Wisconsin bishops testify on right-to-work

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Organized Labor


Organized Labor

Organized Labor

Organized Labor

Anyone who knows anything about organized labor in America knows that right-to-work laws are anti-union laws. In 1947, a Republican Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which among other things authorized states to prevent unions from negotiating contracts that require companies to fire workers who refuse to join the union. The effect has been to sabotage unions by allowing workers to be free riders. Over the years, conservatives have promoted right-to-work wherever they could, most recently in Wisconsin, where GOP governor and presidential wannabe Scott Walker has said he’d sign Senate Bill 44 if and when it passes — which is likely as soon as next week.

Naturally the unions are doing what they can to stop it. Yesterday, the carpenters, electricians, and construction workers were joined by the NFL Players Association, which has a small local up in Green Bay. Its union rep, an evangelical Protestant from Chico, Cal. named Aaron Rodgers, once said in response to question about fellow evangelical Tim Tebow, “I feel like my stance and my desire has always been to follow a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, who said, ‘Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.’ So basically, I’m not an over-the-top, or an in-your-face kind of guy with my faith. I would rather people have questions about why I act the way I act.” Rodgers signed one of those petitions to recall Walker as governor three years ago.

But I digress. The point of this post is to take note of the action of Wisconsin’s Roman Catholic bishops on Senate Bill 44. Now even the most conservative Catholics will say they support the right of workers to unionize — because, well, it’s hard to get around Pope Leo XIII, who delivered a paean to “workingmen’s unions” in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. In line with this, the American bishops took clear aim at the right-to-work movement when, in their 1986 economic pastoral, they declared, “No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers from organizing.”

Of course there are conservative Catholics who argue that right-to-work is consistent with Catholic social teaching. If you can’t find one, check out the Acton Institute, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Three years ago, after Michigan passed right-to-work, its director, Fr. Robert Sirico, crossed swords with Thomas Gumbleton, the retired auxiliary archbishop of Detroit, who had written that right-to-work laws “go against everything we believe.”

Anyway, yesterday John Huebscher, executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, trotted onto the the field and punted:

The Church defends the right of workers to form unions as a natural right. Likewise, it defends the right of employers to earn a profit. The Church warns both against the dangers of excessive self-interest.

But while acknowledging this can be a challenge, the Church insists that a just economic order is possible. When the interests of both employee and employer are balanced, such that neither tries to damage the other and each cooperates for the advancement of justice and the common good, everyone prospers.

Therefore, as you debate SB 44 the WCC urges you to keep the following questions in mind:

  • Does SB 44 benefit the common good?
  • Does it provide a just balance between the interests of workers and the interests of employers?
  • Does it protect the natural right of workers to assemble and form associations?

We hope these insights are helpful to you as you weigh the merits of this proposal. On behalf of the bishops, thank you for the opportunity to offer them.

Insights? Helpful? Sixty-eight years after Taft-Hartley, and you can’t say which side you’re on? Where is Francis — St. or Pope — when we need him?
  • Glenn Harrell

    Bishop–Church testifies!


    Steel workers join with NFL players to form a new workers league. Steel workers will now demand same pay as NFL players and they will play in 6 of the 2015 games. They insist that their rights demand that the tax payers pay this bill! Bishops and churches told to go home and quit meddling where they have no business.

    Now there’s a headline…

  • Larry

    Wrong for workers

    These laws drive down wages for all workers, including non-union members, women, and people of color.

    Workers living in right-to-work states earn about $1,500 less per year than workers in states without these laws. The wage penalty is even higher for women and workers of color.

    Workers in right-to-work states are less likely to have health insurance.

    The rate of employer-sponsored health insurance for workers in right-to-work states is 2.6 percentage points lower than in states without these restrictions.

    Right to work makes workplaces more dangerous.
    According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is higher in right-to-work states.

    Wrong for businesses

    Right-to-work laws do not improve business conditions in states.

    Right to work is not a deciding factor in where businesses locate.

    High-tech companies that provide good-paying, American jobs favor states where unions have a strong presence, because unions provide a high-skilled workforce and decrease turnover.

    Wrong for the economy

    Communities lose jobs when wages are lowered by right to work.

    The Economic Policy Institute estimates that for every $1 million in wage cuts, the local economy sheds six jobs.

    Right to work does not improve the employment rate.
    In fact, seven of the 11 states with the highest unemployment rates have right-to-work laws on the books.

