The National Catholic Review
'Violations of workers' rights cannot go unchallenged.'
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It took more effort and resulted in more “blood on the floor” than pundits predicted, but our lawmakers have at last settled upon an economic stimulus package. With that must-do measure in the rearview mirror, Congress and the Obama administration are turning their sights elsewhere. Bills regarding health care, immigration and other pressing items are being introduced daily.

I wish I could report brighter prospects for harmonious resolution of any of these weighty matters. But realistically, when legislators answer the bell for the second round of the bout called Politics 2009, we may expect just as little true bipartisanship and just as much acrimony as we saw in the opening weeks of the Obama presidency.

One important item I recommend tracking through Congress is the Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA. A reform of federal labor law is hardly riveting to most people, but a great deal is at stake in getting this particular issue right. The way workers are treated is above all an ethical question, involving notions like equity and human rights, not merely a technical legal question involving bureaucratic procedures. Since many observers see no need to change the rules regulating the process of union organizing and collective bargaining, this act is sure to spark a lively exchange of blows on Capitol Hill.

The core of the proposed legislation affects how unions are certified in a given workplace. Most importantly, EFCA re-establishes the principle of “majority sign-up,” a requirement that an employer recognize a union if a majority of the employees sign authorization cards. Majority sign-up would provide workers an alternative to the “secret ballot” elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, a process established by the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 and which most employers favor. The bill would also beef up penalties against firms that harass or coerce employees seeking to organize. Finally, the act would require parties that fail to reach a collective bargaining agreement within 120 days to go to an arbitrator to resolve their disputes.

The facts regarding most of the relevant claims are hotly contested, as a scan of recent editorials and Web sites maintained by affected parties indicates. Organized labor characterizes EFCA as a common-sense reform that levels the playing field, after decades of corporate intimidation against employees attempting in good faith to exercise their right to organize. In the face of fierce union-busting campaigns, the democratic-sounding procedure of secret ballot elections is less likely than ever to yield results that truly reflect worker sentiment. Opponents counter that current union election procedures, which include conventional secret ballot elections, already protect against all likely abuses.

Obviously, Congress will have to deliberate at great length in order to sort out these claims and counter-claims. That is what public hearings are for, and no brief article can aspire to weigh all the relevant facts and reach a clear verdict. Suffice it to say that there is enough evidence readily available in the public record to support many of the arguments of those advocating change in the way our nation defines and applies its labor laws. The prevalence of union-busting efforts and systematic violations of workers’ rights cannot go unchallenged.

What is the religious angle on this issue? Most denominations in the United States eagerly affirm labor rights and express enthusiasm for the principle of free and fair collective bargaining. A review of the 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church shows that the support of Catholic social teaching for workers’ rights to organize is beyond dispute. From Pope Leo XIII to John Paul II, the right to form unions has been regarded as an indispensable element of economic justice.

Tricky questions may arise, however, when individual Catholics seek to discern whether a given legal measure is necessary to ensure the right of workers to form unions. My judgment is that EFCA is indeed necessary to protect the right of workers to unionize, a right that has been under sharp attack in recent decades. I urge all people of good will to check out the facts, consult their consciences and form a prudential judgment on this important issue.

It may not grab many headlines, but EFCA is emerging as one of the major moral issues of 2009.

Thomas Massaro, S.J., teaches social ethics at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, Chestnut Hill, Mass. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

