Last week, Interfaith Worker Justice and other religious leaders joined the AFL-CIO, the NFL Players Association, the National Organization of Women and both union and non-union Hyatt Hotel workers to launch “Hyatt Hurts,” a global boycott of Hyatt Hotels. Joining in the long tradition of
religious support for workers’ rights, IWJ has taken an active role in this fight, leading delegations of workers in meetings with hotel managers and organizing prayer vigils inside and outside hotels. “Faith communities want our money to align with our values, which is why Interfaith Worker Justice
supports the Hyatt Global Boycott,” IWJ executive director Kim Bobo explained.
The boycott comes as a response to a long list of grievances against Hyatt. The company is said to be subcontracting workers, firing longtime staff members in favor of others who will work for less, and failing to protect its employees. In 2011, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) leveled $100,000 worth of penalties against the nationwide chain, citing 18 regulation violations.
To learn more about the Hyatt Hurts and to hear the human stories behind the boycott, visit hyatthurts.org.
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Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Fla., founded with major financial backing from pizza magnate Tom Monaghan, has long been a destination for conservative faculty and students. But now it appears that even the Church’s long support for unions as central to protecting the dignity of work – a core pillar of Catholic social teaching – is taking a back seat to Ave Maria’s promotion of right-wing ideology.
According to a press release on Christian News Wire, the university has partnered with the virulently anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation to establish a professorship of labor law. This is a bit like defense contractor Lockheed Martin partnering with the Quakers to announce a peace studies fellowship.
While the National Right to Work Defense Foundation and the National Right to Work Committee side with corporations that are increasingly making it harder on employees to join unions, the Catholic Church has stood boldly with unions since 1891 when Pope Leo XIII released Rerum Novarum – an encyclical that puts labor rights at the center of Catholic social teaching. In their 1986 pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All, Catholic bishops wrote:
“The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working condition…No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself.”
This is not some dusty, long-forgotten teaching. When Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers were busy hamstringing unions in Wisconsin, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki released a public statement saying that “hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.” The archbishop noted that it’s a “mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth.” And he went on to quote Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote in 2009 that “the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend (workers’) rights must … be honored today even more than in the past.” Other Catholic leaders like Rev. Bryan Massingale of Marquette University, a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, also challenged the governor.
Catholic bishops and conservative Catholic watchdog groups like the Cardinal Newman Society have not been shy about publicly challenging Catholic universities that invite pro-choice speakers to campus. The Catholic hierarchy has been far less vigilant when it comes to universities giving platforms to those who break from Church teaching on issues like the death penalty or economic justice.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane, whose diocese includes the Naples area, should now be asking law school officials some tough questions and reminding them that respect for unions is a fundamental Catholic teaching. Will he speak up and warn the school that they could be causing confusion among the Catholic faithful?
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post conflated Ave Maria School of Law with Ave Maria University. The two are distinct institutions with separate governing boards. We regret the error
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Beginning in 2001, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (comprised mostly of Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants in low-wage jobs) launched the Campaign for Fair Food, an initiative to encourage food retailers to pay farmworkers a penny more for each pound of tomatoes they pick.
Publix, a Florida-based retail food chain, is staunchly refusing to join the Campaign for Fair Food and end its exploitative business practices.
In an effort to alert Publix’s customers to this alarming decision and pressure the food retailer to join the campaign, the CIW, National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative, Florida Presbyterians and numerous other groups joined together at Publix’s Corporate Headquarters to begin a 6-day fast, “…insisting that Publix – Florida’s largest corporation – finally recognize the humanity of the workers who pick its tomatoes…”
Michael Livingston, a participant in the fast and Director of the NCC Poverty Initiative reflects on the solidarity between farmworkers and people of faith:
It’s day one of six days of fasting with farmworkers and their supporters at the corporate headquarters of Publix in Lakeland, FL. I’m already impressed with the quiet dignity of workers with whom I cannot communicate using the English I speak or the Spanish they speak. Yet we stand together under the same bright sun and our very presence alongside a busy thoroughfare, announces a firm commitment to seek justice for a workforce whose humanity has been ignored by a system of labor that is fundamentally unjust.
While retailers such as Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and McDonald’s have joined the Fair Food Campaign, Publix’s refusal to join the campaign amounts to nothing short of a full endorsement of the inhumane wages workers are paid for their labor.
Bill Maxwell of the Tampa Bay Times criticizes Publix’s blatant exploitation of farm workers:
…each time I buy tomatoes at a Publix, I am mindful of the back-breaking toil of the laborers who picked them and lugged them to a truck. I also am aware that for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes picked, a worker gets on average 50 cents, a rate unchanged since 1980. Most workers earn roughly $10,000 a year. Besides low wages, they have no right to overtime pay, no health insurance, no sick leave, no paid vacation and no right to organize to change these conditions.
With CIW’s successful history of pressuring retailers to pay farmworkers a penny more per pound, it only remains to be seen how long Publix will choose to embarrass itself and denigrate its public image by abetting the exploitation of working people.
To stand with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the “Fast for Fair Food”, check out these resources.
Photo Credit: Fast for Fair Food
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