Catholic bishops back unions in Labor Day message

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WASHINGTON (PAI) - Repeatedly using the word "solidarity," and extending it to all, not just to workers, the nation's Catholic bishops strongly backed unions and their role in their annual Labor Day message.

The message draws both on Catholic social thought, which has endorsed unions and their role in protecting and advancing workers for 125 years, and the more-recent strongly pro-worker statements of new Pope Francis I. The bishops' message does not, however, repeat Francis' frequent denunciations of the excesses of unbridled capitalism.

And whether prominent lay Catholics, such as House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, or even other churchmen - such as the St. Louis prelate who opposes unionizing his diocese's parochial school teachers - will pay heed to the bishops is open to question.

"At their best, labor unions and institutions like them embody solidarity and subsidiarity while advancing the common good," said Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on domestic justice and human development.

Unions "help workers "not only have more, but above all be more...and realize their humanity more fully in every respect. Yes, unions and worker associations are imperfect, as are all human institutions. But the right of workers to freely associate is supported by Church teaching in order to protect workers and move them - especially younger ones, through mentoring and apprenticeships - into decent jobs with just wages." Overall, the state of the economy is not as good as it first appears, Wenski added, especially for young adults. "Pope Francis has reserved some of his strongest language for speaking about young adult unemployment, calling it 'evil,' an 'atrocity,' and emblematic of the 'throwaway culture,'" Wenski said.

"Labor Day gives us the chance to see how work in America matches up to the lofty ideals of our Catholic tradition," his statement says. "This year, some Americans who have found stability and security are breathing a sigh of relief. Sporadic economic growth, a falling unemployment rate, and more consistent job creation suggest that the country may finally be healing economically after years of suffering and pain. For those men and women, and their children, this is good news.

"Digging a little deeper, however, reveals enduring hardship for millions of workers and their families. The poverty rate remains high, as 46 million Americans struggle to make ends meet. The economy continues to fail in producing enough decent jobs for everyone who is able to work, despite the increasing numbers of retiring baby boomers. There are twice as many unemployed job seekers as there are available jobs, and that does not include the seven million part-time workers who want to work full-time. Millions more, especially the long-term unemployed, are discouraged and dejected."

The bishops offered several solutions for stagnation, including "supporting policies and institutions that create decent jobs, pay just wages, and support family formation and stability."

"Raising the minimum wage, more and better workforce training, and smarter regulations that minimize negative unintended consequences would be good places to start," he said. "In doing this we follow the lead of Pope Francis in rejecting an economy of exclusion."

And Wenski renewed the Church's demand for comprehensive immigration reform. Approving it, he said, would "recognize that a vibrant and just economy requires the contributions of everyone."

The bishops again rejected nativists' claims that the undocumented displace U.S. workers. And, again quoting the Pope, Wenski reiterated that comprehensive reform "would also level the playing field among workers, provide more opportunity for all who can work, and bring about a needed change of attitude toward migrants and refugees."

Photo: Archbishop Thomas Wenski. Miamiarch.org

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