Monday, February 7, 2011, marks the 177th anniversary of the first day of the Cripple Creek miner's strike, led by the Western Federation of Miners and the 104th anniversary of “The Mud March,” the first large procession organized by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). The Cripple Creek strike was instigated when a cartel of Colorado mine owners lengthened the work-day of their miners to ten hours (from eight), removed some safety features, and insisted there would be no increase in pay. The labor conflict escalated, including pitched rifle battles and dynamite attacks, until the governor called out the National Guard. In contrast, The Mud March, held in London, was a model of civility and peace. It convinced the public that women who desired the right to vote were “womanly women,” in contrast to the popular images of suffragettes as “hysterical.”
The rights of women, as workers, are addressed in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:
The feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, therefore the presence of women in the workplace must also be guaranteed. . . .. The recognition and defense of women's rights in the context of work generally depend on the organization of work, which must take into account the dignity and vocation of women, whose “true advancement ... requires that labor should be structured in such a way that women do not have to pay for their advancement by abandoning what is specific to them”. This issue is the measure of the quality of society and its effective defense of women's right to work. (par. 295)
And the Vatican practices what it preaches. Reportedly, the Vatican’s maternity policy includes “two months off before the due date at full pay, and then four months after delivery at full pay, and another six months at half pay. Or, a woman can return to work at full pay four months after the birth, only working one-third less.”
Every Catholic who wants to live their faith fully and who is an employer needs to consider their workplace policies in light of the Compendium. While the Family Medical Leave Act sets a legal minimum (employers are free to be more generous), the Gospel, not the civil law, is our guide to life. A policy that allows employees to use all their earned sick time to compensate them while taking care of a new born, and which ensures every employee (a minimum of) two weeks of paid leave to care for the birth of a child, would be a small start. We usually do the right thing, when it is the convenient-thing, or the lowest-cost thing, but when it costs something -- well that is when we show people what we really believe.