Wage Theft: A Threat to the Worker and to Economic Development

Don Bosco's Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan at Pope's Workshop

Don Bosco’s Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan

Wage theft is not only an urban problem. Don Bosco Workers began as a parish program at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Westchester County in 2000. The program was in response to the growing social unrest in Port Chester over “workers on the corners” and the alarming levels of wage theft as a consequence of workers being uninformed and unaffiliated.

A Catholic Campaign for Human Development — the domestic anti-poverty program of the Catholic bishops of the United States — grantee beginning in 2006, we incorporated in 2008 including a worker-driven board of directors. Today, we represent more 200 paid members organized as a General Assembly of Workers who decide on how to strengthen the organization through skills training, leadership development, and education.

In September 2014, in collaboration with Communications Workers of America, Local 1103 in Port Chester, we launched a new campaign to address wage theft as a threat not only to the Westchester worker but to economic development throughout the county. No Pay No Way: Wage Theft Is Bad For Business educates the community on how responsible business owners suffer, when other businesses fail to follow labor law. Research shows responsible businesses are simply less competitive because their cost of doing business (paying their workers) is higher.

Just about one year into No Pay No Way, we collaborated with the Attorney General of New York in the prosecution of a local restaurant owner for wage, overtime, and safety violations for five female workers. The employer was sentenced to repayment of $47,000. The women are now thinking about investing their recovered wages in a worker-owned eco-cleaning business.

Last year, we were honored to construct the chair that Pope Francis used when he celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden. We were called the Pope’s workers, and this continues to inspire our work for justice.

When workers are treated fairly according to the law, workers and responsible small business thrive, and there is greater economic development for all.

Gonzalo Cruz is the Director for Don Bosco Workers, Inc.

Go Deeper!

As Don Bosco Workers, Inc. works to protect worker rights, visit this page from WeAreSaltAndLight.org which contains resources on ethical practices for business leaders and institutions.”

A few things you need to know about poverty in the U.S. right now

Tom Mulloy, policy advisor at USCCB

Tom Mulloy, policy advisor at USCCB

As Catholics, we strive for an economy that places people first. Everyone has a right to live in dignity, free from poverty, with decent work at just wages.

Life in America is far from our Catholic understanding of a just economy. Back in September, Archbishop Thomas Wenski cautioned against settling for this ‘new normal’ that leaves too many people and families behind.

The Census Bureau recently confirmed these fears when it released updated poverty and income statistics for 2014. Five years after the Great Recession — after five consecutive years of economic growth and “recovery”– Census reported that:

  • About 15 percent of Americans–close to 47 million people–live in poverty. The overall poverty rate hasn’t been this high for this long in over forty years.
  • 1 in 5 American children live in poverty. Child poverty hasn’t been this persistently high since the early ‘90s.
  • For half of all American households, income is still significantly lower than it was before the recession even began.

When the economic life of our country breaks down like this and fails to provide sufficient work and opportunity, public programs can play a critical role in ensuring human needs are met. Fortunately, Census had good news on this front. Federal antipoverty programs are relatively good at combating the shortcomings of the economy and reducing poverty.

  • Working family tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit, taken together, are by far the most effective tools we have for fighting child poverty. Without them, the child poverty rate would be seven whole percentage points higher.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly referred to as food stamps), in addition to fighting hunger, reduces overall poverty by one and a half percentage points, and child poverty by close to three percentage points.
  • 1 in 7 American senior citizens live in poverty. Without Social Security, that number skyrockets to 1 in 2. Yes–fifty percent.

We should make sure these programs are protected by reminding our elected officials that they help millions of people achieve some sense of financial security. Our interactive map at PovertyUSA.org now has updated statistics for your state to inform your advocacy efforts. We can also work for more and better jobs with just wages in our own communities. The county-level view of our map highlights programs across the country doing this critical work with help from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Let’s give Pope Francis the last word. In his address to Congress last month, he implored:

Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7:12). This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.

 

Tom Mulloy is a policy advisor in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.


 

For an in-depth discussion of the Census report, check out our Poverty in America, 2014 and a Catholic Response webinar and download a copy of the presentation. 

