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.

Labor board rules in favor of workers at Catholic universities

Duquesne UniversityDuquesne University

Employees at two Catholic universities are a step closer to having their unions recognized, as recent rulings from the National Labor Relations Board rejected arguments from the schools that their religious affiliation freed them from federal labor oversight.

A group of adjunct faculty at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University voted in 2012 to join the Adjuncts Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers. A regional director for the N.L.R.B. found that enough votes were cast in favor of joining the union, but the school resisted, arguing that its Catholic identity meant it was exempt from N.L.R.B. oversight.

In a 2-1 decision on April 10, the N.L.R.B. rejected that argument, saying the faculty taught secular material. It did, however, rule that theology professors are in a different category and are thus ineligible to join the union, writing that they perform “a specific role in maintaining the University’s religious educational environment.”

The N.L.R.B. ruling sends the issue back to its regional office to tabulate if there are still enough votes to unionize once the theology professors are excluded.

For its part, the school says it will continue to fight.

Ken Gormley, president of Duquesne, said in a statement to Law 360, a website tracking breaking legal news,that the ruling “directly conflicts” with previous court rulings about unions and religiously affiliated schools.

“The Supreme Court and multiple U.S. courts of appeal have recognized that the broad and deep powers of the N.L.R.B. pose serious First Amendment threats when asserted over faculty unions at religious-affiliated institutions,” he said. “For that reason, Duquesne University is evaluating all of its options pursuant to the board’s rules and regulations.”

He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the issue was not whether the university supports unions, but that the university “could not risk negotiating its Catholic mission…or the faculty’s role in it with a union, much less…[leave it] to the supervision of a government agency in Washington, D.C.”

A lawyer for the Steelworkers Union, meanwhile, said the school’s position put it in conflict with its Catholic values.

“We think it’s frankly hypocritical of them to hide behind the Catholic identity to avoid doing what the Catholic Church explicitly tells them to do—that is, to honor labor unions,” Dan Kovalik told the paper.

The N.L.R.B. also ruled against another Catholic university last week, saying that housekeepers at St. Xavier University in Chicago were eligible to unionize despite protests from the school.

As at Duquesne, officials at St. Xavier argued that its religious affiliation makes it exempt from having to recognize the staff’s vote to join the Service Employees International Union.

But in a 2-1 decision, the board found that the duties of the cleaning crew are “wholly secular” and that the staff “do not have any teaching role or perform any specific religious duties or functions.”

Housekeepers asked to join the S.E.I.U. in 2012 and held an election in 2013, but the ballots were kept secret, Law 360 reported. The board’s decision sends the case to a regional director.

In both the Duquesne and St. Xavier rulings, the acting chairman of the N.L.R.B. dissented, arguing that the board was wading into thorny constitutional questions.

In his dissent on the St. Xavier case, Philip A. Miscimarra wrote that although “this case might look like an easy one—most would view housekeeping as a secular activity—cases involving nonteaching employees may present facts that lead the Board into even deeper entanglements with an institution’s religious mission.”

St. Xavier and and Duquesne are hardly alone when it comes to universities arguing that their religious identity exempts them from government oversight. The rulings are the latest salvo in a years-long battle about the role of proposed unions, often for adjunct faculty, at Catholic institutions.

In an essay published last year, Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., the president of DePaul University, said the issue is not Catholic animus toward unions, but government interference in church affairs. He wrote that a N.L.R.B. ruling in 2014, which extended labor oversight to non-religious employees at religious-based entities, is allowing the government to define religious activity rather than believers themselves.

“Several Catholic universities now find themselves in the positions of deciding whether to oppose the attempt of the N.L.R.B. to assert jurisdiction on this new legal basis,” Father Holtschneider wrote. “The freedom to determine what is or what is not religious activity inside our church is at stake.”

Labor advocates note that the Catholic Church has a long history of supporting unions and say Catholic institutions opposed to organizing efforts are acting hypocritically.

“The glaring inconsistency between Catholic social teaching and the failure of Catholic institutions to protect the right to unionize may even lead Catholics to abandon the church,” ethicist Gerald J. Beyer and lawyer Donald C. Carroll wrote in the National Catholic Reporter last year. “Catholic institutions of higher learning cannot successfully pursue their mission without practicing what they teach.”

Stop the Excuses: Working for Social Justice is Not Optional for Catholics

The phrase “social justice” tends to trigger a wide range of responses depending on where one lands on the political spectrum. For some, it’s a pejorative. For others, a badge of honor. Either way, from a secular perspective, social justice is often viewed through the prism of partisan politics.

But for Catholics, it’s something much different. For us, social justice is a central component to our faith, a key part of Catholic Social Teaching (CST). If the mass is how we celebrate, enrich, and renew our commitment to Christ, then social justice is the manner in which we live and practice that commitment. As defined by the USCCB:

Catholic social teaching is based on and inseparable from our understanding of human life and human dignity. Every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family. Every person, from the moment of conception to natural death, has inherent dignity and a right to life consistent with that dignity. Human dignity comes from God, not from any human quality or accomplishment. Our commitment to the Catholic social mission must be rooted in and strengthened by our spiritual lives. In our relationship with God we experience the conversion of heart that is necessary to truly love one another as God has loved us.

What’s particularly important to note about the Catholic commitment to social justice is that, unlike its secular counterpart, it is consistent and enduring, not changing with the political seasons or latest political trends.

The rich theological tradition of Catholic Social Teaching is based on recognizing the inherent dignity of each human person through the unconditional love of God. Therefore, justice, in the eyes of the Church, is owed, not earned.

The worker is owed a living wage for his or her labor.

The unborn child is owed the right to life.

All persons, sick and healthy, are owed quality healthcare.

The earth is owed good stewardship.

The homeless are owed shelter.

The naked are owed clothing.

The hungry are owed food and drink.

Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest shortfalls in American society, even in many Christian circles. We have a bad habit of putting politics before Christ and allowing challenges—such as cost, labor, and time—to become excuses for inaction.

We operate under the impression that works of mercy and justice come strapped with contingencies, and only those we deem deserving—those who meet a particular set of standards—may receive them. But this is not the spirit of social justice or the gospel.

In fact, not only are humans inherently owed justice, but it’s our Christian duty to ensure that justice is properly distributed—especially to the poor and marginalized. This is not a suggestion. It’s a non-negotiable obligation, and the scripture makes it clear that we will be judged on how we treat the least of these.

That means that American Catholics must have a presence in social and political life. It means we are responsible for ensuring that the workers are paid justly, that unborn children are protected, that the earth is cared for, that the sick have quality medical care, that the homeless have homes, that the naked are clothed, and that the hungry are fed. We simply cannot shy away from civic involvement.

And to that point, we must remember that Catholic Social Teaching, with its commitment to social justice, is not a political ideology. It does not conform to any party platform, and so we cannot put our trust entirely in the Republicans or the Democrats. What we must do, instead, is look to the Church first, adjust our mindset to see social justice as the Church sees it, and then work together to find solutions that protect the dignity of all people.

Matthew Tyson is a Catholic writer and marketing strategist from Alabama. He is an advocate for pro-life ideology on the Left and a co-founder of The New Pro-Life Movement.

Trump and Trade: A Catholic Take

(Pixabay) In the wake of the president’s rejection of one major trade deal and his plan to renegotiate another, Catholic analysts stress that fairness is key in assessing such agreements.

