Bishops’ annual Labor Day statement scores ‘excessive inequality’

| Mark Pattison | August 31, 2017 | 8 Comments

Women work in the sewing area in 2014 at UTC Aerospace Systems in Phoenix. Labor Day, honoring U.S. workers, is observed Sept. 4 this year. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

“Excessive inequality” threatens cooperation among all people in society “and the social pact it supports,” said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, in the U.S. bishops’ annual Labor Day statement.

In the message, Bishop Dewane cited the words of Pope Francis, who told factory workers in Genoa, Italy, “The entire social pact is built around work. This is the core of the problem. Because when you do not work, or you work badly, you work little or you work too much, it is democracy that enters into crisis, and the entire social pact.”

Dated Sept. 4, the federal Labor Day holiday, the statement was released Aug. 30.

Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, pointed to a “twisted understanding of labor and laborers” that fosters deepening inequality.

In Genoa, the pope “acknowledges that ‘merit’ is ‘a beautiful word,'” Bishop Dewane said, “but the modern world can often use it ‘ideologically,’ which makes it ‘distorted and perverted’ when it is used for ‘ethically legitimizing inequality.'”

“Wages remain stagnant or are decreasing for the vast majority of people, while a smaller percentage collect the new wealth being generated. Economic stresses contribute to a decline in marriage rates, increases in births outside of two-parent households and child poverty,” Bishop Dewane added. “Economic instability also hurts the faith community, as Americans who have recently experienced unemployment are less likely to go to church, even though such communities can be a source of great support in difficult times.”

He said, “When a parent — working full time, or even working multiple jobs beyond standard working hours — cannot bring his or her family out of poverty, something is terribly wrong with how we value the work of a person.”

“Pope Francis has said it is ‘inhuman’ that parents must spend so much time working that they cannot play with their children. Surely many wish for more time, but their working conditions do not allow it.”

He quoted St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Centesimus Annus”: “Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business.”

“A culture that obsesses less over endless activity and consumption may, over time, become a culture that values rest for the sake of God and family,” Bishop Dewane said.

He added, “Our Lord’s ‘gaze of love’ embraces men and women who work long hours without rest to provide for their loved ones; families who move across towns, states, and nations, facing the highest risks and often suffering great tragedy in order to find better opportunities; workers who endure unsafe working conditions; low pay and health crises; women who suffer wage disparities and exploitation; and those who suffer the effects of racism in any setting, including the workplace.”

Bishop Dewane suggested several approaches to right the imbalance brought by inequality.

“Worker-owned businesses can be a force for strengthening solidarity, as the Second Vatican Council encouraged businesses to consider ‘the active sharing of all in the administration and profits of these enterprises in ways to be properly determined,'” he said. “The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has helped in the formation of many employee-owned companies which provide jobs in communities where work opportunities may be scarce.”

Workers’ legal rights to “a just wage in exchange for work, to protection against wage theft, to workplace safety and just compensation for workplace injuries, to health care and other benefits, and to organize and engage in negotiations, should be promoted,” he added.

“Workers must be aided to come to know and exercise their legal rights. As an example, CCHD has supported the Don Bosco Workers in Westchester, New York, which has launched a successful campaign to combat wage theft. Persons returning from prison also need support to understand their legal rights as they seek new employment. CCHD has helped the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati and elsewhere as they work with returning citizens to find stable and meaningful jobs.”

Labor unions play an important role in this effort, according to Bishop Dewane, as he quoted from Pope Francis’ remarks in June in an audience with delegates from the Confederation of Trade Unions: “There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that is not reborn every day in the peripheries, that does not transform the discarded stones of the economy into its cornerstones.”

“Unions must retain and recover their prophetic voice, which ‘regards the very nature itself of the union, its truest vocation. The union is an expression of the prophetic profile of society,'” he said, quoting further from Pope Francis, who added, “The union movement has its great seasons when it is prophecy.” Bishop Dewane added that unions should “resist the temptation of becoming too similar to the institutions and powers that it should instead criticize.”

Bishop Dewane said, “Unions are especially valuable when they speak on behalf of the poor, the immigrant, and the person returning from prison.”

Tags: , , , ,

Category: U.S. & World News

  • Charles C.

    The bishops’ Labor Day message is harmless enough, in parts, but in other parts it is makes things worse. I didn’t see anywhere where it was helpful, with the possible exception of re-suggesting management techniques known for decades and practiced in some firms.

    Why is it harmful? Because it inflames feelings of hurt, envy, and anger without presenting solutions except in a vague, roundabout way. Their big gripe this time is income inequality. But not just income inequality, “excessive inequality.” What an obvious thing to say. Everyone is opposed to “excessive” inequality, just as everyone is opposed to “excessive” anything; eating, exercise, public displays of affection, etc. “We accept income inequality except when there’s too much of it, and we won’t tell you how much is too much.”

