In their message for Labor Day, the U.S. bishops have urged the passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act as a means of building a just economy for women and families.

“There is currently no federal law requiring employers to provide short-term, reasonable accommodations to pregnant women in the workplace and the PWFA would do so,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice committee, wrote in his message for Labor Day.

“No woman should be forced to risk her or her child’s health, miscarriage, preterm birth, economic security or losing insurance benefits just because she requests a short-term, reasonable, pregnancy-related accommodation,” he said.

The PWFA passed the House in May 2021, and was then referred to the Senate’s health, education, labor, and pensions committee.

“Now, with a short time left in this current legislative session of Congress, we urge immediate Senate passage of this proposal that would make the workplace safer for women and their preborn children,” Coakley wrote.

The archbishop noted that common requests for accommodation “ include being able to carry a bottle of water, a stool for jobs that involve long periods of standing, or lighter duty for jobs that entail heavy lifting.”

He said that “women in low-wage and physically demanding jobs … are regularly denied these simple accommodations and terminated or forced to take leave without pay.”

In addition to passing the PWFA, Coakley encouraged expansion of the Child Tax Credit as policies that “would have a profound impact on family stability, especially for families who are financially vulnerable,” recalling that the Church “looks at the well-being of society through the lens of the well-being of the family.”

“Congress should move forward with a CTC proposal that has no minimum income requirement, includes families with mixed immigration status, is available for the year before birth, and is offered to every child – regardless of the size of the family,” he wrote.

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Coakley noted that this is the first Labor Day since Roe v. Wade was overturned, calling the Dobbs decision “an incredibly significant step towards healing the deep wounds of abortion and protecting all preborn human life.”

“But our aim as Catholics has always been, and remains, to build a society in which abortion is unthinkable. This unique moment necessitates a society and an economy that supports marriages, families, and women; it demands that all of us reach across political aisles and work diligently to reframe social policies in ways that are pro-woman, pro-family, pro-worker and, thus, authentically pro-life.”

He added that the U.S. bishops support “federal paid leave policy, just wages, and the right to organize.”

“We have long called for a system in which the whole of society enjoys fundamental human needs including nutrition, affordable housing, education, and health care.”

Calling these “common goods,” he said they “cannot be achieved through individual efforts alone, but require the collaboration and cooperation of everyone, and the exclusion of no one.”

In addition to federal policy, Coakley encouraged volunteering to help struggling families and the efforts of labor unions.

He closed his message by recalling Monsignor George Higgins, who died 20 years ago. 

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Coakley called Higgins “a fervent advocate of economic justice for all,” who worked “closely with unions and union organizers, including Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, and received many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was the director of what was then called the Social Action Department of the bishops’ conference and, in fact, wrote or was consulted on the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Labor Day statements for decades.”

“Inspired by him, let us continue his good work in building a just society for all. May the spirit and example of Monsignor Higgins inspire us, that we might have the wisdom to build up justice and improve the lives of workers and their families as he did throughout his life.”