St. Louis – Ten workers who lost their lives in the past year were remembered May 5 at the 34th Annual Robert O. Kortkamp Memorial Union Labor Mass at the Shrine of St. Joseph in St. Louis.
A reverent ceremony was held just inside the shrine prior to the Mass.
This year’s ceremony remembered:
• Dennis Beard, Laborers Local 100;
• Max Beare, III, Laborers Local 100;
• Luss Bradford, Service Employees Local 1;
• David C. Burns, Electrical Workers Local 1439;
• Gregory Carter, Teamsters Local 688;
• Arthur E. Koch, III, Electrical Workers Local 1;
• Gary Maufas, St. Louis Police Officers
• Gregory Mehochko, Laborers Local 670;
• William Sievert, Operating Engineers Local 513; and
• Steve Webb, Painters Local 1199.
The memorial ceremony was led by Father Richard H. Creason, who later celebrated the Mass at the shrine, touching on the themes of work, contracts and political extremism.
“I have never seen so many pieces of proposed legislation that threaten the economic security of all people in our state,” Father Creason said. “It is a surreal feeling that we are all being held hostage by right-wing extremists.
“It is not only in Missouri but in all states of the union this year core values of Americans – of justice and freedom -- are being challenged. We are being divided from one another. We are being polarized. Common sense is being replaced by ideology.”
(See Father Creason’s complete homily at the end of this post.)
Robert A. Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, served as a lector at the Mass, as did Gary C. Dollar, president of the United Way of Greater St. Louis.
The Annual Union Labor Mass has traditionally been held at the historic shrine in honor of St. Joseph, patron saint of the working man.
Union tradesmen helped restore the beauty of the magnificent shrine, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
‘We are all being held hostage by right-wing extremists’
By Father Richard Creason
Pastor of Most Holy Trinity Parish, St. Louis
Mass honoring St. Joseph the Worker at Annual Robert O. Kortkamp
Memorial Union Labor Mass At Shrine of St. Joseph
Please accept my gratitude for the invitation once again to preside at this mass and break the bread of God’s Word with you. It is an honor that no other priest in St. Louis has this day.
I may be second-guessing, but I suspect that that for Hugh McVey (president of the Missouri AFL-CIO), Mike Louis (secretary treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO) and Bob Soutier (president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council), this has been a tough year contending with the legislature in Jefferson City. When the adjournment of the this session comes on May 17, the three of them may together breathe a collective sigh of relief, and then begin preparations for the next session.
At my age, I am a mere rookie in analyzing legislation, but as I observe, I have never seen so many pieces of proposed legislation that threaten the economic security of all people in our state. It is a surreal feeling that we are all being held hostage by right-wing extremists.
It is not only in Missouri but in all states of the union this year core values of Americans – of justice and freedom -- are being challenged. We are being divided from one another. We are being polarized. Common sense is being replaced by ideology.
Examples that I use will be very clear. You have heard them often, and I use them only to reinforce their harmful impact.
THREATENING THE RIGHTS OF WORKERS
Right-to-work – as it is called – threatens the right of all workers in our nation to organize and for unions. Along with these frontal attacks on the right to organize, there are other ploys.
Paycheck deception and reduction of the prevailing wage trick people into an anti-union sentiment and then suck them into believing that right-to-work would be a good thing for Missourians.
The right to a just wage, the right to adequate working conditions, and the right to property are all economic rights that are rooted in our human dignity. These are principles for which the Church has long stood. But they need to play as well in the parish hall as they do in the union hall.
The right to organize into unions supports these basic values, and it must be affirmed and defended at all times. it is one of the very things that helps create good order in American society.
COVENANTS ARE SACRED
Covenants are universally considered as sacred. The covenant agreement of the coal industry and the United Mine Workers made years ago to provide for the health care and retirement of miners is a prime example. In return for supplying the earth with this natural resource, they – the miners – would have a pension and health care for life. That’s the covenant! It is rooted in the Krug Lewis Agreement of 1946.
