Catholic Bishops’ Labor Day declaration calls for just wages
The US Catholic Bishops have reiterated calls by Pope Francis, shown here, for fair wages for workers and for curbs on the power of big business. | Gregorio Borgia/AP

Just wages for workers and strengthening the right to organize are among the top points the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops emphasized in their annual Labor Day statement.

And the bishops, led by Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, also chided corporate moguls for putting profits ahead of people – and of society.

The bishops’ statement is in line with more than 125 years of Catholic social teaching and with strong pro-union stands from Pope Francis, his predecessor, Benedict XVI, and other popes, Dewane said. Whether Catholic business leaders are listening is another matter.

“The root of the problem, which remains prominent, comes from an errant understanding that ‘human work is solely an instrument of production’ such that business leaders ‘following the principle of maximum profit, try to establish the lowest possible wages for the work done by the employees,’” the bishops said.

“A just wage, however, is not the principle of maximum profit; rather, it is ‘the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system and, in any case, of checking that it is functioning justly (their emphasis).”

And in a criticism of unnamed politicians, the bishops warned: “When unethical labor conditions weaken the social pact, society can become vulnerable to attempts to use fear, and our care and concern for one another can disintegrate into blame and suspicion.

Francis has been saying that, too, for a year or more, the statement said. The conditions, the Pope warned, “threaten the stability of society.

“The Pope has also called us to action based on the truth about the nature of work which is intended to support the flourishing of the family,” the bishops said. “A lack of work can

be devastating to the human person, and it can undermine solidarity and destabilize society.” And Francis “challenges a twisted understanding of the purposes of labor.”

Jesus Christ’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 and those who suffer the effects of racism in any setting, including the workplace,” the bishops said.

But too often, they added, workers are “victims of labor trafficking, viciously exploited as mere objects instead of being treated as persons created with God-given dignity.

“Pope Francis rejects economic approaches driven by the ‘throw-away’ culture, systems which prize only commercial value and recognize no other values or truths. The Holy Father connects the idolatry of consumerism to the undervaluing of labor and the erosion of the social pact,” the bishops declared.

Unions are a vital counter to that, as are worker-owned businesses, the bishops said. But they added unions must also stand up not just for their members, but for the un-unionized, including the poor, women and the oppressed.

Quoting Francis directly, Dewane added: “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.”

“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,” the bishops stated. Their entire statement is available on the USCCB’s website.



Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.