The National Catholic Review

The Labor Day Statement of the USCCB has appeared, and offers important thoughts for Christians navigating the challenges of the Great Recession. Writing in his capacity as Chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton reminds us that over 12 million are unemployed; that some ten million families are among the “working poor”; that 46 million Americans, including 16 million children, live in poverty. He gently admonishes our contemporary political culture, noting that “in the current political campaigns, we hear much about the economy, but almost nothing about the moral imperative to overcome pervasive poverty in a nation still blessed with substantial economic resources and power.”

And at a time when some seem intent on invoking subsidiarity mainly to slash the social safety net, Bishop Blaire also offers a pointed Labor Day observation.

 Unions are a sign of subsidiarity by forming associations of workers to have a voice, articulate their needs, and bargain and negotiation with large economic institutions and structures of government.  Like other institutions, including religious, business and civic groups, unions sometimes fall short of this promise and responsibility….When labor institutions fall short, it does not negate Catholic teaching in support of unions and the protection of working people, but calls out for renewed focus and candid dialogue on how to best defend workers. Indeed, economic renewal that places working people and their families at the center of economic life cannot take place without effective unions.

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Robert Killoren | 8/17/2012 - 11:08pm
Not all public employees are unionized. However I wish I was. In Ohio they don't go after the low paying people. They go after the seniors who have maxed out on the salary scales. I got laid off two years ago along with several other over 55 folks. In fact in our department 60% of the folks laid off were in the so called protected class. I worked for 40 years and when I hit 60 got laid off and lost my health coverage. State governments are ruthless maybe more so than the private sector. Where are people like me going to find jobs. We are just tossed aside. That's what happens without public employee unions. These hot shot Tea Party types came in with the new governor and wanted to prove how tough they could be in slashing budgets. It ain't right. So what do you compassionate conservatives recommend I and all the rest of the ccollaterally damaged seniors do? All because you all don't like big government. Well who do you think keeps cities and states running? Who makes sure you live securely? We are real people not statistics and some of you spout your prejudices and lies about us like we were the problem with this country. It hurts to see fellow Catholics so uncaring but that's what happens when ideology cancels compassion. You have no idea what it is like in the real world.
J Cosgrove | 8/16/2012 - 3:42pm
Wages for state and local governments vs the private sector

Total compensation including benefits

Public - $39.66 per hour or roughly $80 k a year of which about $25 k is not taxable
Private -  $27.42 per hour or roughly $57 k a year of which $15 k is not taxable.

Benefits which are not taxable

Public - $13.65 
Private - $8.02

From U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2009 as republished by the Cato Organization.

Two things, these are averages so a large percentage of the pubic sector workers are receiving compensation of 100 K or more as seniority is important in these jobs.  And second, these numbers probably understate the benefits since retirement benefits are dramatically different between the two sectors and not entirely reflected in actual compensation numbers.
Mike Brooks | 8/16/2012 - 3:05pm
@Vince - I meant "higher" than they should be, not "higher" than the private sector. 
Vince Killoran | 8/16/2012 - 2:58pm
The only (well, one of the many problems) with your claim Michael is that study after study has demonstrated that public sector employees do not earn more than comparable private sector peers.

The "exchange" that I worry about is the unlimited flow of $$ from big business. 
Mike Brooks | 8/16/2012 - 12:55pm
I'm not going to mention that public sector unions provide financial and political support to candidates in exchange for collective "bargaining" concessions.  I'm not going to mention that this translates into higher salaries for government employees on the backs of private sector taxpayers.  The public sector is doing fine.
J Cosgrove | 8/16/2012 - 9:20am
''Before any more misguided comments are offered, let's all re-read this.''

Mr. DiIulio should be a big advocate of the Tea Party which wants a smaller government and little influence by large organizations with their money on government policy.  The only way to rid the country of this rent seeking behavior is to reduce the size of government and its laws which are often set up to favor the few versus the many.  But I doubt that is what Mr. DiIulio wants.  It certainly is not what Mr. Sinyai wants.