5 Ways to Fair Trade This Month, or Any Time of Year

CRS Gift of HOpe TreeIn October Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Fair Trade celebrates the fair trade movement in a special way. At its core, the fair trade movement creates enduring relationships that uplift human dignity and ensure a better work environment for marginalized farmers and artisans around the globe.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to meet artisans and farmers whose lives are positively impacted by the benefits of a trading system that pays a fair price, provides monetary support for community development projects, and supports farmers and artisans with financing and product development.

headshot of young woman in Ghana

Fatima Ali, President of Kuapa KoKoo Farmers Union

Farmers like Fatima Ali, president of the Kuapa KoKo farmers union in Ghana. Her farmers union produces the cocoa for Divine chocolate. Fatima shared with me the real impact that fair trade has had on her life and the life of her community: financial independence, schooling for children, a well with clean water, and safe secure houses.

When economic justice is your job, it is sometimes easy to get lost in the details and complexity but it really is quite simple. Every day our economic choices affect our brothers and sisters around the world positively or negatively.

Here are five simple ways to live your faith in the market place and encourage your school, parish, or community to do the same.

  1. Bring faith formation to life through reflections, prayers, and activities with a global perspective.
    Find out how fair trade relates to our faith with our Catholic Social Teaching and fair trade resources. You can also prepare for Advent with special prayers, weekly reflections connected to the Gospel, and activities to help prepare our hearts and minds to receive Jesus!
  2. IMG_6397Host a CRS Fair Trade Consignment Sale before and after Masses. Bring fairly traded art, jewelry, gifts, and housewares to your parish and teach parishioners about fair and ethical purchasing.
    Call 1.800.685.7572 or request a consignment information packet and order beautiful products from fair trade artisans through our partner Serrv at no cost to you!
  3. Host a CRS Fair Trade Community Order and share fair trade with your small faith community, youth group, women’s group, senior group, or other ministry. Raise awareness and funds!
     CRS Fair TradeCall 1.800.685.7572 or request a free CRS Fair Trade Community Order packet online. Round up all of the individual orders from your group, and place one order ($300.00 minimum). Make a 20% profit for your ministry!
  4. Participate in a community shopping event to benefit CRS at Ten Thousand Villages stores nationwide on Friday October 16. Fifteen percent of customer-designated purchases will be donated to CRS to support artisans and farmers overseas. Can’t make it to the store? Shop on-line and use promo code CRS2015.
  5.  Switch to fair trade coffee through CRS partner Equal Exchange or other CRS partners in your area.
    Call 774-776-7366 or use this link to shop.  Be sure to select “Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade Program” when setting up your account so that your purchase can be counted! Raise Money right with the Equal Exchange fundraising program. Schools make a 40% profit.

Remember when you support CRS’ fair trade partners, you support artisans and farmers, and provide economic opportunities for people living in poverty. For every purchase, our partners donate a percentage back to the CRS Fair Trade Fund to support artisan and farmer organizations overseas.

For more information visit crsfairtrade.org, email fairtrade@crs.org, or watch a short webinar on how to fair trade your fall.

 

Simone BlanchardSimone Blanchard is the Manager of the Economic Justice Program at of Catholic Relief Services.

 


Sign up for more information about  what the Church is doing to confront global poverty, U.S. international and economic policies, and their impact on poor people around the world. Visit Catholics Confront Global Poverty | Get Involved, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services.

Pope Francis: “Do unto Others” Has Global Implications

photograph of Bishop Oscar Cantu

Most Reverend Oscar Cantú, Bishop of Las Cruces

Pope Francis has now returned to Vatican City, but we remain inspired and moved to action by his words and actions during his visit to the U.S. and the U.N.

As Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, I would like to recall some of his powerful international challenges to our nation and world in his own words.

To the U.S. Congress

On Immigrants and Refugees

“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.”

“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War.”

Immigrants “travel north in search of a better life…for their loved ones. Is this not what we want for our own children?”

On Global Poverty

“How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty!”

“Now is the time for…combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” Continue reading

Crack the Whip – How a Child’s Playground Activity Speaks to Our Times

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Msgr. Charles Pope

Many years ago I heard an analogy for what has happened in this country and how the unhealthy patterns of the elite, the powerful, and the wealthy trickled down to the poor, but with far more disastrous effects.

The analogy was the game of “crack the whip,” which some of us who are older remember from the school playground. The “game” involved fifteen or twenty kids making a straight line. Each kid then reached back with one arm and took the hand of the one behind so that a long chain of kids now existed. The kid in the lead then took off running and everyone behind followed, holding arms. Then suddenly the lead kid would take a sharp turn. The kids immediately behind him could make the turn, but for the kids further back it got harder to hold on and make the turn. The kids at the back of the line didn’t stand a chance and went flying off the line, falling to ground with the centripetal force.

