Businesses, government, individuals and communities all have a role to play in promoting a greater respect for the dignity of the worker and the alleviation of poverty, said a U.S. bishop.
“Whenever possible, we should support businesses and enterprises that protect human life and dignity, pay just wages and protect workers’ rights,” said Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., in a 2013 Labor Day statement.
The bishop, who chairs the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, referenced the writings of Pope Francis, Pope Benedict and Blessed Pope John Paul II as a foundation for how to think about the challenges posed by the U.S. economy.
Bishop Blaire emphasized that every human person “enjoys a basic right to be respected, not because of any title, position, prestige or accomplishment, but first of all because we are created in the image and likeness of God.”
The Church teaches that work is a means of respecting the intrinsic dignity of the human person, he explained, and yet people around the globe “are denied this honor and respect as a result of unemployment, underemployment, unjust wages, wage theft, abuse and exploitation.”
While the economy has been improving in recent years by several measures, he observed, the standard of living for many, especially the poor and those who cannot find work, has not risen.
“More than 4 million people have been jobless for over six months, and that does not include the millions more who have simply lost hope,” he noted. “For every available job, there are often five unemployed and underemployed people actively vying for it.”
Drawing a connection between high unemployment rates and a rise in income inequality, the bishop emphasized that “current imbalances are not inevitable,” but said that it is possible to create “a more equal society that provides opportunities for growth and development.”
This will require “boldness in promoting a just economy that reduces inequality by creating jobs that pay a living wage and share with workers some profits of the company,” he said.
“It also requires ensuring a strong safety net for jobless workers and their families and those who are incapable of work,” he added. “As individuals and families, as the Church, as community organizations, as businesses, as government, we all have a responsibility to promote the dignity of work and to honor workers' rights.”
Bishop Blaire stated that unions can play an important role in protecting the rights of workers, but explained that in order to do so, “they must continue to reform themselves, so they stay focused on the important issues of living wages and appropriate benefits, raising the minimum wage, stopping wage theft, standing up for safe and healthy working conditions and other issues that promote the common good.”
Businesses also have a major part to play in respecting the dignity of the worker, the bishop said. “Private enterprises, at their best, create decent jobs, contribute to the common good and pay just wages.”
He emphasized the importance of business leaders placing the dignity of the worker ahead of mere profit, building solidarity and keeping their faith and values united to their business decisions. The dignity of immigrants must also be protected, Bishop Blaire added, and answers to the problems facing immigrants should include responses to the problems that entice them to leave their home countries.
“We welcome the stranger, the refugee, the migrant and the marginalized because they are children of God, and it is our duty to do so,” he said. “But at the same time, it is important to end the political, social and economic conditions that drive people from their homelands and families. Solidarity calls us to honor workers in our own communities and around the world.”