Persons, places and things: Labor Day reflection

Barb Arland-Fye

Reading this year’s Labor Day message from the U.S. bishops, I couldn’t help but notice references to just wages and exploited workers. These issues propel Kim Bobo in her work for a Chicago-based interfaith organization committed to improving wages, benefits and conditions for low-wage workers.
Kim, the executive director of the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, has been chosen to receive the 2012 Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award. Bishop Martin Amos will present the award to her Sept. 16 in Christ the King Chapel on the St. Ambrose University campus in Davenport. An interfaith coalition led by the Diocese of Davenport sponsors the award that commemorates Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical letter, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). Previous award recipients include Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Cesar Chavez, Lech Walesa and Msgr. Marvin Mottet.
So, what does worker justice have to do with peace? A member of the interfaith coalition asked that question during discussions about a year ago to choose a nominee for the 2012 award. We were reminded of the statement “If you want peace, work for justice,” that Pope Paul VI used in his 1972 World Day of Peace message to emphasize the connection between the two.
“Peace is not a stagnant condition of life which finds in it at the same time both its perfection and its death,” the pontiff said in his message. “A peace that is not the result of true respect for man is not true Peace. And what do we call this sincere feeling for man? We call it justice.”
In the bishops’ Labor Day statement, released this month, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., noted that “In many cases, poverty results from a violation of the dignity of hu15man work, either because work opportunities are limited (through unemployment or underemployment), or ‘because a low value is put on work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family’” (Caritas in Veritate, no. 63).
Through the efforts of the Interfaith Worker Justice organization Kim founded, congregational resources on economic justice have been created.  A national campaign is now underway to challenge wage theft and to seek new ways to collaborate with government agencies to better enforce labor laws.
“In my experience, most everyone in the religious community really wants to help … they want to make sure people get paid and get paid fairly,” said Kim, who wrote a book “Wage Theft in America” that was published last year.
“Exploited and mistreated workers require our care and solidarity,” Bishop Blaire said in the Labor Day letter written on behalf of his fellow bishops. “An economy that allows this exploitation and abuse demands our attention and action. As the bishops point out in the Catholic Framework for Economic Life, ‘By our choices, initiative, creativity, and investment, we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life, and social justice.’ We should ask: How do we contribute to forces that threaten the human dignity of vulnerable workers? How can our choices in economic and public life enhance their lives, pursue economic justice, and promote opportunity?”
This past spring Kim called for Walmart, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, to redistribute wealth at the top by providing living wages and better treatment for workers. As an organizer and a woman of faith, she feels a commitment “to help people understand where they can get involved to make a difference.”
Please join me at the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award ceremony that begins at 2 p.m. Sept. 16 in Christ the King Chapel. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the questions Bishop Blaire poses and to hear Kim explain how we can respond to Jesus’ Gospel message on behalf of the least of our brothers and sisters.
Barb Arland-Fye

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