Brian Fraga, National Catholic Register, February 3, 2017

WASHINGTON — With President Donald Trump pulling the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and looking to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the new administration is tapping into festering anger that international trade pacts have devastated the country’s manufacturing base and left millions of blue-collar workers without jobs.

While acknowledging that trade agreements such as NAFTA, established in 1994, and the TPP, signed nearly a year ago, are often mixed bags that do in fact displace workers and incentivize companies to move some operations overseas, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and several economists say trade can benefit nations’ economies and improve overall standards of living.

But the trade agreements have to be fair.

“Ultimately, trade is good. Trade creates jobs, and you want to create jobs, but you want to encourage it in a way that provides for labor standards, that provides for environmental standards. … You want a scenario where both societies end up benefiting from trade,” said Stephen Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace.

Colecchi told the Register that two committees at the bishops’ conference were poised to oppose the TPP because it didn’t meet “some very basic criteria” the bishops use to analyze trade agreements. Among the concerns was that the TPP’s intellectual property-rights provisions would have made it more difficult for people in developing countries to access lifesaving medicines.

“The impact can be devastating,” Colecchi said.

Among several other principles the nation’s Catholic bishops and their staff use when analyzing trade agreements are whether the pacts have adequate labor protections for displaced workers and ensure people in developing nations with lower wages and safety standards are not exploited.

The bishops will oppose trade pacts that allow the United States’ agriculture sector, which enjoys subsidies and favorable policies from the federal government, to wipe out small farmers in developing countries. The bishops also point to dispute resolution mechanisms in the agreements that critics say multinational corporations can use to weaken a country’s environmental and labor standards.

 “We would want a trade agreement that is fair to U.S. workers, that helps our economy to grow, but is also a win-win for other countries,” Colecchi said. “We want the other countries in the agreement to grow economically because that moves us toward a future that is good for all people.”

Widespread Opposition to TPP

Whether the TPP would have benefited the United States and 11 other nations in Central and South America and the Asia-Pacific is debatable. By the time Trump signed an executive order formally ending the United States’ participation in the pact, the TPP had become so politically toxic that even many pro-trade Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had come out against it.

“Most objections on the right to TPP were that a lot of jobs would be lost, while on the left they believed TPP gave big corporations a special court, which the companies could use to overturn national laws and policies,” said Charles Clark, an economics professor and senior fellow at the Vincentian Center for Church and Society at St. John’s University in New York.

Clark told the Register that trade agreements, the TPP in particular, are negotiated by corporate attorneys and are geared toward benefiting companies, not workers. One criticism of TPP was that its negotiations were not transparent.

“Even Congress didn’t know about TPP’s details until it was time to send it to them for a vote,” Clark said. “There were multiple reasons why this was a bad deal.”

In an interview with Breitbart News before the election, Trump called the TPP “insanity” and said the deal should not have been allowed to happen. The new president had similar words for NAFTA, calling it “the worst trade deal ever” and vowing to renegotiate its terms on the campaign trail.

NAFTA’s Effects

But since NAFTA — a 1994 accord that established trade and investment relations between Canada, the United States and Mexico — is a long-standing treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate, the president cannot withdraw the nation from the pact or unilaterally change its terms, said Jay Richards, a professor at The Catholic University of America’s Busch School of Business and Economics.

“And it’s clear that it would have a significant effect, since it has been in place for so many years. In fact, voiding it might be so disruptive to trade and industry that it would harm our economy,” Richards told the Register.

The president’s rhetoric to the contrary, NAFTA has not caused huge job losses feared by critics, although its economic gains have been more modest than what its proponents envisioned, according to a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service. Still, the reality is that, more than 23 years since NAFTA took effect, millions of jobs in Mexico and the United States depend on trade.

“With NAFTA, Mexico was able to change its economy to much more manufacturing, and they have been fairly successful with that,” said Clark, who accused Trump of looking to “destroy” Mexican manufacturing, which he argued would displace millions of Mexican workers, who would then move north across the U.S. border to seek employment.

“It’s the classic example of what economists call unintended consequences,” Clark said.

Trump has also threatened retributive tariffs on American companies that manufacture products overseas, which may please his base but have mixed results, analysts said.

“It is a regressive tax on the poor and for small businesses that depend on imported goods,” said Jesuit Father Richard McGowan, a professor in the Finance Department at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. Father McGowan said such a tariff, though, could preserve U.S. jobs, especially in the auto industry, and probably prompt large retailers such as Walmart to find other sources of cheaper goods.

“Most economists will be in favor of trade because overall production of goods and services will increase if you allow countries to produce that have a comparative advantage,” Father McGowan said.

Resonates With U.S. Workers

But the Republican president’s trade skepticism has resonated with millions of U.S. workers, as well as progressive union and labor organizations, who have seen factories in the Northeast and Midwest shut their doors over the last several decades and move to other countries.

Clayton Sinyai, a board member of the Catholic Labor Network, told the Register that the labor movement and the Church in the United States have been pointing to the hazards of profit-driven globalization for decades.

“Free-trade agreements that facilitate a race to the bottom, where nations compete for the favors of multinational corporations by reducing labor standards, slashing environmental and safety regulations, and reducing social investment increase economic inequality and ultimately hurt workers everywhere,” said Sinyai, who suggested that the recent election cycle marked a “remarkable turnaround” after decades of neglect by both major political parties.

“The president’s decision to withdraw from TPP and to review and revise NAFTA to better protect American workers represents an important opening, if the dialogue can be widened to include solidarity with workers in the global south, as well,” Sinyai said.

But while economists agree that international trade agreements inevitably result in some workers being displaced, they argue there are more factors at work, especially automation.

“At the same time that we’ve seen international trade, we’ve also seen technological changes, with manufacturers moving more toward robotics. Things like that are a little more subtle. They don’t get the big news you get when the U.S. signs a trade agreement,” said Thomas Gresik, an economics professor at the University of Notre Dame.

“There is no doubt manufacturing jobs have declined over the last several decades, in terms of the number of jobs. I would attribute that partly to international trade, outsourcing and offshoring, but I think it’s largely due to automation and greater technology,” said Richards, who argues that NAFTA on balance has been beneficial to the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“Trump seems to speak of international trade and trade agreements as if they are all cost and no benefit,” Richards said. “In fact, I think it’s much more of a mixed bag.”

Opportunity for China?

President Barack Obama’s administration supported the TPP, partly on geopolitical grounds that the pact would economically align member nations with the United States instead of China.

“China is already moving on this, to sign trade agreements with the same countries that we would have entered into the agreement with, and that will have the effect of diverting trade toward China,” Gresik told the Register.

Joseph McCartin, executive director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, told the Register that although the TPP was unlikely to offer much help to beleaguered American workers, its cancellation could cause larger problems.

“One characteristic of Trump’s moves on this and other issues is that they are impulsive and are not linked to a broader strategy,” said McCartin, who suggested that canceling the TPP does not itself create a strategy for lifting stagnant wages of American workers. He also said trade deals in general do not take Catholic social teachings very seriously.

“They do not tend to include workers’ representatives in their drafting,” McCartin said. “They have not resulted in the strengthening of real workers’ rights, such as the right to organize. Where labor protections are written into them, those protections tend to be flimsy and lack enforcement. Trade agreements have mostly benefited the elites of the nations that have engaged in them.”

In his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), Pope Benedict XVI wrote that the new context of modern international trade and finance had altered the political power of modern nation-states, exposing and straining limitations on their sovereignty.