    The bishops fail to discuss the causes of income inequality, some of which hurt the economy and other causes which do not. Because they don’t offer solutions, they don’t have to address the fact that Americans reject income redistribution policies which would bring about massive reductions in inequality. They also don’t consider the fluid nature of income. After looking at the numbers from 1968 – 2011, it was learned that 53% of Americans spend at least one year in the top 10% of wage earners, and 11% will spend at least a year as a top one-percenter. Nor do they discuss the fact that labor income was almost entirely (81%) tied to productivity. Nor do they deal with low wage immigrants or a public school system leaving an increasing number of graduates unprepared for work or college.

    Yes, inequality can be an economic drag but, interestingly, high income derived from the market isn’t a drag while high income derived from government is. (Think the Clinton’s, Obama, and Gore.)

    But there’s no need to go on about inequality. The bishops have taken a complicated subject, over simplified it, and came up with a bumper sticker slogan or two. All while telling American workers how unfair everything is and that they are not being respected. Thanks a lot, guys.

    But there are so many other things wrong with the statement, and I’m already “excessively” wordy.

    • Most bishops do not understand basic economics.

      • Charles C.

        And for just that reason they should be very careful when they make dramatic economic statements. They are out of their field of expertise and, unfortunately, sometimes cause confusion and disrespect among the flock.

        For instance, in the first semester of any economics course the instructor will take chalk in hand and put a supply-demand curve on the board. (Chalk? I know, I’m old school.)

        In the same semester, the instructor will explain about the effect of “price fixing” on supply and demand.

        The supply-demand curve illustrates that there is a price at which the supply and demand for some item are the same. In general, if the price is too high, then more people will want to sell it and fewer will want to buy it, leaving a surplus on hand. If there is a surplus, people will lower the price (Inventory clearance sales), or stop offering it. Either way the surplus is reduced.

        If the government requires that the price be at least $ X, and that price is above the market price, then more people will want to sell than want to buy and you get a surplus.

        So, when you increase the supply of workers the market price will go down. But, if the government says the price has to be at least $ X an hour, then we get surplus workers who people don’t want to hire at that price.

        The bishops’ recommendation of open immigration and an artificially high hourly wage will result in greater unemployment.

        The way to beat that is to get workers who people are willing to hire at prices above the government’s minimum wage, but for that to happen the workers must have some skill or talent that makes that possible. Bringing in people with enough skills to be paid more than the minimum wage is a solution, but opening the doors to millions with no particular skills will be an unemployment disaster.

        The bishops’ solution to that problem is for the government to take money out of the economy, filter it through D.C. and various agencies, and give it to people who are unemployed. If not carried to an extreme, that can work well and be compassionate (although there are better ways to do it). Unfortunately, neither the bishops nor the Democratic party are willing to impose reasonable limits.

        It reminds me of a Wizard of Id cartoon in which the King is addressing the peasants. He says something like, “I promise you free housing, free medical care, free education, free food, and jobs for everyone.” A peasant responds, “Why do we need jobs?”

        • Good point. Doctor Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winner in economics, often made the point that raising the minimum wage caused unemployment. Business owners simply chose to do the work themselves rather than pay people more than the market dictates. More regulation destroys jobs. Take, for example, the Family Medical Leave Act which gives full-time employees 12 weeks of uncompensated time off work annually for serious health conditions with which they or a family member is afflicted. One cannot run a small business with a critical employee gone for 12 weeks annually. I believe that all employers with 40 or more employees are subject to the FMLA. I own a small business and would make sure I never had 40 or more employees if it made by subject to the FMLA.

          • Charles C.

            Not that this helps much, but it may relieve your mind a little. From the US Department of Labor website:

            “The FMLA applies to all:

            public agencies, including local, State, and Federal employers, and local education agencies (schools); and

            private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year – including joint employers and successors of covered employers.”

            Good luck with your business.

  • tschraad

    This message shows clearly what is wrong with the Bishops message. “Wages remain stagnant or are decreasing for the vast majority of people, while a smaller collect the new wealth being generated.”

    2. Economic stresses. Again more new illegals taking jobs away from low income workers.

    3. Decline in marriage rates, increases in births outside of two-parent households. Parents leaving their spouse/homes breaking up one marriage and shaking up with another to start another family.

    4. Child poverty. Putting the burden of providing for your children on to the government (that’s us). No responsibility.

    5. Working full time…working multiple jobs … cannot bring his or her family out of poverty. Open borders will continue this trend of low wages until we realize we cannot support the whole world.

    The Bishops themselves are the cause of “workers who endure unsafe working conditions; low pay and health crises; women who suffer wage disparities and exploitation” with their fake social justice plus the Bishops have no concern about legal Americans who keep losing their jobs to illegals.

  • DebraBrunsberg

    “Unions must retain and recover their prophetic voice, which ‘regards the very nature itself of the union, its truest vocation. The union is an expression of the prophetic profile of society,’ Unions are no longer working for the good of the members. Unions work to line the pockets at the head of the union. Unions are solidly pro-abortion, pro-divorce, pro-same sex marriage and pretty much pro everything that the Catholic Church is against. If you are forced to belong to a union (as I do) you are not allowed to have any voice that is opposite to what the union decides. They take your dues and give it to political candidates who support the greatest evils of our time. Prophetic? Really? sigh

  • Charles C.

    Inequality isn’t a problem, severe poverty is a problem. The fact that Bill Gates is rich doesn’t make you poor.