Comments

Phil Christe | 3/30/2009 - 1:01pm
Sorry. I got the names crossed on my posting. It's Fr. Massaro, not Fr. McLaughlin!
Phil Christe | 3/30/2009 - 1:00pm
Dear Fr. Massaro, Fear and intimidation are also inflicted by union leadership. The "Freedom of Choice" moniker couldn't be farther from the truth. Under current law, when 50% of employees sign authorizaiotn cards, then the NLRB comes in to conduct a fair and 'secret ballot.' It only seems logical that a person be able to vote in this fashion. The new proposal takes the voice away from at least 50% of the workforce. Compelling a new labor agreement within 90 days or face binding arbitration in 120 will simply force busineses to shut down. Not because a business owner wants to shut down , but because he can't stay in business under union labor condtions. The decline in union membership is not due to owner goon squads but the practical reality that unions introduce a level of expense many businesses cannot absorb. Sincerely, Phil Christe
Frank McLaughlin | 3/26/2009 - 12:09pm
I’ve thought a great deal about EFCA recently and perhaps my reflections might be useful in thinking about the card check feature of EFCA. The historian David Brody maintains that in practice the certification election has interfered with workers free exercise of their associational rights, i.e., the right to self organize. I have a strong commitment to the right of free association as an important moral and political right, and Brody’s writing has led me to think about the extent to which the card authorization proposal is necessary to ensure the right to self organize. A little background is helpful. U.S. workers acquired the free association right under the common law in 1842 with the Massachusetts SJC decision in Commonwealth v. Hunt. Ninety years later this right was embodied in federal statutory law in Section 7 of the Wagner Act. Senator Wagner believed collective bargaining and union organization would be good for the nation, and that workers wanted it. There is no indication that he worried about workers being intimidated into unionizing against their wishes, and the certification election process wasn’t added to the Wagner Act to guard against that possibility. Nor was it put in the Act to give employers a chance to present their side of the case, or to inform workers about good arguments for remaining non-union. Senator Wagner would not have been expected employers to play a disinterested role as their workers advisors on the pros and cons of unionizing. My guess is that Senator Wagner believed employers would just have to live with whatever workers decided about unionization According to Brody the election process was put in the Act to help ensure that company dominated unions weren’t established in place of independent unions. It reflected a concern about the company union movement of the 1920s, and it was related to, and reinforced, the Section 8(2) designation of company domination of a union as an unfair labor practice. Now, since workers had the right to self organize and attempt to gain recognition by their employers prior to Wagner without an election it's reasonable to ask why an election might be necessary after the enactment of Wagner? There are two possible reasons. The first is the one I have noted above, i.e., to help ensure that the union wasn’t employer dominated. But since that's no longer a problem, the election is no longer needed for that purpose. The second reason could be because the Wagner Act put the power of the government behind the workers demand for recognition, and restricted what an employer could do to resist a union demand for recognition, and it required the employer to recognize the union. The consequence was that the legal environment in which unionization took place was no longer the environment that was put in place with Commonwealth v. Hunt. It's reasonable to believe that since the government was supporting a union in obtaining recognition rights from an employer, the certification election procedure was reasonable as a means of providing evidence that the union was supported by a majority of the workers represented. Was this reason for the establishment of the election procedure put forth explicitly by supporters of the Wagner Act? Was in their minds implicitly? I don’t know the answer to either question, but this second reason provides a justification for the election procedure beyond the reason given by Brody for its establishment. And, as such, it provides an argument against complete reliance on the card check procedure even if one relies entirely on the Wagner act context. Once we move to the changed context of the Taft Hartley Act of 1947 there is a much stronger basis for justifying the maintenance of the election procedure. Clearly Congress, in enacting Taft Hartley, judged unions, as well as employers, as institutions that might interfere with the right of employees to make an un-coerced choice. And Taft Hartley also represented a shi
Mary Kemper | 3/25/2009 - 4:57pm
As a child growing up I remember how my father (good Irish Catholic man with 6 children and a wife to support) worried how the steel workers strike or the UAW strike or TEAMSTERS strike or the AFLCIO strike or the coal workers strike ad nauseum would effect his ability to do his job and feed his family. The unions didn't care how their strikes effected anyone else in the country. All they wanted was to stick it to the corporations. He hated the unions and what they did to other people trying to make a living. How fair is it for, let's say, a transit drivers' union to go on strike, putting undo hardships on others trying to get to their jobs, so they can earn a living. If you don't like how the company you work for is treating you then look for another job. My father raised us to be self sufficient and self assured. One of my siblings was screwed by a union after her workplace unionized when she lost her seniority because she did not support them. She got the last laugh, through hard work and determination, she outlasted all of them before the company closed. If Father Massaro and the Catholic hierarchy are so concerned about workers, then why do they support unlimited illegal immigration which drives down wages. I've heard all of the peace and justice arguments from the church but I don't buy any of it. What justice is it that a person in their own country is finding it harder to get a job because they don't speak a foreign language? I guess some workers are more valuable in the eyes of the church than others. What about the unions supporting the Democratic Party? The Church seems to overlook the Party of abortion. Which is more important saving the lives or innocent babies or supporting unions? You can't have both. I guess aborted babies can't make contributions to the church. I am still a Catholic in good standing but I am thoroughly disgusted with the church's double standard when it comes to workers and politics.
