Thursday, August 25, 2005

Ex Cathedra: Archbishop Hughes and Fair Wages - As a relentless critic of Archbishop Hughes and the Archdiocese of New Orleans, I would be guilty of the sin of omission if I did not cheer the Archbishop for his editorial on the dignity of the worker and the need for fair wages. Best of all is Hughes's clear directive at the end of his editorial that all agencies of the Archdiocese pay their workers at least $1.00 above the current mandated minimum wage. He writes:

The Church's social teaching requires us, as employees, as voters, as parents, as sisters and brothers in Christ, to give serious attention to this critical issue. While no one particular proposal can lay sole claim to translating the Gospel teaching into practice, the proposal to raise the minimum wage is an important way to make concrete the Church's teaching that workers should be able to realize a family living wage. I am, therefore, asking our schools, agencies and parishes to ensure that they are paying full-time employees at least a dollar above the minimum wage.
That's not to say that $6.15 an hour really affirms the dignity of the worker; but it's a clear step in the right direction. And I know a lot of conservative Catholic entrepreneurs in this city of New Orleans who defend as low a wage as the market will allow (and some who even bristle at the very idea of a mandated minimum wage) will be chastened by the Archbishop's words. Good for you, Archbishop Hughes! I'm with you all the way on this one.

1 comment:

The other Huck said...

$1 given or $1 earned??????

I agree wholeheartedly with the Archbishop that we should as "the Church's social teaching requires us, as employees, as voters, as sisters and brothers in Christ...give serious attention to this critical issue." I also pray that "God grant us the wisdom and courage to find the best way to promote the authentic dignity of the human laborer."

(I also belive that it would only be obvious to include "employers" in those named above as needing to seriously consider this issue.)

However, I do not necessarily agree that upping the minium wage a $1 an hour across the board would suffice as evidence of our having seriously considered this critical issue or as promoting the authentic dignity of human labor.

I presuppose that the Archbishop in asking schools, parishes, and agencies to ensure that they are paying $1 above the minimum wage has seriously considered the matter taking into account the nature of employement offered by the agencies under his charge and determined that the value of services provided by the employees thereof merit at a minimum $1 above minimum wage. I applaud the consideration and discernment process and the resulting outcome of a raise to those who would have or had been making minimum wage.

I also believe that extreme care should be taken by all those who are "seriously considering this issue" to ensure:

1) That each person and especially employers be given the opportunity to evaluate and discern for themselves where they stand in light of the circumstances surrounding their decisions regarding epmloyement of persons in their businesses without the government legislating that decision for them.

2) That we are careful not to confuse charity with just or fair compensation. I realize that it is truly better for our society that every family in America and throughout the world enjoy a higher standard of living - especially among the working poor -that would allow them to live above the poverty level. I also realize that in our desire to see every family live above the poverty line that the easiest way to accomplish that end is to simply say lets raise everyone's wage so they can live above the poverty line. I think the desire to achieve the intended outcome of raising families standards of living is notable and obvious. However, I have serious concerns about whether the "raising" of everyone's wage accurately reflects the increased value of their services or our charitable desire. My point being that we should be careful not to confuse charity with fair compensation.

Another point that should be considered in support of the point I am making is that our society, despite all of its ills, has woven into its fabric the reality that everyone has unlimited opportunities to achieve and better themselves. There are thousands if not millions of multi-generational examples of those who come from the poorest of circumstances and achieved great success, made it, moved up, and earned their way.

Even at the most basic levels of employment in our society an employer, manager, etc. can recognize hard work, stick-to-it-ness, dedication, and ambition and I beleive in most cases rewards the employee who exhibits these characteristics with raises that are commensurate with the value of the services rendered. If an employer, manager, etc. were to try to take advantage of a person who did not posess the faculties or ability to adequately understand their worth or was unable for some other reason to consider different employement because of their particular situation then an employer's decision not to provide raises would indeed be agregiuos and sinful. However if an employee posesses these faculties and an employer chose not to adequately compensate or reward the efforts of their employees the employer face the prospect of losing their valued service to someone else willing to pay a higher wage.

It happens all the time and very often is a painful lesson for the employer.

I would arguably stae that the latter is far more the case than the former and that it may be a mistake to try to legislate this across the board rather than allow the majority of employers to discern what their workers should be paid and to rob those who work the opportunity to take an interest in what they are doing, who they are working for and what they are being paid. (This may not be the case in underdeveloped countries or where free markets are restricted)

Kind of long for a post but I trust I have conveyed the gist of my concerns with across the board raises.

Are we concerned with fair compensation or charity? Bothe are required according to our faith. Lets be careful not to call earned wages - charity and charity - earned wages.