WASHINGTON (CNS) – This year’s annual Labor Day statement from the U.S. bishops touts two bills awaiting action in Congress as being helpful to children, women and families: the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and an expansion of the federal child tax credit.
“Even before current economic uncertainties, women – especially women of African descent and Latina women – earned less than their male counterparts, including when doing the same work with the same qualifications,” said Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in the statement.
“They filled the majority of direct care jobs, experiencing increased risk of injury, high stress, and exposure to illness while earning low wages. They were the majority of caretakers for their loved ones, yet many lacked adequate family and medical leave policies. These and other economic challenges continue to affect working families and children,” Archbishop Coakley said.
The statement, “Building a Just Economy for Women and Families,” dated Sept. 5 – Labor Day – was released Aug. 31.
Noting that this was the first Labor Day since the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, Archbishop Coakley said: “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 suggested that both the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the child tax credit expansion fulfill that goal, calling the former one of the bishops’ “policy priorities.”
“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. Common requests 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.
“Women in low-wage and physically demanding jobs, disproportionately held by women of color, are regularly denied these simple accommodations and terminated or forced to take leave without pay. A number of states already have laws like this in place; however, pregnant women in every state should be protected by these standards.”
The bill has passed the House, but awaits action in a Senate running out of days on its calendar. “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,” Archbishop Coakley said.
The archbishop used the statement to press for passage of an expanded child tax credit.
“In 2021, the CTC provided financial relief for families who were having difficulty making ends meet. Families largely spent this money on food, energy bills, housing payments and other basic needs. With rising inflation, continuing to expand this tax credit would be critically helpful to families forced to choose between buying food and filling up their gas tanks,” Archbishop Coakley said.
“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 added. “The CTC was enormously effective at reducing child poverty in 2021 and we should not regress from this progress.”
Passing both bills, Archbishop Coakley said, “would have a profound impact on family stability, especially for families who are financially vulnerable.”
He also voiced themes common in the annual Labor Day statement, among them 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,” the archbishop said.
“The efforts of labor unions have helped union workers fare better during the pandemic than nonunion workers, as they were more likely to maintain their pay and their jobs,” he added.
He also lauded the efforts of organizations funded through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development that “work on low-wage workers’ rights and training, in an effort to eliminate labor trafficking and related workplace abuses such as wage theft.”
Archbishop Coakley took note of the death 20 years ago of Msgr. George G. Higgins, head of what was then known as the bishops’ Social Action Department and who either wrote or consulted on multiple decades worth of Labor Day statements.
“He was a fervent advocate of economic justice for all, working closely with unions and union organizers, including Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, and received many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Archbishop Coakley said.
“May the spirit and example of Msgr. Higgins inspire us, ” he said, “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.”
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage
SCRANTON – As the entrance hymn ‘Vivien Con Alegria’ began, some people in the crowd happily clapped along with the fast-moving beat. Others clutched their cell phones to record the moment.
With the sound of joyful music echoing outside of the Cathedral of Saint Peter, there was no denying the presence of the Holy Spirit as the 2022 Hispanic Heritage Mass for the Diocese of Scranton got underway shortly after noon on Sept. 10, 2022.
“This is great for the Spanish community. We all come from different countries,” Rufino Cano, a parishioner from the linked parishes of Saint John Neumann and Saint Paul of the Cross in Scranton, said.
An estimated 500 people attended the Mass, which was celebrated entirely in Spanish. The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, served as principal celebrant and homilist.
The Mass helps to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month that is a time to celebrate the history, culture and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.
“It’s a way of acknowledging our culture,” Catalina Valladares, a parishioner of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Cresco, said. “I think this is a very big accomplishment for the Hispanic community in the diocese.”
Hispanic Heritage Month began on Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15 each year.
Brenda Bonilla, a parishioner of the linked parishes of Saint John Neumann and Saint Paul of the Cross in Scranton, was moved by the Eucharistic celebration.
“You feel alive. You always feel alive. It’s the music, it’s the people, it’s the prayers, it’s the hymns, it’s everything!” she said. “I was very humbled to see the whole Hispanic community from the whole diocese unified together in one place, in the Mass, which is the best place that we can be together.”
Michael Garcia, 19, and his brother Sebastien, 16, travelled nearly an hour from Saint Matthew Parish in East Stroudsburg specifically to attend the Eucharistic liturgy.
“It was amazing. It was breathtaking, seeing all the priests from all around the parishes and all these people gathered together to celebrate this beautiful Mass,” Michael said.
“It really means a lot to me, all these cultures are all together in one place,” Sebastien added.
During his homily, Bishop Bambera reminded the faithful of their true origins.
“No matter how justifiably proud we are of our countries of origin, the heritage that we cherish and seek to nurture and pass from one generation to the next – our origin is not Mexico, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, the United States or any other land,” the bishop noted. “Our true origin – the reason for our time together this day – and the source of our life, our hope and our salvation is Jesus Christ.”
The bishop encouraged unity among all people. He also encouraged the faithful to serve one another as brothers and sisters and to become credible witnesses of the Savior.
“Thank you for working together to build bridges, to make unity a reality in our communities and to serve those among us who are most in need,” Bishop Bambera said. “I am so grateful for you who represent the Hispanic community in our local Church. You are a blessing beyond words and our hope for the future.”
Following the Mass, a three-hour reception was held across the street from the Cathedral at the Diocesan Pastoral Center. The crowd enjoyed food and many musical and dance performances by parishioners from various parishes.
“That is important to create more community, to know other Spanish people from other corners of the diocese,” Cano said.
“It’s the only way that we can get to know that we’re not by ourselves. It’s not my parish in a little corner, it’s not the next parish in a little corner, it’s all of us together – bringing the whole community together walking in our faith,” Valladares added.
The Hispanic Ministry Office of the Diocese of Scranton put the Hispanic Heritage Month Mass and the reception together. Funding for many programs like this comes from generous gifts to the Diocesan Annual Appeal.
An estimated 500 people attended the Diocese of Scranton’s annual Hispanic Heritage Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.
Following the celebration of the annual Hispanic Heritage Mass, everyone in attendance was invited to enjoy food and fellowship at the Diocesan Pastoral Center. (Photo/Eric Deabill)
Above: Before the beginning of Mass, flags of countries of Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America were brought into the Cathedral.
Right: Mass attendees listen to Bishop Bambera’s homily.