‘Fair Trade, Not Just Free Trade’

While the U.S. bishops’ conference offers its list of principles to evaluate trade pacts, Richards argued that the principles do not really offer a concrete way to decide for or against trade agreements.

“I think you have to look at real economic outcomes. You don’t want outcomes where more people are harmed than others, for example, or in which the environment is degraded,” Richards said.

Colecchi, from the bishops’ conference, noted that the bishops, in January, released a background document on trade agreements that stressed that such pacts have consequences and moral dimensions, and so must be evaluated with reference to the effects they have on people of both developed and developing countries.

Said Colecchi, “It needs to be fair trade, not just free trade, and it needs to be trade which is win-win.”

AFL-CIO Offer Immigration Resources

FB right to work


The following resources are intended help ensure that members of our unions know their rights and are prepared to defend themselves and the immigrant members of their families and their communities in the event of workplace or community raids:

  • This American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Guide for Educators includes advice on how to support and protect immigrant youth and families in case of a raid.

Downloadable Materials

Know Your Rights – Card
Know Your Rights – Flier
Safe and Tolerant Workplace Poster


The following organizations have useful materials to support, protect and empower immigrant working people:

The Administrative Relief Resource Center is a project of the Committee For Immigration Reform Implementation.

Asian American Justice Center is the only national legal advocacy organization that works to protect and advance the civil rights of Asian Pacific Americans.

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance is the first and only national organization of Asian American and Pacific Islander workers, most of who are union members, and allies advancing worker, immigrant and civil rights.

Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. uses education, outreach and leadership development; intake, evaluation and referral services; litigation support and direct representation; and policy advocacy to defend and protect the rights of workers as they move between their home communities in Mexico and their workplaces in the United States.

Farmworker Justice empowers migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions.

The International Labor Recruitment Working Group seeks to end the systemic abuse of international workers who are recruited to the U.S., by collaborating across labor sectors to develop comprehensive policies and advocate for reforms.

Labor Council for Latin American Advancement is a national organization representing the interests of approximately 2 million Latino/a trade unionist throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.

Mijente is a hub for social justice organizing that is pro-Latinx, but pro-Black, pro-woman, pro-queer, and pro-poor.

National Council of La Raza is the nation’s largest constituency-based Hispanic organization that works to reduce poverty and discrimination, and improve life opportunities for all Hispanic Americans.

National Day Laborers Organizing Network improves the lives of day laborers in the United States and helps member organizations develop leadership, mobilize and organize day laborers in order to protect and expand their civil, labor and human rights.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance is the nation’s leading voice for dignity and fairness for the millions of domestic workers in the United States, most of whom are women.

National Employment Law Project is a national advocacy organization for employment rights of lower-wage and immigrant workers.

National Immigration Law Center engages in policy analysis, litigation, education and advocacy for racial, economic and social justice for low-income immigrants.

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild provides legal and technical support to immigrant communities, legal practitioners and all advocates seeking to advance the rights of non-citizens.

#Not1More builds collaboration between individuals, organizations, artists, and allies to expose, confront, and overcome unjust immigration laws.

United We Dream is a national immigrant youth-led organization whose mission is to achieve equal access to higher education for all people, regardless of immigration status.

Kentucky Bishop on Right to Work: “This cannot be seen as contributing to the common good”

JANUARY 26, 2017, The Catholic Labor Network

Last month in this space I wrote about anti-union “right-to-work” legislation circulating in three states — Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire. As the legislation hit the floor in Kentucky, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington issued a remarkable appeal to state legislators defending Catholic social teaching on labor and worker justice, and indicating how that teaching illuminated the issue before them. Although legislators in the Bluegrass State pushed the bill through anyway, this issue is still under debate in MO and NH, and some union opponents hope to bring it to the US Congress. The message is recommended reading for Catholics, lay and clergy, who want to understand this issue:


Kentucky House Bill 1

As the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Lexington, I represent a Church community with a long tradition of social teaching.  Our social doctrine is a means of applying the principles of our Christian faith to the better ordering of society.  Social teaching is rooted in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures and the Tradition of passing on that faith and its principles through 2,000 years.  When we address the public good, and engage in the democratic process, it is with the intention of promoting common good, that is, the well-being of all people.  We speak to the moral dimension of public issues and are always mindful of the effects of laws and decisions on the most vulnerable members of the population.  When we address economic issues, it is from the perspective that economy is not an end in itself, but is to serve people and help them to flourish.  The good of the human person is at the center of all economic activities.

The dignity of work and the rights of workers are critical to our approach to economic issues and laws.  Workers cannot be treated merely as a means for corporate profit and production, but must be seen as autonomous human beings who contribute to the common good through their work.   Modern Catholic Social teaching began in 1897 with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum which emphasizes the dignity and rights of workers, and in particular affirms the rights of workers to organize for the protection of their just rights.  Among those rights are the right to decent wages and safe-working conditions.  In Catholic teaching, unions are described as an indispensable element of social life.  Unions are to promote solidarity among workers.  They are essential for economic justice and to protect the rights of workers.

It follows from the strong support of organized labor for the common good, that unions need the support of the workers they represent.  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, 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. I implore Kentucky legislators, at this new moment in the state’s history, to consider the well-being of working men and women in the state and to realize that stronger labor unions lead to more fair negotiations which benefit all workers in the state.


Most Reverend John Stowe, OFM Conv.

Catholic Bishop of Lexington

4 January 2017


Thank you, Bishop Stowe, for your thoughtful testimony!

Conference examines clash between US culture, Catholic social teaching

Bishop Robert McElroy addresses the conference “Erroneous Autonomy: The Dignity of Work” Jan. 10 at The Catholic University of America in Washington. (Courtesy of The Catholic University of America)

Julie Bourbon

In this time of transition — Barack Obama saying farewell to the presidency as Donald Trump moves into that job, Republicans flexing their muscles as the dominant political party — Catholic leaders, including an advisor to the pope, gathered with academics and labor leaders in mid-January to step back from that flurry of activity to think about economics and workers’ rights from the perspective of Catholic social teaching.On Jan. 10, a lineup of speakers addressed libertarianism and the dominant American culture of runaway consumerism at “Erroneous Autonomy: The Dignity of Work,” the third in a series of conferences sponsored by the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University in Washington, in partnership with the AFL-CIO.Stephen Schneck, director of the institute, began by recalling Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, when the term “erroneous autonomy” was first used to convey “the Catholic church’s concern that systems of untethered, competing individual choices — like markets, and not just economic markets — can lead to outcomes that are contrary to morality and contrary to the common good.”

Speakers covered a range of topics, including the way health care, even Catholic health care, is now treated as a commodity, which distorts its mission; consumerism and family life; a moral take on capitalism and the environment; international development and the dignity of work in the developing world; and a grim picture of capitalism, governance, and the new Congress and administration.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston — the sole American on Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals — bookended the afternoon, speaking on three kinds of erroneous autonomy and hope for the dignity of labor, respectively.

McElroy’s remarks, reprinted in full here, focused on the incompatibility of Catholic social teaching with what he calls the three “framing forces” of American political and social life: the drive for the sovereignty of markets, the technocratic paradigm (dominance over the environment and culture), and nationalism (make America great again!).