This is an analogy for the social and economic ills of the last sixty or more years. For there are some who are at the front of the line who are well positioned to take their thrill rides, engage in social experimentation and indulge greed and excess.

“Crack the Whip” is much in evidence in social/moral ills, such as indulging drugs, alcohol, sex, going in and out of marriages, and glamorizing all sorts of dangerous and deleterious behaviors, as well as in economic ills.

Those at the front of the line can afford the lifestyles that greed demands and can generally afford to pay the higher prices of an overheated economy and a lifestyle that increasingly demands and expects more and more.

“Gentrification” has accelerated, along with all the difficulties of social dislocation. Here in Washington DC the poor are moved to the margins of what many call “Ward 9.” There are only 8 Wards in DC, and so “Ward 9” is a euphemism for being moved to the margins, outside the city that increasingly loses its economic diversity. Once poor and working class neighborhoods now sport housing prices approaching $1 million.

Catholic parishes have used community organizing to save Public Housing and 30% affordable housing in the city, but every new project requires vigilance in a city that is committed in law but poor in enforcing the law.

It’s a classic case of “crack the whip.” Those at the front of the line adjust to sudden shifts in the economy and play the market, but at the back of the line the less privileged go flying off, staggering as they fall and off to the “Ward 9s” of our cities.

As a priest, I am not an economist, and I realize that economic realities are very complex. I am not calling for all sorts of government intervention, etc. But I do know what I see as a priest working among all social classes. I cannot and should not devise all sorts of policy solutions, I leave that to the experts among the laity. But what I can and should do is to remind the folks in the front of the line to remember the folks at the back. “Crack the whip” is fun and exciting at the front of the line, but devastating at the back of the line.

Somewhere we should rediscover the common good and look to our own behavior, wherever we are in the line. I am my brother’s keeper. His welfare ought to be important to me. It’s about more than money; it’s about taking care to build a culture that thinks more of those behind me, and those yet to be born. What of them? How does my life and lifestyle affect them?

 

Rev. Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian parish in Washington, DC.

Upholding the Dignity and Rights of Workers

A retired friend of mind is well known for saying “work was never fun…if it had been fun they wouldn’t have called it work.”

While that could be the mantra of AARP, those of us in the work world still know that, on days when we are truly engaged in our jobs, time flies by. That supports another saying I learned from the CEO of a large NY publishing house where I once worked: “Worthwhile work for which we feel recognized and valued ought to be fun.”

Photo of author Jack MurphyLabor Day was originally conceived to honor the contributions made by organized labor. Today, it takes on the wider tradition of recognizing the importance of all workers to the success and well-being of our country.

The purpose of any business is to add value. You take raw materials, either a thing or a service, and transform them in ways that will make them valuable. If enough customers think the product or service is valuable, they buy it. If enough customers buy it, that makes the company more valuable to stakeholders. Some companies, when they are trying to improve value to one set of stakeholders–financial investors, take the shortsighted view that they can squeeze expense out of another group of stakeholders–the workers.

If you are like me, you can sometimes become obsessed with finding the lowest possible price for a hamburger or a toothbrush. You may not think twice that the low price can come at a cost to the worker who created the product, that some of the “value” you’ve gotten means the worker may not earn a wage to live with dignity.

There are a growing number of companies, as witnessed by the Conscious Capitalism or the Fair Food movements, realizing that concern for the well-being of employees and the greater community is not mutually exclusive to shareholder value. You can create a win/win/win situation for all. These employers, Catholic or not, understand and practice the spirit captured by the U.S. Bishops:

“Employers contribute to the common good through the services or products they provide and by creating jobs that uphold the dignity and rights of workers—to productive work, to decent and just wages, to adequate benefits and security in their old age, to the choice of whether to organize and join unions, to the opportunity for legal status for immigrant workers, to private property, and to economic initiative.” (52) Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship

Last year, The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) issued a position paper calling for all our employees to be paid a self-sufficient wage, which was defined as the level of pay needed to live without public or private assistance. SVdP president Sheila Gilbert urged the Society “to ensure that those employed by the Society in the United States be afforded the greatest possible respect and a wage that reflects our values of creating self-sufficiency for whomever we serve.”

