It’s a national holiday, a day off. But the U.S. bishops issued a statement on this occasion about the dignity of work.

“This Labor Day, we should take a moment to pray for all
workers and all those without work” said Bishop William F. Murphy of
Rockville Centre, N.Y., in “The Value of Work; the Dignity of the Human
Person,” the annual Labor Day statement of the United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). He added, “We should also ask God’s help
in living out the Church’s call to defend human life and dignity, to
protect workers and their rights and to stand with the poor and
vulnerable in difficult economic times.”

What a challenging year for the subject of work and the economy. And the defense of human dignity.

After referring explicitly to Catholic social teaching, the letter takes a pro-active turn.

In this Labor Day reflection, permit me to call your attention to a positive step forward in
respect for workers in one crucial area of our life: health care. This year, after years of discussions,
leaders in Catholic health ministry, the labor movement, and the Catholic bishops sought to apply
our traditional teaching on work and workers and to offer some practical alternatives on how
leaders of hospitals, unions, and others might apply our principles as an aid to reaching
agreements in their own situations.

Catholic involvement in these issues can’t be over-emphasized.

The principal participants— the Catholic Health Association (CHA), the AFL/CIO, the
Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
(USCCB)—reached agreement that offers guidance and options on how workers can make a free
decision about whether or not they want to be represented by a union. They agreed on basic
principles including mutual respect and open and honest communication as “guides” to
appropriate conduct for both employers and union representatives. This paves the way for workers
to make informed decisions without undue influence or pressure from either side.

The day after Labor Day, the bishops know the president and Congress
will be back at the heated battles over health care reform. Catholic
teaching has played such a prominent role in politics lately,
the USCCB went on the record to clarify it.

The Catholic bishops continue to work for health care
that is accessible, affordable, and respects the life and dignity of
every human being from the moment of conception to the moment of
natural death.

That line is critical. 

To cite Pope Benedict, “A society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the
dignity of the human person, justice and peace, but then, on the other
hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a
variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated,
especially where it is weak or marginalized”.

Which is the danger of health care rationing.

We can’t afford to do nothing….whether it’s not making changes to a
health care system with excess costs and unacceptable limitations, or
not getting involved in advocating for the right changes. The
bishops Labor Day statement isn’t an academic exercise. It was meant to
jump-start the process of getting down to business. 

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....