    According to a report from Ohio University, these laws actually led to a decrease in employment in certain industries.

    Right to work proponents are wrong

    Right-to-work supporters hide behind the claim that right to work protects workers who don’t want to join a union or agree with a union’s politics.But federal labor law already protects workers who don’t want to join a union or make political contributions.

    Right to work’s true purpose is to hurt the ability of unions to advocate for all workers and serve as a check on corporate greed.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Mark,
    At age 18, I went to work at the Nifty Paper Company, running a stapling machine. My job required me to stand on one leg, pushing a pedal with the other, while operating the stapler with both hands. We worked in an un-air conditioned attic which used a huge fan to move the air. The noise level of the machinery was such that communication consisted of sign language, or yelling next to someone’s ear. We had no union, and were sent home and recalled at will, to meet production demand. Injuries were common, and almost all the regulars had scars from running staples through their hands.
    A few years later, I worked for the Federal government, prior to and during their unionization.
    FWIW, my opinion is that the physically dangerous factory floor needs unions, but the clerical staffs do not, and the government definitely does not. As for “free riders”, any dues mandated, should only be used with the written consent of the individual members. Any political contributions should be made by individual preference only -if not prohibited outright. Abuse of power by union representatives as commonplace as abuse of power by any other politicians.

  • Glenn Harrell

    President Obama has attempted his “pretend to slap the greedy corporate types hands” so he appears not to be a part of the ugly. He discovered what we all know but won’t admit. Greed=Votes and that second home in Bermuda.

    Nobody’s law will prevent greed. Such laws will, however, reveal how desperately we need humans to contain greed. And such laws are relatively powerless against the wiles and intelligence of lawyers with the same greedy bent and backings.

    Legal and Immoral are enemies that have their guard shacks only inches apart. The guards on both sides (Wall Street) shake hands at night when no one is looking. The rights of workers and unions alike are smeared because the top-dog bites and the little dogs tuck their tails.

    Most of us have greed like a common cold. too many of our union leaders and politicians are in bed with Corporate Execs who have greed as a highly contagious life threatening disease. Yes, they too become infected. Kick-backs from Unions and votes that are bought with tax dollar funds.

    Both sides pretend that it is about the worker, and it is, as long as the worker pays their dues, works hard and keeps their mouth shut.

    I am thinking back to post 9/11 when the big-buck corp-orates, Washington and Wall Street saw themselves and their greed in a clearer context. They felt pain and were converted, but only for a season.

  • Fourth Valley

    I don’t get this logic. If the union needs to FORCE its members to join, then it is NOT REPRESENTING those workers who it forced to join and who otherwise would not have joined.

    And if a union is NOT representing the workers who are its members, then the ENTIRE POINT of a Union is LOST.

    If you allow Unions to FORCE people into them, then the Unions will NOT represent the Workers, and will become nothing more then corrupt corporations themselves.

    In the State I live, Wisconsin, people with seasonal or summer jobs are sometimes forced to join unions and pay union dues. HOWEVER, the Unions in this state ONLY give voting rights to year-long workers. Thus, if someone gets a summer job in a union-mandatory job, must give their money to an organization in which they have NO SAY IN. An organization that DOES NOT represent them, DOES NOT allow them to vote on its actions, and yet STILL seizes the money of those vote-deprived workers it does not represent. How is this current model fair to seasonal workers??

  • Bill

    Why bring race into this, Larry? You pretty much lost your credibility.

  • Larry

    Bringing race into it? Hardly.

    That has to be the lamest excuse to ignore my prior post you could cough up. It affects women and non-union workers also.

    The point is more like disproportionate impact based on demographics. Not just race, but also gender and ethnic impact as well.

  • Jack

    Good points, Fourth Valley.

    This is more a sacred and sentimental article of faith for some on the left than it is a rational policy prescription in a free society.

    Picture Professor Silk and others singing the union equivalent of “gimmee that ole time religion, gimmee that ole time religion.”

    This is partly what Churchill probably had in mind when he said that if you’re 20 and a conservative, you have no heart but if you’re 40 and a liberal, you have no head. A bit of an exaggeration, of course….but part of growing older is examining the beliefs of one’s youth and comparing them with the real experiences of the adult world.

