THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADE UNIONS by Gerry O'Shea : CALL TO ACTION BLOG

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THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADE UNIONS by Gerry O'Shea

by Call To Action on 12/27/17

Let's consider an imaginary company in America, a publicly-traded corporation with 1000 employees who have just announced annual profits of 100 million dollars.

Their accountants say that they owe 10% in government taxes, so the question arises about where the remaining 90 millions go. There are three groups with legitimate claims on the company profits: management, shareholders and regular workers.

Forty years ago the average CEO's salary in America was twenty times more than one of the company's line workers; today the ratio has climbed to an astonishing two hundred and seventy. If we take the average worker's salary as $50,000, that gives the CEO annual compensation in multiple millions.

That is how the cake is divided. The corporate executives and the shareholders are represented at the table when the profits are divvied up and they take good care of their interests, but the workers have no voice in the decision-making. The result is that, despite big increases in corporate profits, ordinary workers' salaries have barely matched the inflation rate since the 1970's. Surely a classical example of a rigged system where the majority of those who contributed to the company's success have no say in the distribution of the profits.

In the same 50-year period union membership has declined dramatically. Now only 6.4% of private sector workers carry a union card; the figure was about five times that in the 1970's. The union contracts negotiated at that time ensured steady improvements in the lives of workers and their families. In addition there was a strong ripple effect on the wages and conditions of non-union workers as employers felt that they had to remain competitive in their salary structure.

The dramatic growth in income inequality in the United States is closely related to the decline in union membership.

Even today union workers earn up to 30% more than similar employees in companies that do not have an organized voice. And  trade union members nearly always have better healthcare, vacation and pension benefits.

Public sector workers, especially in the tri-state area, are highly unionized and their wages, pensions and working conditions reflect a powerful voice at the negotiating table. As a retired teacher, I am grateful that I am represented by a strong union, the United Federation of Teachers.

It is hard to see how the lot of most private-sector blue-collar workers will improve without a strong voice at the corporate table. This will entail an unlikely spurt of growth in trade union membership or legislation in Washington that would mandate this change.

Unfortunately, Republicans would strongly oppose any legislative proposal in the direction of worker representation on company boards. Their recent taxation policies clearly favor corporations and the rich. They promise that higher company profits will somehow dribble down and result in salary increases for workers - a very dubious proposition that doesn't meet the common sense test.

Democrats usually get the support and financial backing of the big unions and their economic and taxation policies are much more likely to favor the middle class. President Obama did raise taxes on the affluent to help fund the Affordable Care Act, and Hillary Clinton promised that, if elected, she would propose a bill that would encourage some profit-sharing by companies - surely a step in the right direction. Still, overall, Democrats lack conviction in this regard and show no plans to address these issues.

Of all the Christian denominations, the Catholic Church has been most associated with supporting workers' rights. From Pope Leo the X111's revolutionary encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891 to John XX111's Mater et Magistra 70 years later to many statements by the present pope, Rome has been clearly in the workers' corner, favoring their demands, including the right to organize and to negotiate a living wage. Mater et Magistra goes further, asserting that workers should be co-owners and thus sharing in the profits of the enterprise where they work.

Unfortunately, very little is heard from the pulpits on the glaring injustices suffered by ordinary workers. Why are there no outraged church voices raised against the immorality of stagnant employee wages and reduced worker healthcare benefits when companies are making record profits and CEO's are raking in millions? Instead we have top leaders with names like Ryan and Brady disgracefully leading the charge for improving the lot of the already well-heeled.

The millions of workers who in frustration voted for Trump last year must surely realize by now that this administration in Washington does not respond to their needs. They should rally around an assertive trade union leader - like a Cesar Chavez or a Mike Quill - to realize the power of  worker solidarity. A tall order for sure, but otherwise the remuneration of top management compared to the pay of ordinary workers will widen even further.

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“Amoris Laetitia”

“Amoris Laetitia” is the result of Pope Francis’ prayerful reflection on the discussions and outcomes of two Synods of Bishops (an Extraordinary Synod in 2014 and an Ordinary Synod in 2015), on the subject of marriage and the family. The Synod of Bishops is an assembly of bishops who assist the Pope by providing counsel on questions facing the Church.

Pope Francis issued “Amoris Laetitia” in 2016 as an apostolic exhortation, a papal teaching on marriage and the family. Amoris Laetitia is Latin for “The Joy of Love”. Apostolic exhortations are used to share the conclusions reached by the Pope after prayerful consideration of the recommendations of a Synod of Bishops. Such documents are a means for the pope to exhort/encourage the faithful to a deeper life of Christian discipleship. The pope has asked the clergy to accompany the faithful in addressing challenges families face today.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have asked that all who care about the future of the family should read this apostolic exhortation and study it in its entirety. In their 2017-2020 Strategic Plan (Encountering the Mercy of Christ and Accompanying His People with Joy), one of the five USCCB priorities is family and marriage -- ways to encourage and heal families.

What is the good news of Amoris Laetitia? No one is condemned forever. The pope has asked us not to put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its meaning and significance.
How should we respond, joining together with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB),
in developing a plan to implement the good news of “Amoris Laetitia”?

We, the Catholics who are the church, are called to action in strengthening and sustaining all families: 
We are called to dialogue with our leaders, who in turn are called to accompany us on this faith journey.
We are called to make moral decisions and life choices, formed by our conscience. The church is called to help form our consciences, not to replace them.
We are called to act, to engage and to support families in all the ways they are living.
We are called to pray, to engage the whole church in the power of intercessory prayer for wisdom and mercy in raising awareness of the message of “Amoris Laetitia”.

Join with the members of Call to Action, Metro NY Chapter, in the dialogue that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the USCCB called for in his address on November 13, 2017, when he said, “It is the work of the church, the entire body of Christ, to work towards an ever-growing understanding of God’s truth.” Cardinal DiNardo asked us to speak with civility in debating issues of social challenge and social teaching.

Call to Action, Metro NY Chapter, is setting up a virtual study group to read and discuss “Amoris Laetitia”. We will explore our responsibility for the formation of our conscience and discernment. We will study each of the chapters of “Amoris Laetitia” and in doing so, will shape the prayers of the faithful in 2018. Beginning February 14th, we will start the conversation.  

Join us in this prayerful conversation of how we, together with the American bishops, will implement “Amoris Laetitia”. Thus empowered, we will open the hearts and minds of our church to invite those on the margins, to join us in celebrating God’s love for each of us.

Buy a copy of “Amoris Laetitia” which can be purchased locally at Catholic book stores such as Pauline Books & Media (112 E 29 St in Manhattan), the St Francis Book Shop (135 W 31 St in Manhattan), or on Amazon. Start reading Chapter One. Sign up now by sending an email to CTAamorislaetitia@gmail.com to receive Study Guide Questions and learn how you can join the conversation.

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