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“Not paying a just wage, not providing work, focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at making profit…That goes against God!”

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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.”