“If love of country is a virtue and a moral obligation in solidarity, the nationalistic impulse itself has no moral identity,” McElroy said. He proposed three questions for Americans in the coming months: Who are “the people” in the United States? What does greatness mean for the United States? And does nationalism concern itself only with the interests of the United States, or is it fundamentally connected with our obligations to the international common good?

Those questions served as a kind of framing force for the day’s talks.

Daughter of Charity Sr. Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, remarked that many religious congregations were founded expressly to take care of the poor and the sick — that Jesus himself cared for the sick — yet health care companies are now major players on the stock market and legislation is crafted not with the health of the many in mind, but rather to appease drug companies and the insurance industry.

“Neither the individual nor the common good is being valued in this race to repeal” the Affordable Care Act, Keehan said, calling Congress’ willingness to take away coverage from the more than 20 million people who now have it “irresponsible,” “callous,” and “something we must find intolerable.”

“The tyranny and worship of the marketplace is deeply felt in health care.”

After health care came a look at the impact of consumerism on family life by Holly Taylor Coolman, professor of theology at Providence College. She zeroed in on the widening socioeconomic gap between the richest and poorest in the United States, as not just income inequality but wealth inequality continue to grow exponentially.

A spirit of “competitive individualism” has gripped many American families, both rich and poor, she said, with different goals but similarly damaging effects. Wealthier families increasingly exist in a state of “busyness,” with “grooming children for success” their primary reason for being. “People are being formed for one reality: success in the marketplace,” she said. They might be working in cooperation, but the goal is ultimately a competitive one.

Poor families are simply focused on survival, Coolman said, as the challenges of economic necessity “deplete family members and the whole family system.” We need look no further for evidence of this stress on families of every stripe than the loss of the practice of sharing meals together, as “eating dinner now presents itself as a virtually insoluble problem.”

A take on consumer capitalism and the environment, by David Cloutier, professor of theology at Catholic University, followed. Citing the problem of unlimited consumption as an example of erroneous autonomy, Cloutier called for “conscientious moral stewardship” that does not entail simply giving away all of your belongings but rather more thoughtful lifestyle choices in keeping with the universal destination of goods or sharing of God’s gifts — impact investing, seeking out fairly traded goods, buying from workers who were paid a fair wage.

“Where is the just wage tag on my clothes?” he asked. “We should demand to see these things, but all we see is the price tag.”

Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of Catholic Relief Services, offered stories of hope from the developing world, where CRS works. From teaching basic financial education to the most marginalized in Africa (allowing people to feed and educate their families), to teaching social and negotiation skills to young people in Latin America so that they can sidestep gang recruitment, to fighting human trafficking, CRS programs are shaping economic life by harnessing private capital for social impact, she said.

“Justice is the floor below which we cannot allow people to drop,” she said. “Charity is what goes up and above that.”

Rosenhauer’s stories of uplift were followed by something a little more sobering, as Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas and, more recently, Listen Liberal, offered a critical assessment of the Obama years and the Trump rebellion. He cited the Democratic Party’s long shift away from the workingman; it has, instead, fashioned itself “into the tribune of the enlightened professional class, a ‘creative class’ that makes innovative things like derivative securities and smartphone apps.”

We are witnessing America as it “clambers further down into the sulfurous pit called utopia,” he said, “down into the seething Arcadia of all against all.”


John Carr, director of Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, (left), Cardinal Sean O’Malley, and Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, at the Jan. 10 conference (Courtesy of The Catholic University of America)

O’Malley offered reflections on his experiences with organized labor and the papal tradition of calling “for equity, for fairness in our understanding of what constitutes a just economy and the role of workers.” The text of the cardinal’s talk is here.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, closed the conference with a commitment by organized labor to stand with immigrants and their right to remain and work in the United States.

“What Trump proposes tears at our values, and we will resist it and refuse to be divided into us versus them,” he said. “Pope Francis has called on Catholics to be a true sanctuary. The next few years will define who and what we really are, as a labor movement and as a church. Will we stand true to our moral values when it could really cost us something? We will be tested.”

Although Trump’s name was not mentioned too often, his presence was felt, particularly in post-conference conversations. When asked how thoughtful people might conduct themselves over the next four years, Cloutier said, “It’s kind of organize or die at this point. There has to be a decisive coming to grips with what you stand for.”

A fourth conference is being planned for spring 2018, said Schneck. Speakers at that gathering “will consider how erroneous autonomy undercuts the church’s moral teachings, in the way that faceless markets foment moral relativism and erode genuine personhood by detaching the person from community,” he said.

Lack of just wages, benefits a threat to human dignity

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, left, laughs with Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, and John Carr of Georgetown University at the symposium. (Courtesy of The Catholic University of America.)

Cardinal Sean O’Malley

Editor’s note: This talk, titled “The Dignity of Labor,” was delivered Jan. 10 at the symposium “Erroneous Autonomy: The Dignity of Work” organized by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.

Today’s theme, the dignity of labor, for me isn’t some sort of an abstraction, because I lived so intensely a ministry to workers who were exploited, who lived in fear and for whom their work did not represent a life giving, dignified human activity.

When I was ordained a priest in 1970, the wars were raging in Central America. Often rightwing governments supported by U.S. government versus Marxist insurgents backed by Cuba with the people caught in the middle. People naturally prefer to remain in their homelands, in familiar surroundings, where one is truly their home. But sometimes circumstances are such that people need to leave their homeland and find a new place and make a new start.

The O’Malleys did not leave the famine-stricken west of Ireland because of the lure of food stamps or welfare packages or wanderlust or desire for travel but as an alternative to starvation, religious persecution and annihilation. In his play, “The Irish … and How They Got that Way,” by Frank McCourt of Angela’s Ashes fame, there is a great song in it where the Irish immigrants are singing, “We came to American because they say they are paved in gold, but when we got here we discovered that the roads weren’t paved at all and that we had to pave them.”

I often share with people my experiences as a young priest being assigned as the director of El Centro Catolico Hispano on Mount Pleasant Street in the heart of the barrio. The coyotes would bring people from El Salvador and drop them off in front of my office. For many, it was the go now, pay later plan. If you didn’t pay a hefty part of your weekly salary for the first year, they threatened to kill your relatives back home.

I often share with people that on my first day on the job a man came into my office, sat down across from my desk and he began to weep uncontrollable. He couldn’t even speak, he just handed me a letter. I opened the letter and it was from his wife back in El Salvador who was castigating him for have abandoned his family. When he finally composed himself he explained to me that he was a farmer but with the war it was impossible for him to continue to work the land, and so like so many from his village he came to Washington. He said, “I live in one room with 10 men from my village, and we wash dishes in restaurants. I wash dishes at one restaurant at noon and at another at night. I walk to work so not to spend any bus fare. I eat the food on the dirty dishes so that I don’t need to spend money on food so that I can send all of my money home. I have been sending all of my money that I earn every week for six months and my wife has not yet gotten one letter from me.

And the poor man was desperate. I said, “Well do you use money orders or checks?” He said, “No father, I use cash. I put it in envelops and put stamps on like I was told to do and I drop it in that blue mail box on the corner.” I looked out my window, I saw the blue mail box. The problem was that it was just a stupid trash bin.

It became so apparent to me how difficult it is to be in a foreign land, not knowing the language or the customs. To live in fear of discovery. To do the hardest jobs for the least pay. To endure humiliations and hardships only to be able send money home to keep your family alive.

