St. Joseph reminds us workers deserve justice

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Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City
Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City

OPINION

By MONSIGNOR JACK SCHULER

On May 1, our Church celebrates the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.  When Pope Pius XII instituted this tradition 58 years ago, he honored the long-standing link between Joseph and the cause of working people. This year, the call to honor and remember working people couldn’t be more timely – or more necessary.

While working people in our communities continue to struggle, too many politicians in Jefferson City seem not to notice. Many have been relentless in their attacks on basic protections for working people, protections long supported by the Catholic Church and other faith traditions. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands in our state suffer from inadequate health care and too few jobs that pay a living wage.

So-called “Right to Work” and “Paycheck Protection” bills seek to limit the right of working people to organize and silence their voices. If enacted, these laws would make it more difficult for hardworking first nurses, first responders, teachers and other workers to advocate for safer working conditions and provide critical services to our communities.

These bills, along with attempts to eliminate prevailing wage protections, seek to lower wages in our communities. They would make it even more difficult for families struggling to get by – and would unfairly reward corporate greed. Simply put, on this Feast of St. Joseph in 2013, working people in Missouri face an onslaught of dangerous and unfair legislation.

Catholic teaching strongly supports the right of workers to form labor unions in order to bargain collectively for just wages and benefits. In fact, it encourages workers to form unions based on the right of free association. So-called “paycheck protection” and “right to work” bills seek to limit the ability of working people to organize and collectively bargain. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is clear:  "We vehemently oppose violations of the freedom to associate, for they are an intolerable attack on social solidarity.”

Corporations give unlimited money and resources in order to purchase influence at the statehouse. Corporate lobbyists have exempted themselves from playing by the same rules they are trying to make everybody else play by—in fact, they are creating their own rules.

In his Easter address, Pope Francis called for peace in a world “divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family.” To make real change and heal these wounds, we need to work together to strengthen protections for working people and support collective bargaining rights and association. Although far from perfect, labor unions work for job security and fight against discrimination for all workers, not just those in unions. Without the ability to organize and collectively bargain, attacks will remain unanswered.

When addressing the G20 Summit in 2009, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stated "in the light of the present global economic crisis, this analysis reveals all of its relevance: we see, in fact, that it is precisely from this root of greed that the entire crisis was born." This is as true locally as it is globally – when greed is unchecked, when corporations are unaccountable, working people suffer the consequences and injustice is allowed to flourish.

It’s time for politicians to stop giving more and more to CEOs and corporate-funded special interests  and start working to create jobs and help working people make it through these tough times.

As we remember St. Joseph the Worker, let’s focus on restoring dignity to hard work and recommit ourselves to working for justice. We are all connected by our work and our communities – and we all should call upon our elected leaders to support and strengthen those bonds, not undermine them.

Just days from now the Missouri legislature will end the 2013 session. Our elected officials have critical choices to make and not much time to make the right decision. As a person of faith, I call on politicians in Jefferson City to break the chains of “business as usual” by understanding the moral obligation to work for justice-including economic justice for our communities.

Let’s honor St. Joseph on his feast day and every day by keeping our focus on justice for all those who work.

(Monsignor Jack Schuler is pastor of St. Ferdinand parish in Florissant and a member of the Workers Rights Board of Missouri Jobs with Justice, a coalition of almost 100 different organizations statewide. Through Missouri JwJ, faith, community, labor and student groups work to promote economic justice.)

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