Up Front and Personal

Strong Ties Bind Church and Labor

by Vincent Alvarez 

For Americans across the country, the annual Labor Day holiday signals the changing of the seasons, one last chance to take in good weather around a cookout or at the beach. 

It is a hard-earned holiday that came from the struggles of working people to secure the eight-hour day, health and safety laws, workers’ compensation, restrictions on child labor, a minimum wage, unemployment compensation, and the right to organize unions. 

Labor and faith organizations including the Catholic Church have a long history of shared relationships, tied together by our common bonds: social justice, equality, the dignity of all people, racial and economic justice, and fair treatment in the workplace. We need to connect our struggle for human dignity, democracy, and collective voice on the job to the fundamental values of our faith. 

This time last year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops made a powerful statement for the Labor Day holiday, calling for federal paid leave policy, just wages, and the right to organize — a statement that is relevant now more than ever. As working people across our city take on two or even three jobs to make ends meet, corporate greed continues to grow at the expense of our brothers and sisters who make these profits possible. But just as we are bearing witness to growing inequality, we also find ourselves in a new dawn of the American labor movement, with 60 million Americans saying they would join a union if they could. 

For the past several months, I’ve stood with workers outside studios like Netflix and Amazon, marching in picket lines alongside the Writers Guild of America East and SAG-AFTRA, who are representing thousands of writers and performers on strike for fair pay, protections against rapidly evolving technology, and respect in the workplace. We’ve witnessed a new wave of workers organizing for dignity and respect in stores like Starbucks and Barnes & Noble. And we cheered as nurses in NYC’s public hospitals won a historic union contract that includes improvements in patient care, safe staffing, and pay parity. 

As a Catholic, I have always been proud of our Church’s clear and unequivocal teachings and support for working people. From Pope Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum” in 1891 to Pope Francis’ teachings today, our faith traditions continue to reaffirm support for the rights of all workers, the indispensable role of unions, and the ongoing concern for the poor. Let us recommit ourselves to justice, fairness, and opportunity for all people. Because together, we share in the faith that we are part of something greater than ourselves.

Vincent Alvarez is the President of the New York City Central Labor Council.