As Catholics, our social teaching instructs us to care for the poor. It seems that we could put ourselves in a difficult moral dilemma when we say we care for the poor, yet we pay the minimum legal wage to a single mother trying to keep her family together. If our employees are concerned about where they will get their next meal or how to keep their lights on, how can they concentrate on their job? More importantly, in such situations, how can we say that we as employers are recognizing the dignity of work?

I know that this can be a difficult situation. I have spoken with many good managers who operate thrift stores and other enterprises that generate funds to help those in need. Many of these good people struggle to strike a balance between the mission–of generating income to help the poor–and producing enough profit to pay beyond the minimum wage. Nevertheless, everyone I discuss this with has a commitment to find ways to better live Gospel values and better honor those commemorated on this Labor Day.

Moving an enterprise from paying minimum wage to recognizing the dignity of work by paying a self-sufficient wage is difficult. It takes a strong sense of purpose, creativity, dedication, and faith. But, we should always strive to advocate for a higher minimum wage and make sure our priorities are in order.

Jack Murphy is a business professional in Atlanta, GA. He also serves on the board of The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, working on their diversity, systemic change, and advocacy efforts.


Read Archbishop Thomas Wenski’s Statement for Labor Day 2015 online English | Spanish

For Father’s Day, Support Economic Opportunities for Families

ray-bosharaIn light of Father’s Day, I’ve been thinking about some of the good values my father instilled in me: to work hard, earn your way in the world, and save your money.

Beginning at age 12, not working and not saving were not options in my family, so I began washing dishes and managing the french-fry machine at the family restaurant in Akron, Ohio, started by my grandparents.  When I was (effectively) fired for lack of interest and competency at age 14, I was required to find other work and was urged by my parents to start thinking seriously about college, since I didn’t appear to be good at anything else.  So I pumped gas, worked at the car wash, sold shoes, and continued jobs like these over summer breaks while studying accounting in college.  College led to a good first job and then—after public accounting didn’t work out for me, either—divinity school and, eventually, to more fulfilling work, marriage and three children of my own.

I took for granted growing up, and once I started working, what a rapidly increasing number of families today cannot: a stable family; hard work that leads to economic success and upward mobility; a debt-free college degree that leads to a good job; the ability to buy my first home; and earning enough to save for my own children’s education as well as my retirement.  I came from a middle-class family, don’t think I worked harder (though I started earlier!) than those around me, and attended a public university (THE Ohio State University), so achieving a middle-class life as an adult didn’t seem remarkable in any way.  Same for all of my friends.

Studies abound that this assumption of rising living standards no longer holds true.  In my day job, where I study family economics, I came across a recent article in the Washington Monthly by Phil Longman who observes that, throughout our history, inequality between generations was large and usually increasing because each new generation did far better financially than their parents did. Today, inequality between generations is still increasing, but for the opposite reason: even though more productive and better educated, most of today’s workers are “falling farther and farther behind their parents’ generation in most measures of economic well-being.”

The numbers bear this out. According to Pew, the typical worker had wage growth of 22 percent between 1979 and 1999, but just 2 percent—from 1999 to 2009.  A recent Federal Reserve survey finds that roughly half of all American families could not cover a $400 expense—they simply don’t have it, or would need to sell something or borrow to cover it.  And, in Our Kids, Harvard’s Robert Putnam (of Bowling Alone fame) worries that America is rapidly dividing along class lines: the one-third of “rich” kids who are being raised by college-educated, married parents, and the two-thirds of “poor” kids being raised by non-college-educated, non-married parents.

What, then, can we do? The Church seeks to help families thrive by placing the human person at the center of our economic policies and decisions. We promote life and dignity in our families, communities, nation and world when we change policies that perpetuate poverty and inequality. In fact, if we do nothing, inequality will get worse: Economic, demographic and political forces have aligned to deepen already stark disparities in wages, income, and wealth.

Although not explicitly a policy focus for the U.S. Catholic bishops, I believe that one way to begin to address these issues is to urge Congress to pass the one with the most promise over time: setting up a life-long, progressively funded savings account at birth for every child in America, which can be used for college, buying a home, or retirement.  By doing so, we can help ensure that inequality of outcomes in one generation does not become inequality of opportunity in the next.

Ray Boshara serves as an advisor to the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the U.S. Conference Catholic Bishops, as well as a member of the Peace and Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Join the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development in advocating for policies help poor and middle class families to access decent paying jobs, affordable housing, and economic opportunities. Policy advocacy is critical precisely because it is policy that sets the framework for addressing hunger, poverty, unemployment, and other important issues that make a difference to families everywhere.    Take action now.