Also unions by their very nature are exclusionary and use their threats both economic and often physical force to gain higher renumeration at the expense of others.  It  is often thought they are ''sticking it to the man'' so most don't care about these tactics. But in reality to advocate for their increased influence ends up hurting those who are not members and must either find lower wages otherwhere or in many cases not find any employment at all.  So does Mr. DiIulio favor the unions or the poor?  You cannot favor both.  And in the case of the public service unions on which both Mr. Sinyai and Mr. DiIulio are silent do the favor the poor or the upper middle class many with their often $100,000 per year or more in compensation?
J Cosgrove | 8/15/2012 - 3:32pm
The Catholic Church has to decide which it wants to help, unions or the poor. Helping one is incompatible with helping the other.
James Palermo | 8/17/2012 - 4:55pm
I just read the comments from other readers and I am shocked at how little people know about unions and how ill-informed they are.  The CATO Foundation, for example does not take into account that a high percentage of government employees are highly educated - teachers, nurses, doctors, scientists, lawyers - whose earnings obviouisly are greater than mininum wage employees included in the computation of average earnings in the private sector.  And any one who does not appreciate the contributions of unions is ignorant of American history.  The truth is that Unions are not all powerful. By law, an employer does not have to agree to any union demand. Unions have made generous concessions to numerous companies.  And how is it that uninformed ''Christians'' think workers make too much, while at the same time hoping that our children will make more?  As for Union support for [political candidates, has anyone looked at what corporations and millionaire casino operators are pouring into the presidential election. This is why we need to hear from the pulpit. The Catholic Bishops in Economic Justice for All stated ''The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions.'' The Bishops quoted Pope John Paul II who stated ''The experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies.''  The Church needs to preach this from the pulpit.
James Palermo | 8/17/2012 - 4:31pm
The social teachings of the church are inspirational. The day-to-day practice, however, is less inspiring.  My experience has been that Catholic institutions resist the unionization of their workers with the same intensity as major coporations. And rarely do we hear from the pulpit iterations of social teachings, such as condemnation of the Ryan budget proposals.  If only we walked the walk, rather than just talk the talk, I believe the Church would become relevant to many of God's marginalized people.
J Cosgrove | 8/17/2012 - 11:22am
''Cosgrove has recycled his tired and unsubstantiated figures on this blog many times. I provided university studies; he provided WSJ and Cato ''studies.''''

Interesting response to an analysis of government data.  I too am somewhat skeptical of government data sometimes but having been in academia for awhile am really skeptical of university studies.  Somewhere above someone asked for facts but my guess is that facts are to the left like water was to the Wicked Witch of the West, something to be avoided at all cost.  It seems to be replaced by nothing but rhetoric and the throwing of ad hominems.

And by the way it has been an absolutely gorgeous week here on the New Jersey shore. 
Vince Killoran | 8/16/2012 - 4:51pm
"Higher than they should be"-what does that mean?

Cosgrove has recycled his tired and unsubstantiated figures on this blog many times. I provided university studies; he provided WSJ and Cato "studies." No need to go through that again. It's a nice day (finally) and time to enjoy the weather.
J Cosgrove | 8/16/2012 - 3:05pm
''union members get more, the people who get less probably are those whom the union members' labor is making rich''

You must be talking about the US automobile, steel and airline industries.  These are some of the industries that have been made rich by their union members.  

''nor that historically when union wages went up everyone's wages went up. '' 

This is the first I ever heard this and it is hard to understand how this could happen but maybe it did.  Maybe some references and examples would help us on this.  I have never seen high union wages discussed as a way to raise non union wages.  I have seen just the opposite but there are always counter examples one does not know about.  

I know that during the depression first with Hoover and then with Roosevelt there were very conscious overt efforts to keep wages high.  The theory was that these high wages would stimulate demand by their spending and increase GDP and stabilize the economy.  It didn't work that way as the high wages put pressures on business as their costs became very high and the subsequent product prices were too high for all the unemployed to buy.  Sales went down, and a lot union employees were then laid off to join the non union people who couldn't find work because of union requirements.  This was one of the causes of continued high unemployment through the Depression.  Not the only one but a major cause of low employment.

In 1970's there was tremendous inflation and as a result union contracts led to higher wages that were required because of the rising prices.  This sent wages into an upward spiral but they did not buy more.  There was little or no growth in GDP during this time as we had the term ''stagflation.''  This was the end of union dominance in the country as unions declined sharply after 1980 and the economy began to grow again as the US started the long turn from primarily a manufacturing economy to a service economy and a lot of the manufacturing was becoming more automated requiring less workers.

''Nor am going to mention that if better pay for the middle class automatically means less money for the poor,''

Who said that better pay for the middle class automatically means less money for the poor?  Better pay in the private sector is a result of demand for labor and little else so one would expect wages for everyone to rise if the middle class got better off.  But in the public sector a different dynamic is often at work as wages are frequently not set by supply and demand but by intervention that is often out of the sight of those that pay.  Higher wages in this environment for public servants means less money for the poor as it takes money out of public budgets which could better be used elsewhere, including maybe the poor or even employing them.  They are even laying the public servants off in lots of places now in order to fund the ''Cadillac'' benefit plans of retired and senior public service workers.  So the public servants not only eat the poor they also eat their own and usually with little remorse.  

