Labor Issues and the Catholic Church

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by Sr. Brenda Walsh, Racine Dominican


For over a century, the Catholic Church has addressed labor issues, but are still many challenges to be addressed today. 123 years ago, Pope Leo X111 wrote a document  entitled “Rerum Novarum”, which began to build a bridge between worker rights, government and corporations, with the goal of achieving economic justice for all. In 1986, Catholic Bishops wrote a letter on Economic Justice, stating that “as a minimum, workers have a right to be informed in advance about decisions under consideration. They also have collective bargaining rights.” The partnerships set up in the past need to be renewed. The issues being considered are moral issues with great human consequences.


At a recent gathering of US Catholic Bishops, labor issues were discussed. Bishop Stephen Blaire, Bishop of Stockton, CA and Chair of the committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called on leaders and members of the Catholic Church to look at how workers are respected and honored. The words of Pope Francis were recalled: “Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person, gives one the ability to support oneself and family, and contributes to the growth of the whole nation.” We still have a long way to go to accomplish these goals. The full document is available at  It is also available at  Aug. 22,Volume 43, No. 13. This site also lists resources that congregations can use to study the issue and do follow up.


What are some things congregations can do to address labor issues?

  • 1.      Gather to study the documents and pray for the guidance of the Spirit to speak boldly and plan some actions to be taken.

  • 2.      Name some of the hopes the people have, to enable people to live in a just and caring society where they have opportunity for growth and development.

  • 3.      Create jobs that pay a living wage, and share with workers some of the profits of the company.

  • 4.      Help immigrants to enter a just path to achieve citizenship and find work to support themselves and their families.

  • 5.      Gather people who are poor and powerless, listen to their hopes and dreams and help them choose options to improve their lives.

  • 6.      Do follow-up as needed and help them stay on a positive path to accomplish their goals. 

  • 7.      Write to legislators and let them know we cannot balance our budgets on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised, the powerless, the aging, and the most vulnerable. Healthcare and other essential human services should not be deprived of necessary funding to meet to meet local, state or national needs. Urge them to keep the common good in mind. Let the legislators at a national level know we want less resources spent on war and more on meeting human needs.

  • 8.      Express opinions in the local media and encourage people to be more involved in issues that impact people’s lives.

  • 9.      Workers also have an obligation to provide a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. They have the right to know their work is appreciated and they are making a positive contribution to the community.

Let us remind ourselves that the values outlined in the documents named above are not optional suggestions but values to be studied and lived as a core element of living our faith. Let us work to light up our world with hope.


At the close of the Labor Day Mass, Bishop Blaire said: “We are commanded to “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” We leave with a sense of mission to show one another honor by what we do and say. On this Labor Day, our mission takes us to the millions of people who continue to suffer the effects of the current economy.”


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