In those days, thousands of undocumented workers were fleeing violence and hunger. I was their pastor for 20 years. At El Centro Catolico, we were very successful of working with the women to get them visas because there was such a demand for domestic workers. A big part of my ministry was working with domestic workers along with Sister Manuela, a Spanish nun, we started an organization called Asociación Internacional de Tecnicas del Hogar, the International Association of Household Technicians. [Washington, D.C. Mayor] Marion Berry in those days established a commission to set a new minimum wage, and he named Gloria Steinem and me as co-chairs. Talk about the odd couple. But we were instrumental in setting the highest minimum wage in the United States at the time. The workers, however, who were the most exploited were not the undocumented or the household workers, but mostly those women who worked in the diplomatic missions in Washington, the servants. In the embassies to the White House, in the embassies to the Organization of American States, the World Bank, the Inter-American Monetary Fund, in many other international agencies and organizations that gave visas for household domestic workers, many middle class families from developing countries are used to having servants, but they didn’t necessary treat them like Lord and Lady Grantham from Downton Abbey.

During my years at El Centro Catolico, never a week went by that we were not involved in some attempt to extricate household workers from an embassy or the home of a diplomat where a woman was being exploited, sexually or economically or living in virtual slavery. To cite some examples, one young woman came to us seeking relief. She was brought from Colombia in her late teens ostensibly to be an au pair, but when she got here, she discovered that the streets were not paved. She had to cook, clean, wash and iron, cut the grass, shine the man’s shoes, wash the car and care for the children. Seven days a week, from six thirty in the morning until 11 o’clock at night and she never received a penny. Every month they would give her a receipt saying how much they were charging for her room and board and her original air fare from Colombia. We, of course, looked for the meanest lawyer that I could find to sue the people, but being diplomats they had immunity so there was nothing that could be done. Her boss was the personnel director for the Organization of American States. He like so many other diplomats would keep the passports of their servants so that they couldn’t get another jobs. I once tried to retrieve the passport of a young woman 19 or 20 years old working in the Paraguay embassy, because she wanted to change jobs. She said they were treating her very mean. The ambassador had her sent back to Paraguay and in prisoned for a month in one of Stroessner’s jails. [Alfredo Stroessner was president of Paraguay 1954-1989.] We brought her back by sneaking her out through Brazil, and put her on “60 Minutes.”

When I would speak to these offending diplomats they would always say “Oh Father, lo tratamos como un miembro de la familia.” — “We treat her like a member of our family.” My rejoinder was always, “I am so glad I am not a member of your family.”

So I truly understand and support the labor movement. Without organized labor, workers are so vulnerable. The recent elections reveal the crisis of income inequality in our country. The waning of organized labor is a huge factor. A generation ago, CEOs earned 25 times what the average worker earned. Today it is up to 325 times of what the average worker gets. As a young priest here in D.C., I used to participate in the annual Labor Day Mass at the Capuchin parish, The Shrine of the Sacred Heart, which has a statue on 16th Street honor Cardinal [James] Gibbons [of Baltimore 1834-1921], who defended the rights of Catholics to join unions. Monsignor [George] Higgins [1916-2002] used to speak often of “economic citizenship.” Economic citizenship requires a voice in the decisions that shape your life and your livelihood, a voice in your job, your community, and your country. Economic citizenship requires a sense of recognition and respect for the work you do, the contributions you make and your inherent dignity as a child of God.

Last month, at its annual dinner, the Archdiocese of Boston Labor Guild celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Cushing-Gavin Awards, named for Cardinal Cushing, who established the Guild and, Fr. Mortimer Gavin, SJ, who was both a professional mediator and Guild chaplain. The awards are presented each year to persons from union leadership and corporate management who are distinguished by their advocacy for fair and equitable policies for the men and women of labor.

The Archdiocese’s Guild stands in a long line of “labor schools” which were established in dioceses across the United States during the twentieth century, for the purpose of promoting Catholic social teaching on the rights of workers and fostering the common good of our country. Continuing this mission, the Labor Guild organizes educational programs throughout Archdiocese on an ongoing basis, offers a venue for negotiations between labor and management, and provides a visible symbol of the continuing commitment of the Catholic church to work with other institutions and organizations in support of just and productive economic policies that honor the contributions of all workers.

It is good to be able to participate in today’s conference, which is part of a larger project assessing the concept of “autonomy” in personal and societal life. The Second Vatican Council addressed that topic in its document Gaudium et Spes, saying, “If by the autonomy of earthly affairs we mean that created things and societies themselves enjoy their own laws and values which must be gradually deciphered, put to use and regulated by men, then it is entirely right to demand that autonomy.”

This particular statement by the Council has been regarded as particularly significant since it serves to dispel the idea that human creativity, in science, politics, economics and the arts, is somehow opposed to or constrained by religion. At the same time, in other statements the Council noted that autonomy, interpreted apart from moral limits and in isolation from any religious meaning, can be seriously threatening to human welfare and the common good. When work and creativity are located within a moral and religious framework, together they serve to enhance human dignity and social justice.

The teachings of the Church and the advocacy for the dignity of work have a long-standing relationship. In the scripture of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, it is clear that God intends humanity to actively collaborate with the work of shaping the created order. During the recent weeks of the Christmas season we observed the birth of Christ who, throughout his life is identified as a carpenter’s son. In many classical works of art, the young Jesus is depicted at work with Joseph. The scriptural basis of work has been with us for two thousand years, but our understanding of human labor entered a new dimension in the past 150 years. During that time there have been several moments of new understanding of the value of human work, of the person as a worker and collaborator with God in the daily activities by which men and women “earn a living” and also contribute to the good of society.

During the time of the Industrial Revolution, from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, the world experienced a new era of invention and production in Europe and North America. While this development brought major benefits to society, it did so at great human cost, particularly related to the working conditions and the living conditions of the people who made industrialization possible. From factories to mines, to agriculture and businesses, very often workers received few of the benefits of the innovations they were producing. Wages, working conditions, housing and health care were all meager, providing little to no recognition of the workers’ contributions. The Church, much like secular society, took time to recognize the depth of the moral challenge posed by industrialization, but it found its voice in the late nineteenth century in an encyclical by Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, the Condition of Labor. This landmark document began the on-going collaboration of the Catholic Church and the labor movement in the United States. It addressed the need for a just wage by which the worker could provide for a family — in the United States this became “a just minimum wage”; it argued for protection of workers in places of work; and it asserted the moral right and foundation for unions, whereby workers could negotiate with the owners of the factories and businesses where they labored.

During the twentieth century there was a growing alliance of the Catholic Church and the labor movement as the voice of the Church’s teaching and its legislative advocacy in Washington and in states across the country identified the moral reasons for supporting the rights of workers.

Following World War II, industrialization began to spread across the world and what we today call the global market began to emerge. The sources of this development were twofold, the process of decolonization in Asia, Africa and Latin America; and the political-economic creation of institutions facilitating political and economic activity beyond a nation’s borders. This process of internationalization was in good part shaped by the United States and the institutions that emerged from the Bretton Woods Conference, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and eventually the World Trade Organization. These in turn were complemented by the United Nations, including the International Labor Organization. These developments melded domestic and international policies, calling for a new framework for understanding the relationship between labor and management. In the 1960’s, Pope Saint John XXIII called for a country’s economic and social goals to include consideration of the international common good. The Church also recognized the need for international institutions and agreements to address the growing complexity of an interdependent world.