(Editor’s Note: The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) are fighting to save the health care and pension benefits of retired miners threatened in the bankruptcy proceedings of Peabody Energy spinoff Patriot Coal. Patriot was spun off from Peabody in 2007, with approximately 43 percent of its pension and health care liabilities but just 11 percent of its productive assets. Arch Coal did much the same thing when it created Magnum Coal in 2005. Patriot bought Magnum in 2008 and filed for bankruptcy in July of last year and is seeking the bankruptcy court’s authorization to reject its current union contract and make cuts to retiree health care benefits. A ruling is expected by the end of this month.)
If it can happen in the coal industry with Patriot Coal and Peabody Energy, what do you think is the possibility of it happening in other industries? CEO’s call it “cost cutting” to avoid bankruptcy as this responsibility of corporations to provide for their workers is clearly being eroded. It is in some of the same industries where the CEO often receives compensation at a rate many more times than their average employee. The parties of the covenant do not then stand on equal ground.
LOWERING INCOME TAX
AND INCREASING THE SALES TAX
Lowering the income tax and increasing sales taxes reinforces the position of the wealthy while putting an unfair burden on working people and low-income citizens.
VEXING WORKING PEOPLE
Finally, there are those “other issues” that continue to vex working people: home foreclosures, failure to provide Medicaid coverage to additional Missourians who would qualify, and the debt trap created by predatory lenders that we so often call pay day loans.
Where then do we as the People of God find hope in this world of daily collisions of religion, culture and politics?
LOVE OF WORK
It is vital for us turn to the Word of God as it has just been proclaimed to us a few minutes ago.
In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, The early Church had some real start-up problems. Male circumcision for the Jews was a proper rite of initiation, a way to experience the promise by God to Abraham and his descendants. Circumcision was and is the Jewish sign of dedication to that promise.
Meanwhile for gentiles and some Jews it is Baptism that is the rite of initiation. It is a circumcision of the heart – a symbol of a loving spirit that leads to everlasting life in Jesus Christ.
Baptism is for all Christians the initiation into all of life’s hopes and dreams, all accomplishments and challenges. This initiation of Baptism leads us as adults to a vocation or a calling that is eventually shaped into a career and life-long love of work.
So the question can be raised: what led you to the union of which you are a member? From years of rich experience, you can say it was a decision that has now grown from initiation into commitment. Reflecting back to this earlier moment of initiation, ask yourselves: what was required for membership? What was for us the rite of initiation, that is, the apprenticeship or the swearing in that you still remember? What is the solidarity by which you stand now with brothers and sisters of your local or international, but by which you also stand for the common good of all people?
Our baptism was the first revelation of the Holy Spirit to us as we were baptized in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Your imitation into work, or our being welcomed into a union, is when the Holy Spirit became especially operative. This Holy Spirit will never abandon you according to the promise of Jesus.
You then became journeymen, skilled workers and those with rich experience. In the process Jesus offers us a gift beyond anything we can imagine or desire—his risen presence as the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
‘CARRY OUR INTEGRITY AT ALL TIMES’
The Paraclete – as the Gospel of John calls the Holy Spirit -- is a truth-telling spirit that testifies on our behalf and in defense of us, much as the Spirit did for Jesus. We then become confident, especially when we are walking a picket line, rallying in the middle of downtown St. Louis, knocking on the doors of legislators or even risking civil disobedience for a righteous cause.
The Paraclete affirms that Jesus is the beloved of God, faithful and true to us at all times –- one who is hero to us with this truth. It is the stuff out of which integrity is created, and this Paraclete invites to carry our integrity at all times.
There is drawn for us a picture. It portrays all workers who with head, heart and hand continue to affirm a true identity, who grow everyday in confidence, and walk always with integrity and truth.
President Soutier and all affiliated with the St. Louis Labor Council, continue to be proud of your accomplishments, continue to loyal to your faith, and continue always to stand with one another in solidarity.