Dwayne Goldman | 3/20/2009 - 4:29pm
I have been a union member for 18 years, and can honestly say that every union official I have ever met has been nothing but professional. Sure, some union officials are bad apples, but so aren't some CEOs and managers. I recently turned from "union member" to "union official" and I have witnessed first hand how employees who wish to organize are threatened and intimidated by their employers. It doesn't happen every time, but even once is too much. Forming a union is a fundamental right in this country, supported by federal law. The law is not perfect, and neither is the EFCA, but if it helps prevent employers from threatening and intimidating their employees, it should be supported.
Julie | 3/9/2009 - 11:06am
It's apparent that the Catholic Church has been promised much and been "taken care of" by union organizers over the years. Oddly enough, The Archdiocese will only use union labor. So, they support a group who supports abortions and yet wants "human (worker) rights". Please! The Catholic Church has regretably circumed to the ill-affects of the mighty dollar. Father, where do you think the millions of dollars given to politicians comes from? The paychecks of the workers! Whether that worker agrees with that politician or not. And, do you really believe that union workers have a say. Actually, when they sign a card, they are signing to have the Business Agent represent them in a contract, in essence, to be their power of attorney. Unfortunately, once cards are signed, that signer is never asked again what they want. They only know what they were promised. Too bad if it doesn't come to pass. Signers who are coerced into signing cards are naive enough to believe what they are being told. Ask a B.A. to put those promises in writing and get that document signed by both parties and notaried--it will never happen! Yes, I believe there was once a need for unions. And, frankly, I still do believe that. Competition is a good thing. However, unions have become to corrupt and money hungry over the last several decades, they are more concerned about their coffers than the people who fill them. The NLRB has already has laws in place to stop employer harassment once an organizing campaign begins. It's working. Unfortunately, not in the unions favor. Therefore, let's stab hard working employers who have given much of their monies to run their companies in the back; catch them off guard and run them out of business. Yeah, that's a smart move! Who's being protected? The worker; the employer; or the union? Father, don't believe the lies. Go back to your bible.
Purple Leader | 3/9/2009 - 10:37am
How hypocritical is the Catholic Church to continue to support corrupt labor organizations that have a long history of intimidation and violence against those who oppose them. Not to mention, the hundreds of millions of dollars labor organizations help raise for PRO-CHOICE Democratic candidates. Then again, why does would hypocrisy in the Catholic Church surprise anyone?
GUY DI-SPIGNO | 3/9/2009 - 9:07am
While I assume we all concur with Thomas Massaro, SJ that the “violations of workers’ rights cannot go unchallenged” it would be more meaningful if he could present a more balanced perspective to recent labor history that describes “… decades of corporate intimidation against employees attempting in good faith to exercise their right to organize. In the face of fierce union-busting campaigns, the democratic-sounding procedure of secret ballot elections is less likely than ever to yield results that truly reflect worker sentiment.” The result of Massaro’s “common sense reform” does not mention decades of intimidation, coercion, threats of, and indeed actual violence by union “organizers” that also takes place during hotly contested union campaigns. Massaro is naïve in the extreme if he does not realize that EFCA would empower Hoffaesque thugs to intimidate those who resist signing union cards. The result of this effort by out of touch theorists to promote their self proclaimed version of “social justice” by denying a secret ballot to workers will, in fact, lead to a suppression of freedom to those unwilling to subject themselves to the well known intimidation tactics of the union thugs that Massaro chooses to ignore. One would hope that this theologian would show a similar zeal in supporting freedom of choice when it comes to school vouchers. Guy J. Di Spigno, PhD. President Executive Synergies, Inc. Northbrook, Illinois (847) 272-3420 www.exectivesynergies.com
Killoran | 3/6/2009 - 3:34pm
Wow--lots of angry posts against unions here, but few against corporate America which has gotten us into this mess. Given the choice on whether they would like their workplace to be organized the majority of Americans tell researchers "yes." Union workers are better paid, happier, have a greater say in their work lives, and are more productive than non-union workers. It's telling that union haters can never identify a single community in the USA where the local workforce experienced the defeat of unions and became safer and cleaner, with better schools, parks, retail, and health care. If your principles don't lead you to support the labor movement your common sense should.
JOHN WINTERS | 3/5/2009 - 8:35am
As anyone who understands what the EFCA proposes, employees right to a secret ballot are not eliminated. But, with the EFCA it would be their choice to use the secret ballot, not the employers. Further, it would help eliminate the captive meetings employees are forced to endure by their union busting employers, something more frightening and intimidating than you might imagine. Regarding the "Union Goon" comment please put this stereotype to rest, I've been a Union Man for 35 years and have yet to be intimidated by any union representative. The men and women whom I have met are professional, knowledgeable, and passionate about helping people receive a just wage and a safe working environment.
Joe G | 3/4/2009 - 11:26am
I am a Catholic and the church and priests don't live in the real world.
Mary Ann Jung | 3/3/2009 - 12:17pm
