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.