A key aspect of internationalization was the expanding role of trade, which offered new opportunities but also could impose heavy costs on a society, particularly in terms of loss of jobs and industries. An early response to this challenge was that increased international trade required the implementation of domestic policies, to provide for the needs of workers and industries negatively impacted. It is increasingly clear that this concern is of great importance in our country and throughout the world today.

Increasing international trade and financial relationships, combined with rapidly advancing technological innovation and the world of the internet, have produced what we call globalization. This development has produced enormous amounts of wealth but not a fair and just distribution of the proceeds. All too often we hear commentary about winners and losers in globalization, without recognition of the costs for workers and for nations. Pope Saint John Paul II, who was deeply familiar with the world of work through his personal experience with Solidarnosc, the Polish labor solidarity movement, grasped the significance of globalization. In the encyclical Centesimus Annus, issued in 1991 on the centennial of Pope Leo’s Rerum Novarum, he observed that globalization, like technology, had its own logic but lacked morality. Pope St. John Paul emphasized that international leaders and institutions have the responsibility to establish a moral framework which can assess and direct the purposes and the consequences of globalization.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI addressed the importance that the global economy serve the needs of humanity and not be its master. Both were committed to humanizing economic life. Pope Francis now brings a distinctive perspective to this work. As a Jesuit, he has lived the Society of Jesus’ commitment to social justice. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was a leader of the global South, a part of the world which is continually being impacted by shifts in globalization. And his personal commitment to the poor has made the issues of work, workers and the economy an abiding concern for his ministry.

Pope Francis begins his advocacy for the dignity of labor with recognition of the human person, the cornerstone of all Catholic social teaching. This means that each individual is to be protected by a moral framework of human rights and that the work a person does, whether manual labor, mining or intellectual and professional work, is understood as an expression of their dignity. This theme is woven through the history of Catholic teaching on labor. In the early years of the Industrial Revolution it was the basis for advocating that society should not relegate the wages workers earned to the vagaries of the laws of supply and demand, but that wages needed to be adjusted on moral grounds, to provide a “living wage” that would support a family. This argument continues to be made today in the campaign for a higher minimum wage across the country.

The dignity of work was powerfully invoked by Pope Saint John Paul II in the encyclical On Human Work as he maintained that all workers should see their labor as part of God’s ongoing work in the world. Continuing this theme, Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, his 2015 encyclical on the environment, encourages all workers to see themselves as participants in God’s continually enhancing creation through new discoveries and new understandings of what is possible. In the encyclical, the Pope also makes clear the importance of including religious and moral principles in our decisions about what our societies produce and how our choices affect the environment.

During the later years of the 20th century and in our own time now, the labor movement has come under pressure from industry and political process at the state and national level. The case for unions is rooted in the Catholic sense of our responsibilities to each other as members of the human family, we are not to be left alone in society and or in the economy. We are called to support the right of workers, all workers, private and public sector workers, to organize and be represented in the marketplace and in negotiations by an institution, the union, which gives workers leverage and a voice in the major decisions affecting them and their families.

In his words and actions, Pope Francis has been a strong public advocate for the dignity of labor, including making interventions when companies were intending significant elimination of jobs. He has argued strongly that in the midst of the forces of technology and globalization, people cannot be reduced to arguments for greater efficiency. The Pope has stressed the need for equity, for fairness in our understanding of what constitutes a just economy and the role of workers.

In his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis provides a distinctive contribution to Catholic social thought by listing his “Four No’s” regarding the economy:

  1. No to an Economy of Exclusion;
  2. No to the New Idolatry of Money;
  3. No to a Financial System which Rules Rather than Serves;
  4. No to the Inequality which spawns violence

Pope Francis acknowledges the progress of science and technology but believes that the power of the economy, like all power, requires observance of moral limits. Pope Francis’ concern for the poor leads him to focus on the marginalized and excluded, but his assessment of contemporary attitudes and ways of thinking about money, financial institutions and public policy lead him beyond the poor to larger groups in society who feel both excluded and abandoned in the modern economy.

Both Popes St. John Paul II and Francis have recognized that market forces and globalization are facts of life that in some form are here to stay. But both recognize the need for moral direction for these powerful realities. John Paul II recognized the positive potential of globalization, but refused to believe that its own dynamics would produce a just global economy, arguing that political and legal limits need to be set within states and nations, in order to protect social and distributive justice. Pope Francis brings his own perspective, warning us of the autonomy of markets and financial speculation and questioning blind trust in the unseen forces and invisible hand of the economy. In both cases, these observations and the challenges they present to us are rooted in long-standing statements of Catholic thought and teaching.

As we proceed into the 21st century, there are particular concerns of the labor movement in the United States today. The consequences of the financial crisis of recent years and the great recession have put issues of wages and inequality at the forefront of our political and economic life. Writing in The Financial Times, the British economist Mark Wolf draws on a report of the McKinsey Global Institute which illustrates that “real income stagnation over a far longer period then any since the Second World War is a fundamental political fact and notes that “the proportion (of workers) suffering from stagnant incomes has been between 20 and 25 percent.” Presumably many of those caught in this pattern of stagnation have solid occupations and years of experience, but they do not see themselves benefiting from the fruits of a post-industrial economy. The point earlier that globalization can produce great wealth, but by itself will not address distributive justice is reflected in these numbers. There must be commitments from the private sector and public policy to address stagnation; this is a human and moral imperative.

A related issue, now widely debated in our country, is the minimum wage. Catholic teaching concerning a just wage is directly related to the value and dignity of human labor, which is never determined only by factors of supply and demand. A just wage values a worker’s worth as a person as well as an employee. Debates about minimum wages are most relevant to those closest to poverty. Catholic teaching about the option for the poor, places us in support of reasonable initiatives to raise the minimum wage.

We are also in the midst of a debate as to how best to provide health care for our citizens. In our economy health insurance is often as important as salary or income. Affordable health care is foundational for the well-being of individuals and families and lack of health care directly threatens human dignity. The technical details concerning health care policies are many and complicated, but our moral obligation not to abandon people in their times of need is clear.

And, as we are all well aware, there are many voices in the United States and Europe that speak of connections between immigration and employment. In our country, the Catholic Church and the labor movement have been deeply connected to immigration policy and to our immigrant populations. We are blessed that our society and our economy are strong enough to be both a source of security for citizens born here and a source of protection for those fleeing poverty and violence. While every country must balance numerous factors in determining immigration policy, particularly with regard to security, our national history and our principles call us to be a welcoming society. For decades the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference has called for systematic immigration reform, including protection of undocumented individuals and families. As we continue to advocate and work for these important issues, we welcome the opportunity to work with the men and women of American labor.

Today’s conference has brought together people with many different talents, skills and vocations to examine these broad questions of the Dignity of Labor at a time when new challenges need new responses. It is a privilege to have been able to participate in this conversation.

[Cardinal Sean O’Malley is archbishop of the Boston.]

San Diego bishop warns against nationalism, market rule, overconfidence in technology

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego walks away after greeting Pope Francis during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Nov. 23, 2016. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego walks away after greeting Pope Francis during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Nov. 23, 2016. (CNS/Paul Haring)

by Bishop Robert McElroy  | 

Editor’s note: This talk, titled “Three Kinds of Erroneous Autonomy,” was delivered Jan. 10 at the symposium “Erroneous Autonomy: The Dignity of Work” organized by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.

