Labor in South Bend: Taking a Community-Based Center for Social Concerns Seminar

Author: Ava Downey

Ava Downey

This past fall semester I had the opportunity to participate in a Center for Social Concerns community-engaged course called Labor in South Bend. 

Taught by CSC Seminars Director Adam Gustine and Professor and Director of the Higgins Labor Program Dan Graff, our class examined questions related to labor justice and engaged in the local labor movement through various immersions into South Bend. 

For one, we went to the local United Auto Workers Union and learned about the organization’s mission and history. We also explored The Beacon, an old bowling alley turned into a church and community outreach event space in South Bend, which hosted a local initiative to find previous incarcerated persons jobs in the community. 

Toward the end of the semester, in groups, we each interviewed a local labor expert. Personally, I interviewed Local 364 Teamsters President Bob Warnock and Democratic Chair for St. Joseph County Diana Hess on their thoughts about the current South Bend labor climate. 

These interviews and community immersions accumulated into a group presentation on how to support local South Bend workers. For our final presentation, with the Higgins Labor Program’s Just Wage Initiative criteria guiding us, my class created a coalition-building proposal rooted in core Catholic Social Teachings—which emphasizes a just wage that allows for workers to meet these criteria. 

Overall, this seminar gave my peers and I the ability to explore, through a labor lens, a community in which Notre Dame is ingrained. I have a newfound appreciation for South Bend, the labor advocates that lie within it, the lessons they taught me, and the Church’s obligation to promote a just wage.