worker safety and health.