June 2011

Who We Are
index.html Home    Print    Email

Go to www.ibew.org
Retiree Links Labor and Religious Traditions

David M. Grief, a retired member of Paducah, Ky., Local 816, isn't one to tuck his politics, his union ties and his religion away in separate pouches. When his former parish priest, Rev. Anthony Shonis, suggested in 2005 that it might be a good idea to connect the teachings of Catholicism with the struggles of labor, Grief didn't need a lot of convincing.

"As Catholics, we are told to read papal teachings on the rights of workers," says Grief, who began working for the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1978 as a member of Chattanooga Local 721. "They tell us that people should not be treated like machines. It's a justice issue," he says.

Shonis, the son of a baker and a garment worker—both union members—suggested to Grief and two other trade unionists that they start a newsletter, The Rank and File Catholic. Now in its sixth year, with Grief serving as publisher, the newsletter is distributed twice yearly by mail and online to several hundred subscribers, most in their region, but some in other parts of the nation and world.

"We've had a great response," says Grief—who credits Mike Roby, an Owensboro, Ky., Local 1701 organizer, who died last year, and Todd Johnson, a sprinkler fitter organizer and the newsletter's editor, with helping Shonis spread his pro-worker message.

In the March issue of the Rank and File Catholic, Johnson discusses the recent moves by governors in several states to strip workers of collective bargaining rights. Johnson reflects upon the protests waged by workers in Kentucky when former Gov. Ernie Fletcher attempted similar efforts in 2006. Then, Johnson lists the accomplishments of current Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, elected with strong labor support in 2007.

Grief, the son of a Teamster, was a senior instrument mechanic, a foreman and instructor at TVA where he started out working in Tennessee on simulators for nuclear power plants. He retired in 2004.

"I miss my work," says Grief, who took an 18 percent pay cut after a reduction in TVA's work force, but ended up back in Paducah as an instructor teaching instrumentation and EPA compliance procedures at the Shawnee Fossil Plant.

Grief and his two brothers and two sisters spent 12 years in Catholic schools. He is a graduate of the NECA-IBEW National Technical Institute and a member of the Knights of Columbus. "I'm happy to do what I can to raise awareness of all workers, the general Catholic community and the church itself about its role in labor," he says.

Shonis doesn't just talk the talk, he walks the walk, says Grief. The pastor has helped to push the church to better scrutinize its use of contractors who work on parish properties to ensure that their employees are paid decently and have adequate benefits. Shonis is highly respected in the state. David O'Brien Suetholz, the general counsel of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, also contributes articles to the newsletter.

In a blog posting on AFL-CIO Now, Shonis says, "Families are the bread and butter of the union movement in this country and they are also the social foundation of the church."

Shonis visits AFL-CIO central labor council meetings and parishioners' work sites in every town he is assigned to.

While the social justice tradition in Catholicism goes back to papal teachings of the late 1800's, says Shonis, Protestant and Jewish communities have also supported the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. He says:

"Union members are decent, hard-working, God-fearing people who simply want a better life not only for themselves and their families but also for all American families."

"I'm not an expert on union stuff," says Grief, "but I've always believed that union members drive better trucks."

Grief says he is "severely bothered" by what is going on in Wisconsin and other places where workers' pension plans and collective bargaining rights are under attack.

"I believe we should do the best we can with what we have. That's what God wants," says Grief. "You don't have to know how to build a bridge, but you should help the guy who is building it."

To read The Rank and File Catholic, visit the link on: www.catholiclabor.org.

Editor's note: We regret to announce that 100-year-old James Elsenheimer, a charter member of Traverse City, Mich., Local 498, whom we profiled in last month's issue, passed away April 29. The IBEW extends its deepest condolences to his friends and family.

'Catholic teachings tell us people should not be treated like machines. It's a justice issue,' says David Grief, retired member of Paducah, Ky., Local 816.