Bishops support collective bargaining

Wisconsin public workers have found an important new ally in U.S. Catholic Bishops.

In a letter, dated Feb. 23, to the leader of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, the chair of the USCCB's Committee on Justice and Human Development says, "As you insist, 'hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.'"

The letter from the committee's chair, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton, was in response to a Feb. 17 statement, signed by Rev. Listecki, on behalf of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.

"It is especially in times of crisis that 'new forms of cooperation' and open communication become essential," the statement says. "We request that lawmakers carefully consider the implications of [Gov. Walker's] proposal and evaluate it in terms of its impact on the common good."

The diocesan statement says that, while unions are not perfect, "it is equally a mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth. As Pope John Paul II wrote in 1981, "[a] union remains a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore it."

Also quoted in the statement is the current Pope, Benedict XVI, who said in his 2009 encyclical, Caritas in veritate, "Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labor unions. ... The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine ... for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honored today even more than in the past."

The letter from Rev. Blaire, which represents the official position of the U.S. Catholic Church, notes, "[T] hese are not just political conflicts or economic choices; they are moral choices with enormous human dimensions. The debates over worker representation and collective bargaining are not simply matters of ideology or power, but involve principles of justice, participation and how workers can have a voice in the workplace and economy."

According to the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, considered the infallible bedrock of the Catholic Church's 2,000 years of teachings, "The principle of 'solidarity,' also articulated in the terms "friendship" or "social charity" is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood." It further states, "Solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and remuneration for work."

Not only must workers be allowed to form unions, but they also have the right to strike, says the church.

Several hundred paragraphs later, the catechism continues, "Recourse to a strike is morally legitimate when it cannot be avoided, or at least when it is necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit."

Explicit Catholic teachings on labor go back to 1891, when Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical Rerum Novarum, which was subtitled "Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor." The document was partially a Catholic rebuke to communist philosophy (the catechism now condemns only "atheistic communism," however) and the subsequent rise of the socialist movement, but also a Vatican teaching against the abuses of the industrial revolution. For example, it called for a living wage.

Meanwhile, the USCCB hasn't officially called on dioceses to do anything specific in solidarity with Wisconsin or other workers; instead the group left the details up to local bishops.

Ohio's bishops issued Feb. 28 a statement calling for their state's governor and legislature not to remove the right to collective bargaining, adding that "that the economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy."

Several religious organizations - Jewish, Protestant and others - have also joined in on the demand that collective bargaining be preserved.

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  • Though the church is not filled with hypocrites, there is no denying that hypocrisy is a sin that is not limited or restricted to New Testament Pharisees. It is a sin with which Christians must grapple. A high standard of spiritual and righteous behavior has been set for the church. We often are embarrassed by our failures to reach these high goals and are inclined to pretend that we have reached a higher plateau of righteousness than we’ve actually attained

    Posted by Phillip Moris, 12/20/2011 5:36am (4 years ago)

  • thanks, dan, this is a very helpful piece. did not realize this had occured. it is useful & will help in the fight!

    Posted by, 03/15/2011 9:45am (5 years ago)

  • This reflects the hypocrisy of the church. Embrace collective bargaining while making sure it can't be accomplished.

    You have exhausted every avenue you can think of to get your bosses bosses boss to stop and listen for a moment to conditions percolating in a number of their schoolhouses.
    No reply and silence are the sanctioned responses to your pleadings!
    You’ve gone on television, held interviews with various newspapers, written a million blog and Twitter entries enlisting sympathy from the invisible army living somewhere inside the Internet. Silence.
    You have appealed to women, who are the biggest victims of discrimination, across this great land. Silence echoes in reality, and silence echoes from the virtual realm.
    Maybe your big cause is just your own frazzled view of the situation? Maybe people being ignored, bullied, harassed, demoted, let go, and terminated with prejudice by their church bosses is normal, and not of concern, to the average person out there in the mall?
    Is it possible no one really cares?
    Don’t women care?
    What now?
    Employees, too scared to act themselves, have asked you to look into whether or not they could join a union. You tell them you will look into it for them. You also share, without their prompting, that they actually have all the power they need if they would just use it. They cringe in fear of losing their job if they challenge the Catholic Church openly. They know in their hearts that the rhetoric has no basis in fact and their contract will not be renewed for any number of reasons.
    Hard to believe! The very organization that uses “love” to fill the plate uses fear to manage the flock.
    One of the teachers, who met you at Starbucks, far from their school, said in reference to the church leadership and it’s treatment of employees, "What kind of a shepherd leads the flock back to the wolf?"
    The wolf, in this case, would be unemployment, without unemployment income, no future in the church school system, no medical coverage because teachers couldn’t afford Cobra payments, no transferability to the public school system because they may have taught in a system with a curriculum that was antiquated and irrelevant to the needs of modern children. Many teachers have been in the church system too long to entertain any big moves unless they are willing to go somewhere no one really wants to go. How does a village a hundred miles southwest of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, sound to you? Maybe the third world? Surly your life long partner and children won’t mind giving up their job and school lives to move with you to the “back a beyond.”
    The teachers know they made a bad decision years ago. They hope you can find a bone laying somewhere in the dustbin that will give them hope.
    Full of enthusiasm you contact various unions who represent teachers across the country. After days of chasing people around, and finding that many don’t answer, or return phone calls, you make contact with representatives of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Your initial conversation is positive and they are eager to help organize the 73 parish schools in western Washington. They tell you that teachers need not be afraid because the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB.) protects them. The union representative shares that the teacher’s intent will be held in confidence and that the Archdiocese cannot take any action against them. You hang up from your initial contact confidant that teachers may get their day in the sun.
    A couple of days later your enthusiasm is shattered on a big rock of reality. The union lady calls you back saying there are a few “hitches” that might inhibit a successful plan to unionize.
    The first “hitch” is the church organizational construct that has created separate stand-alone parishes that manage, “own”, the school attached to them. So, a parish is in charge of a school making it a separate entity that would have to organize as that school by itself. It could not be part of a larger entity because legally none of the 73 schools report, or are owned, upstream to the Archdiocese. In the land of make believe societies legal system accepts what is not true. Of course they report to the Auxiliary Bishop/Superintendent of Schools and the Archbishop, who reigns supreme above all. The problem with reality is the church bureaucrats will tell you they cant do anything because they are guided by Canon Law, which is not subordinate to man’s law. Some “hitch!”
    The second little inhibitor is that any school that wants to organize on its own must have revenues of a million dollars. Well, that is the death knell to the very schools that need some representation and collective bargaining the most.
    Silence annihilates enthusiasm when the teachers hear the news that they are stuck.
    You suggest they write letters to the Archbishop asking for parity, equity, justice, fair play and God forbid, management that adheres to the teachings of their founder.
    You further suggest they blog, twitter, join Facebook groups, write articles, write letters to the editor, speak out at events that deal with social justice and fair employment.
    You leave the meeting knowing nothing will happen and that these teachers will clam up and suffer in the warmth of knowing they, at least, still have a job.

    Posted by M Barrett Miller, 03/13/2011 12:32pm (5 years ago)

  • Mr. Margolis, as a Catholic active in both the pro-life movement and the anti-war movement, I'd like to thank you for the above article. You are well informed about Catholic social doctrine, and you are closer to the Church's teachings on workers' rights than are many Catholics. Peace, brother.

    Posted by Stephen M. O'Brien, 03/08/2011 10:12am (5 years ago)

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