It is a great pleasure to participate in this third colloquium on the theme of erroneous autonomy. In 2014 the conference speakers examined the history, tenets and implications of libertarianism as a system of thought and social organization, pointing to the reality that the individualism which is foundational to libertarian thought is itself a form of erroneous autonomy that is incompatible with Catholic social teaching about the nature of the human person, the foundations of economic justice and the establishment of a just society.Last year the conference focused on the realization of solidarity in society as the alternative pathway to the various forms of erroneous autonomy which flourish under different labels in American society but are linked by a radical individualism. Solidarity, in the words of the compendium of Catholic social teaching, “highlights in a particular way the intrinsic social nature of the human person, the equality of all in dignity and rights and the common path of individuals and peoples toward an ever more committed unity.” Solidarity is a principle of Catholic social teaching which was crystalized by Pope John Paul II, and it is important to note the radical degree to which the principle of solidarity evolved from the crucible of alliance between workers associations and the church in Poland in resisting government and economic oppression. In the 2015 conference the erroneous nature of hyper-individualism in American thought and society was contrasted with the much richer organizing principle of solidarity that leads to a fuller dimension of human flourishing, both domestically and globally.My remarks today seek to point to a third notion of erroneous autonomy in American society and culture. Catholic social teaching is an integrated reflection on the implications of the gift of God’s creation to all humanity and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is framed explicitly within the context of faith, yet advances a vision of the human person, the nature of society and the glories of the universe which seeks to bridge differences of religious perspective. Catholic social teaching is rooted in four enduring moral principles: the dignity of the human person, the pursuit of the common good, the principle of subsidiarity, and the call of solidarity. The church’s doctrine is founded upon ancient insights into the nature of the human person, but is also renewed and expanded in every age to integrate new moral realities that processes such as industrialization, secularization, globalization and environmental deterioration have produced. Central to the vision of Catholic faith is the conviction that the framing concepts in society and government must always be moral in nature and must serve to promote the deepest levels of justice and freedom in society.At this moment in American social and political life, three potent framing forces are at work which have no moral identity and are becoming directive in our national life. The first of these is the drive for the sovereignty of markets. The second is the technocratic paradigm which seeks dominance over the environment and culture. The third, and most worrying, is nationalism. None of these currents in our national life are rooted in a philosophical or theological system. None has any deep-seated sense of moral substance. In a very real way they have been evacuated of moral substance and operate autonomously from any moral anchors as principles of politics and governance in our national life.  This is the most dangerous form of erroneous autonomy which we face in the United States today. It is this notion of erroneous autonomy which has been at the heart of Pope Francis’ prophetic condemnation of each of these impulses in the modern world, for he correctly sees that these forces are purely instrumental in nature and yet claim moral legitimacy and autonomy in reshaping society.

The Sovereignty of Markets

We are poised to witness in the United States a return to public policy which moves aggressively to establish market mechanisms within ever more expansive realms of national life. It will begin with eliminating the restrictions which have been placed upon markets after the Great Recession to guard against a recurrence of the plundering of the American economy by market-based manipulations. Then it will move to repealing policies which have been enacted to safeguard the environment and public health and safety. Even now, “free market solutions” for our national programs that provide vital income and health care for the elderly and the marginalized are gaining increasing traction because they de-link these safety nets from the anchor of existing benefit levels and through market mechanisms over time will decrease costs and, of course, decrease the substance of the benefits. Finally, the swing of the free market pendulum is accompanied by a coordinated effort to roll back wage and benefit structures for workers, as well as health and safety standards and the critically important rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively.

It is vital to recognize that free markets have a vital role to play in the creation of wealth, the generation of jobs, and the advancement of human dignity. One of the great additions to Catholic social teaching in the last half century was the increased appreciation for market mechanisms as a source of good in the world economy.

But as Catholic social teaching has made clear in every moment of the modern era, free markets do not constitute a first principle of economic justice. Their moral worth is only instrumental in nature and must be structured by society and government to accomplish the common good. In Centesimus Annus, the very encyclical in which John Paul II integrated into Catholic social teaching an enhanced evaluation of the power of markets for good, he made absolutely clear that any market system must be “circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious.” The sustained conviction of Catholic doctrine is that the dignity of the human person is the mean and the measure of every system and institution, and that markets must be structured to reflect that perspective.

Pope Francis has confronted unequivocally the movement which ignores the instrumental nature of free markets and instead claims for markets ever greater autonomy from the criterion of the common good. He has condemned this movement as the sacralization of markets, a sacralization which posits a normative presumption that markets automatically function for the benefit of society, when in many instances they erode the very foundations of human freedom, justice and dignity.

The church must work in the coming months with unions, workers, the elderly and the poor to counter the growing imperialism of market mechanisms within American public life. This means making clear both the capacity of free markets to enhance life in the United States and the instrumental nature of markets which must always be placed within a public policy framework anchored in justice. In addition, this coalition must witness powerfully to the unacceptability of linking vital public benefits to market mechanisms that will inevitably diminish support for the neediest members of our nation while exempting the wealthy and the powerful from the call to sacrifice. It cannot be said too strongly that using market mechanisms for the establishment of benefit levels in American society for our most vulnerable populations will unleash a series of silent killers in our nation that are all the more invidious because they are aimed at those without power.

Finally, the church must form deeper ties with labor to prevent the imperialism of markets from further crippling the right to organize and bargain collectively in coming years. One of the lynchpins of the tradition of Catholic teaching on economic justice is that the right to workers’ associations is not only an essential element of obtaining justice for the workers themselves, but that it also contributes to the common good of society as a whole. There is no doubt that there will be further attacks upon the rights of public sector unions to exist and seek justice for their members in the coming years. And while the duty of all unions to seek the common good of society as a whole presents special obligations for public workers, all of the fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching which have enshrined the right to organize and bargain collectively at the very heart of the church’s social doctrine testify equally to the right of public sector workers to obtain justice in pay, benefits and working conditions through robust unions.

The imperialism of market mechanisms at this stage of our nation’s history is a compelling example of erroneous autonomy. Our culture presents free markets as morally uplifting for society. In fact, market mechanisms are morally neutral. They are ethically beneficial when they serve the common good in society by their creation of wealth, the enhancement of freedom and their service to distributive justice. They are morally destructive when they are advanced without a juridical framework in society which insures that markets ultimately serve all. And they are especially destructive when they become surrogates for political choices which diminish support for the elderly, the poor and the marginalized, or when they undermine the rights of workers.

While it is clear that the imperialism of markets will grow in questions of domestic economic life and public policy, it is not clear that this same expansion of free market thinking will mark the American position on international trade. This is not because the power of free market assumptions is not robust. Nor does it result from a desire to achieve elements of international justice which might be harmed by free market approaches. Rather, it springs from the president-elect’s view that the decline in manufacturing in the United States can largely be attributed to existing international agreements created by the United States. It is important to note that this conflict between President-elect Trump and the Congressional wing of the Republican Party is expressed not as a direct attack on free markets, but as an assertion that the United States has suffered for the past twenty years because international agreements forged by the American government did not really reflect fair free trade, but rather inept government decisions. Hence even when free markets fail, it is not their fault.

The Technocratic Paradigm

One of the most penetrating themes of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ critiques the manner in which the technocratic paradigm has taken hold in the modern world as a form of mastery over the earth which claims to make infinite progress possible for humanity. “This paradigm,” Francis writes, “exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object.” This control is achieved using scientific concepts and an engineering perspective, which inevitably bring with them a sense of possession, mastery and transformation.

