Faith traditions have something to say about labor. To find out what, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757 invited several clerics to attend its May 9 general membership meeting, which coincidentally takes place at a Salvation Army building near the union hall.
Father Jack Mosbrucker, a retired Roman Catholic priest, and Rev. Eugene Ross of the United Church of Christ accepted the invitation. Labor lawyer Barbara Diamond, a member of Havurah Shalom synagogue, stood in for a rabbi who could not attend.
“In the Catholic Church, we have what they call ‘Catholic Social Teaching,’” explained Mosbrucker, former pastor of St. Charles Borromeo and St. Therese parishes in Northeast Portland. “Some say it’s one of the best-kept secrets of the Catholic Church: Nobody knows we have it.”
Catholic Social Teaching is a body of doctrine, drawn from several papal pronouncements, that outlines the church position on social justice.
“[It] envisions a society where every person has dignity, a society that cares for every one of its members,” Mosbrucker said. “For us, unions ought to exist because they give the people the possibility of working together and building themselves up.”
Protestant denominations have similar pronouncements, Ross said, based on scripture.
“It’s easy for us to think we live in the most unjust time, but if we look at scripture, we recognize that injustice has been around a long time,” Ross said. “Our work as a faith community is to call people’s attention to where there is injustice, and to work for justice.”
Diamond, who introduced herself as a Jewish mother, spoke of her surprise, during preparations for her son’s bar mitzvah, to see many analogies between the commandments of the Torah and modern-day workers’ rights protections.
“There’s nothing in religion that’s against the union movement,” Diamond said. “I think we’ve got a lot of good stuff in spiritual teachings that can help us get through to many of our members for whom faith is a daily force for enrichment.”
Over half of the ATU members in attendance raised their hands when asked how many belong to a church of some kind. But only one hand went up when Mosbrucker asked how many had spoken to their cleric about the union.
“If you’re a member of the congregation, you ought to be talking about the union with your church leaders,” Mosbrucker said, “and if they don’t know about it, educate them.”