Our worlds have been turned upside down in the past 20 months, as we have adapted how we worship, work, educate our children, grocery shop and so much more. This also has been a time when many of us more fully realized the stark injustice of income inequality and its suffocating impact.
As a nation we recognize that we were kept safe and comfortable because of workers, from health care to first responders to grocery workers to farmworkers. We have come to appreciate how essential their contribution is to our lives. Many of these workers suffered greatly and many are still suffering. Restaurant workers, hotel housekeepers, convention hall workers and so many more are still waiting to be called back to work and to experience economic recovery. This Labor Day, let's honor all of these workers and recommit ourselves to support them in securing their rights.
Pope Francis got it right in a speech in June, when he challenged us, saying, “Let us look for solutions that will help us build a new future of work based on decent and dignified working conditions, originating in collective negotiation and promoting the common good, a phrase that will make work an essential component of our care for society and Creation.”
Building this new future is underway in Illinois and in the United States. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is now being considered in the U.S. Senate, will recognize all workers for their God-given inherent dignity and their right to organize. The PRO Act would allow workers to more freely join a union without harassment, which is quite common now. The PRO Act would close the income inequality gap, help secure safe workplaces, strengthen the middle class, stabilize communities and put the U.S. on par with other industrialized countries. The PRO Act is the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression.
Closer to home, Illinois voters will soon consider the Workers’ Rights Amendment. It would enshrine the rights of workers into the state constitution…giving workers in Illinois real protections.
Laws reflect our values. But laws do not get passed by themselves. They require a community, organized and appreciative of the value and dignity of workers and of work itself. They require communities of faith, as Pope Francis urges, to get engaged and stand in solidarity with workers, with the labor movement.
Chicago is the hometown of the American labor movement. And this year, the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) celebrates its 125th anniversary…founded just five years after Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. That spirit of social justice is woven throughout the 125 years the CFL has fought for working families. Fighting for laws and public policy that promote the dignity, value and respect for workers.
It requires organizations like ARISE Chicago, which connects our broad interfaith network to working people. I am proud to serve on the Religious Advisory Board for ARISE/Chicago. On this Labor Day, let us remember the words of Cardinal Mundelein who said of the Church of Chicago more than 100 years ago now: “Our place is beside the worker.”
Happy Labor Day!