I personally know of an example where about 20 people were laid off from public service jobs because they were junior while the senior people got raises.  If all the public service workers in this locality took 10 % wage and benefit cuts they would have been able to employ all the laid off people and then a lot of people receiving unemployment and other benefits would then be working and all the others would still have good salaries.  It is kind of hard to imagine any pope supporting those making very good salaries when they are hurting the poor.

''it is to invite a barrage of ''facts'' ''

Facts never hurt anyone here.  Maybe we should see some of these facts.  I realize a lot of what is presented here is opinion but never thought that facts were something to be avoided.
T BLACKBURN | 8/16/2012 - 11:32am
I am not going to link to Rerum Novarum. Any good library will have a copy. Nor am I going to cite all of the popes, including the present one, who affirmed it in some way. I also am not going to read the minds of other people. Nor am I going to make the obvious comment that if union members get more, the people who get less probably are those whom the union members' labor is making rich; nor that historically when union wages went up everyone's wages went up. Nor am going to mention that if better pay for the middle class automatically means less money for the poor, it is odd that none of the aforementioned popes noticed and that some we know were informed of that "fact" - John Paul II comes to mind - gave the "fact" the attention it deserved. (They ignored it.)

I am not going to mention any of that because to mention it is to invite a barrage of "facts" that Leo XIII anticipated and answered more than a century ago.

Vince Killoran | 8/15/2012 - 9:35pm
I agree with Amy on many things but she is wrong in her assertion that "Unions were a nineteenth-century solution to nineteenth-century working conditions. They work best when the workers are highly-skilled and the labor market is tight." In fact, the labor movement was most successful-numbers, wages & benefits, social legislation-in the mid-twentieth century, especially in industrial workplaces, e.g., auto, rubber, meatpacking, coal, & steel.  They organized a couple of generation of semi- and un-skilled workers and brought them decent wages and some industrial decomocracy.  Their grandchildren now drive around the exurbs with right wing bumper stickers on their gas guzzlers.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 8/15/2012 - 11:20am
Unions were a nineteenth-century solution to nineteenth-century working conditions. They work best when the workers are highly-skilled and the labor market is tight. Not surprisingly, schoolteaching is the twenty-first century trade that has had the most success with unionization.

Twenty-first century working conditions are very different. Much of the labor force is unskilled and easily replaceable. Many workers contract directly with their customers. A lot of work can be outsourced to countries where it can be done for very low wages. Modern law requires employers to pay high overhead on permanent employees (specifically, health insurance.) And the unemployment rate is nine percent.

Maybe it's progress that the Church thinks we're all living in the nineteenth century. At least they've noticed we're not serfs anymore.
John Siegmund | 8/23/2012 - 4:41am
We shouldn't be asking why the "public" employee makes so much, but why the "private employee has lost so much in pay and benefits.  It is because our work places are not unionized and we have bought into this garbage that unions are bad for the company.  Verizon is one of the most profitable companies in the world and guess what? They are union!  Oh by the way I took a huge pay and benefit cut to go to work for the federal government as an accountant.  Also, I agree that states are ruthless in their treatment of their employees and it always seems to be in Republican administrations.  We have been brainwashed in this country to believe that the only way to fix our economic woes is to screw the employees while making the fat cats richer eg globalization which is nothing more than going to slave labor level markets to decrease labor cost in order to maximize net income.  All at the expense of our labor force and our country's tax base.  Corporations that do this are undermining the ecomonic security of the US and we should not allow this, as we used to do.  Excise taxes should be levied for each job moved out of this country to make up the gap between the lost US job and the slave market job. Japan and China protect their tax base why can't we?
Mike Brooks | 8/17/2012 - 11:58am
@Vince asked:  "Higher [public sector salaaries] than they should be"-what does that mean? 

It means more than the recipients deserve and/or more than the government should pay under the given economic conditions.  The private sector pays what it can afford to pay, and it is usually tied to productivity and contribution to revenue generation; the public sector can pay whatever it bilks from the taxpayers regardless of productivity.  I've worked in both sectors doing similar jobs, and the thought that I could have been paid in the public sector even nearly what I made in the private sector (I made about a third), along with the benefits, makes me laugh.

But the point is that public unions do not have an adversary against whom to negotiate as do private sector unions.  When the money runs out, more is borrowed (against future tax revenues), printed (at taxpayers' expense), or taxes are raised.  That's why federal salaries are soaring and one of the reasons Dems seek to raise taxes.
Bill Freeman | 8/14/2012 - 9:55pm
Great!  If this is the UCCB's official position then they cannot support the GOP for president.  It is very clear.
T BLACKBURN | 8/16/2012 - 7:24am
Before any more misguided comments are offered, let's all re-read this. (It's from the current issue.)