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Seton Hall's Micah Institute Holds Annual Summit on "Living Wage"
Seton Halls News
M. Therese Liddy

May 23, 2011
View the Original Article


For photographs of the event, please visit the Center for Catholic Studies’ Flickr Album – “Living Wage Workshop.”

“There is something very unappealing, if not outright immoral, when a business argues that it cannot afford to pay a living wage to its workers.”

With these words, Dr. Rita Rodriguez, Ph.D., Senior Fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, set the tone and challenge for the day-long summit on April 9, 2011 at Seton Hall University entitled “Profitability and Justice: The Case for the Living Wage.” Dr. Rodriguez is an internationally known financial advisor and researcher who serves on numerous boards of directors including Citicorp, Ensco International and the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Global economic turmoil, unemployment, and the current debate in Congress over the budget and taxes have made us aware of the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the shrinking middle class in the US. Dr. Rodriguez and her Georgetown colleagues, Fr. Gaspar LoBiondo, S.J., Director of the Woodstock Theological Center, and John Fontana, Director of the Arrupe Program in Social Ethics for Business who served as facilitator, led a spirited day filled with lively discussion and debate.

The summit, which hosted a widely diverse gathering of business and civic leaders, theologians, faculty, social activists and students, was co-sponsored by the Center for Catholic Studies’ Micah Institute for Business and Economics and the Woodstock Theological Center’s Arrupe Program in Social Ethics for Business at Georgetown University.

Participants in discussion. Participants in Discussion Participants had the opportunity to question prevailing cultural norms, to challenge their own preconceived notions of what is ‘a family wage,’ ‘a minimum wage,’ or ‘a living wage.’ Since the legal minimum wage in most countries, including the US, remains below what many consider a living wage, participants had an opportunity to examine their own faith commitments. The focus became a more value-centered understanding of what Pope Benedict XVI, and popes since Pope Leo XII, have called for in the social encyclicals: the dignity of the person, and the right to the fruits of their labors in a more just and humane society.

A feature article from The New York Times on Joseph Bozich, CEO of Knights Apparel, fueled much of the discussion.* It recounted how Bozich defied the sweatshop trend and opened a model garment factory in the Dominican Republic. He not only paid his workers a living wage and invited participation in labor unions, but also literally transformed their lives. Impelled by a life-changing conversion, Bozich continues to make a significant difference as his company grows.

Knights Apparel and Bozich sell t-shirts and college-logo apparel to colleges and universities throughout the US. Summit participant Margaret McGinley, Seton Hall’s Bookstore Assistant Director, displayed a variety of Knights Apparel products, which are popular on campus. Knights Apparel and other companies like it are helping to bring an awareness of religious and moral values to business decisions. Companies, municipalities, schools and even churches need to recognize that planning lower profit margins to pay good wages not only transforms prevailing cultures, but also brings success to businesses and workers alike.

Colin Nadeau, Chairman of Colwen Hotels and former Marriott Executive, stressed the importance of a ‘company conscience’ by citing Marriott’s policy of cutting profit margins from 20% to 12% to ensure adequate employee compensation, development, and profit sharing. Another participant, Anthony Frungillo, Vice President of Gourmet Dining, the Seton Hall’s catering and food service company which employs over 150 workers, shared the company’s efforts to promote and reward its workers. “Our [company] is a family business,” he said, “and uses the family model of benefits for all.”

In response to the question of ‘How can we as leaders respond?,’ Fr. LoBiondo’s lecture “Value-Based Decisions: A Lonergan Approach” stressed the need for all of us to take time to reflect and think, to concentrate on the facts, to recognize opportunities to make a difference, and to act responsibly. This kind of ‘right thinking’ and moral grounding will force governments and businesses to change policies and enact laws that will provide for a more just and living wage. The principles of Catholic social teaching—the common good, human dignity, solidarity and subsidiary—make sense.

Ting Huang, a MBA student from Seton Hall’s Stillman School, shared how the principle of the ‘common good’ is understood in the US and how wages are treated in her homeland of China. She related that the ‘the common good for all’ is a shared reality, not an individualistic one as in the free world.

The stimulating talks and interactive discussions left participants with a strong sense of solidarity and faith commitment. Kitty Parisi, a former member of a non-governmental organization at the United Nations said: “It was an excellent day of learning and conversation. I appreciate looking at social issues through the lens of spirituality and hope that there can be more of these conversations with a cross-section of people from various disciplines and cultures and economic backgrounds.”

In the words of Msgr. Richard Liddy, Director of the Center for Catholic Studies, who planned and directed the day: “Exploring the notion of a living wage helps us expand our understanding of the dynamics of economics and business. The insights gained in this summit workshop help us expand the horizons of our minds and hearts and how our faith commitment can be lived in our world today.”