    But people are people and everyone has something that makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside. For most people throughout history, it’s been religion of one sort or another. For secularists, it’s been politics and especially old-style 20th-century left-leaning idealism.

    As for unionism, it’s pretty clear that, laying aside the right-to-work issue for a moment, most Americans are skeptical about governmental unions and think a lot better of private-sector unions.

  • Tim

    You can’t call GEICO after the car accident.

    You must be a paying member of that association or you do not get representation.

    Yet, most people do not know that in the Right To Work “law,” the Union representing whatever unionized company or group of dedicated employees, MUST ALSO represent the so-called Union Members that refuse to pay for the benefits they receive from the business of a Union.

    If honesty and integrity are concepts and actions that are important to you, there is no way to deny that Right To Work is designed to harm Unions.

    DISCLAIMER: I now work for a Union. I was also once very anti-union. But I learned by experience and learning, that Union benefits are based on sound honesty and integrity for the represented member. I am a conservative Republican. I believe that Unions are good. Once tested, “collective bargaining rights” should be seen as one of the greatest achievements in human history. To give value to every human being is the reality of being represented by a contract at the workplace.

    I do not believe the Republican attacks on Unions is based on honesty OR integrity. They are based on self-serving interests and cunning and dishonest propaganda. The rich and powerful demanding to rule over the poor and nothing more than that. Please note that Right To Work activists and politicians, take away the collective bargaining rights of those that choose to be in a union and the ability of Unions to be able to have dues deducted in payroll deductions from the employees that do “choose” to pay dues. Dues deductions do not harm a business in any way but passing laws to refuse them does harm unions. Once again, honesty and integrity are missing from Right To Work politicians that pass these unjustified actions.

    If one is a “conservative” which I am, there is no way that RTW is based on honesty and integrity. It was designed to harm Unions and employees by its very nature. It is designed to put Unions out of business by any view you take to examine the heart of it. As a Republican, and a conservative Republican at that, RTW is not based on anything other than financial greed and political power. Neither desire can pass muster in Catholic integrity or teachings.

    For those Catholic Clergy that support Right To Work, they need to do their homework and see for themselves that the “law” is unjust. BTW, as another disclaimer, I was also baptized a Catholic (and I was confirmed as well.) And Catholics certainly believe that funding the Church – by its members – is mandatory to keep it “in business.”

    Jesus didn’t condemn in direct decrees many kinds of people, but the rich man He certainly gave a dire description about in absolute terms. RTW is designed to keep the rich in ever-growing wealth and the poor in their place.

    This looks more like the rebirth of the Feudal Lord system than anything based in honesty and integrity. By calling those in power “Job Creators” and only being concerned about their power and wealth being supported, places them in a higher class than the Serfs that they are allowing to live in the way the “Job Creator” so chooses.

    Why not have a “Right To Live” law that says that if you do not want to pay taxes, because you fundamentally do not support the organizations they fund . . .you don’t have to pay those fees?

    Study for yourself, RTW is not designed honestly. Or else the concept would be applied to other “choices” that cost money.


    (If anyone needs my email, send me yours and i will answer you)

  • Tim

    Fourth Valley,

    In Right To Work, politicians pass laws that take away collective bargaining rights from those union members that willingly want to be union members and they pass laws taking away payroll deductions to unions from employees that want to be in the union.

    And Right To Work demands by law that Unions represent those that refuse to pay dues.

    If you want an honest environment to exist, then let’s be honest and keep to honesty. RTW is designed to crush unions. It is dishonest to say that it isn’t.
    If it was based on ethical reason, then RTW would have been implemented defining a union member as one that pays for the services and benefits of being a union member. Your assertion is that unions are forcing people that do not get benefits from the union, to pay for the services they do not get. Yet, even those seasonal workers do have benefits from being in the union. They have representation in many important ways to KEEP their seasonal job during the season they are working. What if the seasonal worker gets sick or has car or transportation trouble? Etc., etc.. Their “Union Rights” protect them from unjust termination and/or unjust discipline “on the job,” and provide other benefits to the environment and conditions they work in. They are certainly not day laborers waiting for work on a street corner, that are picked up in the morning and released from their days work in the evening. Also, “Union Rights” describe AND define the seasonal job they are doing in many, many, aspects than having “just a job” for the day.

    When examined in all fairness – which is not what RTW politicians and activists do – unions are being treated dishonestly by Right To Work “laws.”

    (I work for a Union)