The New Wine Press vol 26 no 1 September 2017 | Page 8

Peace & Justice The Working Poor and Catholic Social Teaching by Gabino Zavala, Justice and Peace Director Among the marginalized and vulnerable that St. Gaspar called us to serve are today’s struggling, minimum wage workers. These workers struggle to provide the basic needs for themselves and their fami- lies. Many workers who earn minimum wage work long hours, cobbling together multiple jobs to get by. Others amass enough hours to pay basic bills, surviv- ing only with a patchwork of help from family and government subsidies. Many are employed in the fast food industry or are personal and care service workers. Throughout its history, but most especially in the last one hundred years, the Church has spoken widely and often prophetically the truth about the social or- der and the world in which we live. This social teach- ing derives from four fundamental beliefs: • Human beings are created in the very image and likeness of God, so precious that God sent his own Son to save people from death (cf. Genesis 1:26-27; John 3:16). Nicole, a single mother of two boys, makes $7.50 an hour in a fast food establishment. She struggles “living paycheck to paycheck just barely getting by working full-time and only getting part-time benefits…which is nothing…I work to live and live to work, no time for anything else. I’ve been on food stamps for some time now, and that just gets me by thank goodness but that’s all it does. To make ends meet I’ve had to move in with my parents, stopped driving because I couldn’t afford car insurance and gas at times. I work long endless hours, no breaks, so I can get a decent check.” • We are called to live in communion with God and with our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 12). As such, we are called to work for the common good rather than self-interest. • We are called to serve those in the greatest need, the “least of these,” as, in doing so, we serve God (cf. Matthew 25:40). • We are called to preach and to help bring about the kingdom of God: “an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and light, a king- dom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace” (Preface for the Solemnity of Christ the King). Nicole’s story is all too familiar in the state of Missouri and I dare say throughout our country. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. The mini- mum wage in the state of Missouri is $7.65 an hour. How can a single person survive on this salary? How does a mother or father support their families on these wages? Here in Missouri there has been a concerted effort to raise the minimum wage for fast food workers and other low wage earners to $15 an hour and unionize these workers. The fight for a living wage in Kansas City has been a long one. In the recent August elec- tions, Kansas City voters voted overwhelmingly (68% to 32%) to raise the minimum wage. However, the struggle continues because our state legislature has preempted the will of the voters from making an in- crease to the minimum wage a reality. September is the month to give thanks for the right and gift of work. It is an appropriate time to reflect on the plight of workers who struggle to survive as well. It is also an opportune time to re- flect on Catholic Social Teaching as it addresses the rights of workers. 6 • The New Wine Press • September 2017 In light of these four beliefs, the Catholic Bishops of the United States have identified seven key themes that suffuse Church teaching about building a just society and living lives of holiness and integrity in the modern world. Let me identify each of these themes and in light of them reflect on the rights of workers. The first theme of Catholic social teaching is the life and dignity of the human person. All workers’ rights are based on the inherent dignity of the human per- son. Workers are not only a means of production like raw materials and capital. They also bring their unique talents to their work. In return, their work should pro- vide them not only with the material things that allow them to live in dignity, but should also provide them with satisfaction and personal fulfillment. Unions grew out of the struggle for social justice, not class struggle. Over the past century, unions have been an important force in ensuring that workers are