Listen to Pope Francis on the Rights of Working People

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SANTIAGO DE CUBA, CUBA - SEPTEMBER 22: Pope Francis waves goodbye to people as he leaves the cathedral after holding a mass and blessing the city on September 22, 2015 in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. Pope Francis leaves for the United States after spending four days in Cuba. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Translated from La Opinion, September 29, 2015

By: Marielena Hincapie

There was a lot of excitement in the air last week when Pope Francis arrived in the United States. Of course, it’s always a big deal when the Holy Father makes a visit. But Francis is something different. His message of economic justice and dignity for all people has really struck a nerve. The Pope’s message is more relevant now than ever.

Americans of faith are frustrated by a system that is out of balance, with only those who are already rich and powerful getting ahead, and working families falling further and further behind. CEOs and corporations are manipulating the rules so that they can rake in even more cash while ordinary people trying to sustain their families get by with less and less.

We’re working harder than ever it seems, but we’re still worried about making ends meet because the cost of basics like rent and transportation are eating up our paychecks before we can feed our families. Latino families face even steeper challenges, as the average annual income in our community has declined by 5.6 percent since 2007, and the unemployment rate for Latino workers is far higher than the national average. Some may have recovered from the Great Recession, but we are being left behind.

We cannot fix what is broken and support our communities unless we are allowed to speak up for ourselves and each other. Latino workers have a rich tradition of union activism. According to a new report by Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, when we join unions our median weekly earnings increase by 38 percent, and we are 29 percent more likely to have an employee-sponsored health policy or retirement plan.

Right now, the Supreme Court is preparing to hear a case that threatens to make this situation even worse. It’s a case backed by billionaires and corporate special interests called Friedrich vs. California Teachers Association, and it could have devastating consequences for working people nationwide.

By ruling against the labor laws that have protected workers in this country for decades, the court could make it harder for ordinary people to stand up together for safe workplaces, improvements on the job, and wages and benefits that can sustain a family. All working families, union and nonunion, would feel the consequences.

This is a matter of profound moral significance. In 1986, in a statement on economic justice, the United States Catholic Bishops wrote, “No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers from organizing.”

Nearly 20 years later, Pope Francis is still speaking out against those ongoing efforts to silence workers’ voices. He has written that “The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies.”

Our nation was built on those principles as well. America is a place where we should expect to be treated with dignity and fairness in return for our hard work. It’s a nation where no one person is supposed call all the shots – we speak up for each other and we stand together for what is right. On Sunday, while speaking at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pope Francis reminded us that staying true to our founding principles, which are based on respect for human dignity, led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, and the growth of the labor movement. 

America should work for everyone, not just the wealthy and well connected. That’s why we can’t afford to ignore the words of Pope Francis if we are to build a better world for our children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren – one where they have a fair shot at the American dream.

As Francis makes his first visit to our nation, it is time for our leaders, particularly those on the Supreme Court, to take his words to heart.