5 Ways to Honor the Sacredness of Work on Labor Day

Pope Francis meets workers from aluminum company Alcoa during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Pope Francis meets workers from aluminum company Alcoa during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

In the summer of 2014, Pope Francis released his “Top 10 Secrets to Happiness.” Along with “live and let live” and “be giving of yourself to others” was a reminder for young people of the sacredness of work. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people, he said.

We need to be creative with young people … It’s not enough to give them food. Dignity is given to you when you can bring food home [from your own labor].

The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops beautifully describes the connection between work and human dignity, stating: “Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected — the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.”

How can we protect and uplift the dignity of work, especially when many young people are looking for work or still deciding what to do, and others who may have jobs do not always think of their work as sacred?

  1. Pray for the unemployed and underemployed

    The job market is tough. A recently released report indicates the national unemployment rate at 6.2 percent. Too many hard-working people still cannot find work.

    The official unemployment rate doesn’t include those who have given up on finding a job and those who have accepted jobs for which they’re overqualified. In today’s economy, employers often treat working people as commodities rather than valuable assets, and many competitive applicants don’t find jobs that best utilize their gifts — this is the case for many millennials. More than 4 in 5 students who graduated from college in 2014 didn’t have jobs lined up after school, the LA Times reported in May. In the 2014 Labor Day statement from the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami reminds Catholics to focus efforts on relieving the burden on unemployment, which is disproportionately affecting young people.

  2. Call on elected officials to raise the minimum wage

    All workers deserve a fair and just wage with which they can provide for themselves, their children and their loved ones. It is a misperception that most minimum wage jobs are filled by high school students looking for extra cash for fun on the weekends.

    For the most part, workers stuck in poverty wage jobs are hardworking adults with bills and other financial responsibilities — some have amassed a heap of student loan debt. In 2013, about 260,000 people with a college or professional degree held jobs that paid the federal minimum wage, or even less, according to a report released by Bureau of Labor Statistics earlier this year. It’s a tough time for our nation’s young workers.

    But it’s not just millennials who are affected by the immorally low federal minimum wage — millions of minimum wage earners are forced, often, to rely on government subsidies and charity to survive. One in five working women would see a raise if Congress acted to pass legislation, and the parents of more than 17 million children would get a raise under the proposed bill. Tell Congress to raise the minimum wage to a living wage with which one could raise a family.

  3. Stand with retail, restaurant and fast-food workers

    I’ve stood beside Walmart workers in Bentonville, Arkansas, at the retail giant’s corporate headquarters, and many times in Chicago, asking for store managers and executives to meet with them and address their concerns. Earlier this year, I traveled to McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, to join workers asking its board of directors to pay better wages and let them form a union — a right the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops firmly supports. Many of these workers were millennials starting families.

    Young workers across many sectors are stepping up and leading the way, but they need your support so that corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s remember that their employees are inherently valuable to our society (not to mention to their own bottom lines.)

  4. Thou shalt not steal: Help stop wage theft with pay stubs for all

    Most of us who work receive pay stubs and are able to see the hours we’ve worked, our rate of pay, and deductions that were taken, but as many as 20 million workers in the United States do not receive pay stubs. Employers aren’t required to pass along that information to workers, even though they are required to have it on hand and provide it to the Department of Labor.

    Some of the most common forms of wage theft are when employers pay less than minimum wage, refuse to pay overtime, or force workers to work off the clock. Often, the same employers who are cheating workers out of their earned wages are taking advantage of weak pay stub regulation and not providing workers with documentation of their wages and deductions. With a clear pay stub for all workers, victims of wage theft are better equipped to confront their employers or make wage theft claims with the Department of Labor.

    Workers should have the right to access their own wage information. Encourage the U.S. Department of Labor to issue a simple regulation so that all workers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act must receive pay stubs.

  5. Take it to the pulpit

    The Sunday before Labor Day is a great opportunity to bring these issues to your parish and to work with clergy and lay leaders to develop a meaningful conversation around the sacredness of work.

    Each year at Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), we develop resources about issues of economic justice for people of faith to bring to their worship communities. Check out IWJ’s resource center for tools such as suggested readings, sample sermon and prayers, as well as reflection ideas, a litany and a bulletin insert.

    Get in touch with worker centers and interfaith groups in your community. These advocates are working every day to uplift the sacredness of work. Bring workers or faith leaders to visit your parish and start the discussion about the sacredness of work.

Originally published August 29th, 2014