U.S. bishops’ Labor Day statement reasserts dignity of work amid economic challenges

Bishop William Murphy
Bishop William Murphy


Writing in their Labor Day Statement, the U.S. bishops have highlighted the dignity of work and “the contributions and rights” of the American worker, the importance of health care reform, and recent collaboration between the Catholic Church, unions, and health care workers.

The statement, dated September 7, was written by Bishop of Rockville Centre William F. Murphy, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The statement, titled “The Value of Work; the Dignity of the Human Person,” also discussed portions of Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical.

Bishop Murphy observed that despite today's economic challenges, the American people remain “fundamentally” optimistic.

“We have an abiding faith in the values that have shaped our nation and an ongoing commitment to work together to address the problems and build on the strengths of who we are,” his statement read, describing this attitude as a mirror of the Christian virtue of hope.

Quoting Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas In Veritate, the statement said that the human person in his or her integrity is the “primary capital” and that decent work “expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman.”

“Pope Benedict renews and reminds us of the Church’s classic support for the right of workers to choose freely to form or join a union or other types of workers’ associations,” Bishop Murphy wrote. “Pope Benedict endorses this and adds to it the responsibility of workers and unions ‘to be open to the new perspectives that are emerging in the world of work.’”

The Labor Day statement also discussed the successful conclusion of negotiations between the the Catholic Health Association (CHA), the AFL/CIO, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). According to the bishop, a “long, candid and constructive” dialogue led to a “significant consensus statement” on how workers in Catholic health care facilities can choose whether or not to be represented by a union.

The document “Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for Catholic Health Care and Unions” was a product of the negotiations. Bishop Murphy specifically thanked those involved in its creation.

The bishop also noted that one in six Americans receives care at one of more than 600 Catholic hospitals or 1,200 other Catholic health care ministries.

On the topic of health care reform, the Labor Day statement called health care an “essential good” for every person.

“In a society like ours, no one should lack access to decent health care,” Bishop Murphy said, calling on Catholics to advocate for “truly universal” health care reform that protects both human life at “every stage of development” and the consciences of pro-life health care workers.

The statement also mentioned immigration reform, calling for respect for both legal and illegal immigrants and condemning the denial of health care services to them.

“As we seek to rebuild our economy, produce a better health care system, and improve the immigration system, we are presented with unique opportunities to advance the common good,” Bishop Murphy’s letter concluded. “On this Labor Day, let us remember those without work and without hope.”

“May God bless you this Labor Day and may God watch over and bless those who are committed to the care and protection of all the members of our nation who share the American dream of ‘liberty and justice for all.'”

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