Pope Francis asserts that the central myopia of the technocratic paradigm springs from the fact that it reduces complex realities of the human person and the universe to the plane of instrumentalization and scientific abstraction. “Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology “‘know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race, that ‘in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all.”

Related: “Pope Francis: Technology + greed = disaster” (Aug. 13, 2015)

The most important external object which the technocratic paradigm threatens is the earth itself. Even as ever more compelling signs of the deterioration of our planet emerge, the ethic of mastery denies that this deterioration is real, and proposes that if the earth does deteriorate technology will produce a solution. The technocratic paradigm is an especially strong current in American culture because it resonates with the American tendency to believe that there are no limits to human achievement and the assumption that enlightened engineering provides the soundest pathway for human progress.

The technocratic paradigm is a devastatingly corrosive form of erroneous autonomy. It claims moral status through its ability to capture one element of reality and promises that this one element has the capacity to produce human flourishing. Yet the exhaustibility of the earth’s resources, the rapaciousness of human appetites unleashed in the ever expanding competition for material goods and the bankruptcy of a notion of human flourishing reduced to any one dimension of our existence all testify to the emptiness of that promise.

Laudato Si is the fire bell warning the world that it must reject the technocratic paradigm and treat the earth as our home, a sacred gift bestowed upon us by our Creator as a grace destined to benefit all of humanity and every generation. Pope Francis testifies to the reality that we are called to be the stewards and servants of creation, rather than its masters. We are called to have an awe for the environment in all of its magnificence, vitality and fragility. Policy decisions must proceed from this sense of awe and stewardship, and technological perspectives must be seen as mere instruments of a much richer order of justice.

While the devastating effects of the technocratic paradigm are most evident in the assault upon the earth which is our common home, the application of the technocratic perspective to culture has also proven injurious in the present day. Catholic theology teaches that culture is a spiritual and ethical enterprise, richly interwoven with the lives and heritage of a people. While every culture must be subjected to the demands for renewal and reform based upon the deepest ethical exigencies of the human person, the technocratic perspective in the international system has frequently resulted in attacks upon cultures which demean them and victimize their societies. Pope Francis has stated that these interventions often have the mark of neo-colonialism, in their imposition of the values of the dominant international culture upon economically challenged societies.

Even within our own nation, the painful cleft in our culture has been magnified by the effects of the technocratic perspective on public policy. Various interventions by the Obama administration designed to recast American society and culture in light of a reductionist egalitarian template have infringed upon the legitimate autonomy of religious communities, cultural traditions and familial patterns. The legal redefinition of charitable, healing and educational ministries operated by faith communities in a manner designed to provide an ongoing interventionist pathway for government to nullify important teachings of faith across a broad spectrum is one example of the technocratic perspective at work. The heavy-handed manner in which the administration addressed the extremely complex issue of transgender rights is another. Such interventions account in no small part for the feelings of alienation which many citizens have from elite leaders in our nation today, since these actions proceeded from a profound failure to treat respectfully deep elements of our national culture.


Make America great again! These words point to the feelings of dispossession which have been abroad in our nation. They hint of past betrayal. They call forth noble sentiments of true patriotism rooted in the glorious legacy of the American people. They also signal a nostalgia for a more homogenous nation.

The merger of populism and nationalism at work in the cultural and political currents of the United States has given new power to the nationalist impulse.

In Catholic social teaching the love of country is a virtue. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states that “the principle of solidarity requires that men and women of our day cultivate a greater awareness that they are debtors of the society of which they have become a part.” And in his moving message to the people of Poland entitled “My Beloved Countrymen”, Pope John Paul II spoke of true patriotism amidst the cauldron of oppression and upheaval: “Love of our motherland unites us and must unite us above all the differences. It has nothing in common with narrow nationalism or chauvinism. It is the right of the human heart. It is the measure of human nobility.”

But if love of country is a virtue and a moral obligation in solidarity, the nationalistic impulse itself has no moral identity. It can signal the most virtuous patriotism which integrates the love of country into the spectrum of moral obligations that accrue to our humanity or it can be rooted in pride, isolationism and discrimination. As a consequence nationalism as a directive force in society is an example of erroneous autonomy; it is a moral good only when it is connected and subordinated to the order of justice and freedom. It is immoral when it functions autonomously from that justice and freedom.

There are three questions which the United States must wrestle with in the coming months, in order to insure that the nationalist impulse coursing through our society evolves into a true patriotism which is morally sound and unitive for our country.

The first of these questions is: who are “the people” in the United States? Populist movements in American history have raised important and substantial claims of injustice against oppression by elites in economic, political, juridical and cultural life. But populism has also often carried with it claims that “the people” are really only some of the people who live within the United States. For this reason, populist nationalism has often been exclusionary and nativist. The recent campaign was deeply marred by exclusionary rhetoric and proposals that have driven deep wedges into our culture and raised the specter of imposing exclusionary government policies. It is essential that the nationalistic impulse be purged of this nativist dimension so that it can be a source of unity in our nation rather than division.

The second question which America must confront is: what does greatness mean for the United States?  Does this greatness revolve principally around questions of power, wealth and success? Or is the greatness we seek founded in the order of justice, freedom, truth and solidarity? In short, is it a material greatness or a greatness of the soul?

The question of American exceptionalism has long been a source of contention in historical and political debate. And this exceptionalism has been characterized in many different ways. In my view the most important form of exceptionalism which we might claim flows from the reality that we as a nation of immigrants are not tied together by connections of blood, but rather by the set of aspirations which our Founders set forth in 1776 and which they both succeeded and failed to attain. Thus patriotism for us as Americans is an aspiration renewed in every age by understanding the noble elements of our nation’s birth and the defects of its original vision. And our patriotism is not a foundation for pride, but an ever deepening challenge to ennoble our culture, society and government. Such is the nature of true greatness for America.

The final question which our society must answer in relation to the nationalism coursing through our culture is whether that nationalism conceives itself as rooted in the interests of the United States alone, or whether it is connected on a fundamental level with our obligations to the international common good.  In surveying the effects of globalization on the world, Pope Benedict lamented “as society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers.” Does the nationalism which we are experiencing today view our country as brother and sister to the other peoples of the world? Catholic social teaching has become ever clearer that on issues of international trade, the environment, human trafficking, refugees and migrants, and war and peace there is an international common good which must constrain powerful nations from using their asymmetrical power to disadvantage the most vulnerable peoples of the world. Moreover, the dominant nations of the world have a special obligation to use their strength to create collective goods for the world as a whole. Only a nationalism attentive to such a notion of the international common good is truly capable of bringing greatness to America.

The Challenge of Erroneous Autonomy

The past year compels us to pay greater attention to deep cultural and political currents which rage within our nation, rather than to carefully thought out ideologies and political programs. It has also alerted us to central cultural forces which claim moral legitimacy, but which are in themselves morally neutral or even devastatingly destructive when disconnected from a moral and political framework tied to the order of justice, freedom and solidarity.

It is not in their internal structures that the drive for free markets, the technocratic perspective or nationalism are dangerous. It is when they are morally autonomous, when they in themselves are directive of cultural thinking and public policy, that they become perilous for the well-being of our nation.

It is our task as a people to reconnect these cultural currents to sound moral anchors. It is a task of dialogue and solidarity, honesty and openness. And ultimately it is a task of grace and hope.

[Robert McElroy is bishop of the San Diego, Calif., diocese.]