The secret ballot allows workers to decide for themselves without undue pressure from either employers or the unions. I was horrified that plans were underway to remove the secret ballot. That opens the door for intimidation from everyone. I believe this is a loss of freedom that we cannot afford in this Country.
Dave Dingee | 3/2/2009 - 6:19pm
Your column is a prime example of why it is not good for the Catholic Church to have its priests and nuns dabble in leftist political issues that they really haven't taken the time to study. EFCA is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Unions can and do win elections with secret ballots. In fact, they win more times than they don't. The problem EFCA is trying to fix is that union's know they don't have a product that a lot of employees want. The solution, according to labor unions (and the Democratic party politicians who receives much of their funding from forced union dues), is to make the sign up process as quick as possible. It has to be quick so that the union can present a one-sided viewpoint. EFCA is a disgusting piece of legislation that takes away an American right to vote by secret ballot. It is shocking that a Catholic priest supports this. That's why I wonder if he really has all the facts.
James Collins | 3/2/2009 - 3:08pm
The so called Freedom of Choice Act is anything but that. It takes away from workers one of the most fundamental and American rights, that of a secret ballot. Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of union organizing tactics knows how much intimidation union organizers use to get workers to sign cards. With three or four burly organizers pressuring them many workers sign the cards out of fear and to get them off their backs. They do this knowing that they will have a secret ballot free from intimidation and prying eyes. Unions are sponsoring this Act precisely because many workers free from intimidation from the organizers, vote against the union when hey get into the polling place. I can't think of anything that is more unjust and un-Christian than EFCA.
Michael Bindner | 3/2/2009 - 12:17pm
As was said in the campaign, elections matter. Sometimes they matter too much. The last eight years were tragic at the Department of Labor, which was entirely to business friendly - to the point of ignoring law. How many of our conservative commentators who think EFCA is unneeded called for vigorous enforcement of labor law in the past eight years, or for a greatly increased budget for the Department - especially in regard to the safety of the workplace in areas where migrant and immigrant labor is particularly prevelant? In some facilities, virtual slavery now exists, due mostly to the malfeasance of the past eight years. One need not wonder too much at the desire to turn the tide as aggressively as possible. If money and management brought the kind of results necessary, EFCA is likely unnecessary to overcome the inertia of the past eight to fourteen years (counting Republican underfunding when Clinton was President). When business owners and managers who flauted the law because it was not enforced start forking over damages and going to jail, I will begin to believe that EFCA is not necessary.
ROBERT MCNULTY | 3/1/2009 - 4:35pm
Unions achieved their greatest growth under the Wagner Act and the Taft-Hartley ammendment. What has changed to say that those processes are no longer adequate? Might it be corruption and poor performance by the unions which led to the declne in union membership? I say this as an acquaintance of Walter Reuther whose blood led to the growth of industrial unions.I'm 91 years old so I'm one of the few who can say they knew Walter Reuther.Come to think of it, I knew John L. Lewis too. both from the other side of the table.
Jim Belna | 3/1/2009 - 12:09pm
Fr Massaro has evidently confused the right of workers to form unions with the power of unions to force workers to submit to their control. This is a grotesque distortion of the Church's concern for the rights of workers. Unfortunately, I imagine that Congress will give EFCA the same lengthy, deliberative review that Fr Massaro engaged in, which is to say none at all. Like Fr Massaro, the Democratic legislators who control the fate of this bill are bound to rubber-stamp any law that gives more power to their demanding patrons in Organized Labor. That is a quite different proposition from giving power to workers themselves. EFCA is anti-worker in the extreme. It strips workers of the fundamental right to express their preference to unionize by secret ballot, and subjects them to intimidation and retaliation by union organizers who don't want to take no for an answer. It is perfectly obvious why unions want to deprive workers of their right to a secret ballot, but I cannot understand why a priest who teaches social ethics at a Catholic university is so enthusiastic about a measure that is directly contrary to the inherent rights and dignity of individual workers.
Dave | 2/28/2009 - 2:21pm
Fr. Massro, I read your article with interest, and am sure you whole heartedly believe, that the majority of companies violate workers rights. My guess is your idealistic social agenda does not allow you to approach the subject wth an open and enlightened mind, which is a travesty. Maybe you should take a closer look at the unions, how they initiate labor disputes, and their real intent. Maybe you should see how the unions incite the people and the company responses by their vicious campaigns. My guess is you never see the initial phases, only the aftermath. The truth is they are the ones who violate workers rights and are attempting to abscond one of America's most chersihed freedoms the Secret Ballot Election. Unfortunately, they have misled you into believing their less than forthright propaganda. The unions organizing tactics are horrific, and suppress individual thought, decision making and freedom. People deserve the right to vote their conscience in private and not under pressure from a union thug in the presence of others. I do hope you see the light. A Concerned Catholic
raymond j rice | 2/28/2009 - 8:38am
Father Massaro, you are not recognizing the abuses by labor unions..the civil service unions which pay civil service workers and teachers bankrupting communities ,with salaries and benefits more than the people who are paying taxes,the grossly over paid construction worker unions whose record on nepotism and discrimination against minorities is abominable and more recently the automobile workers whose salary and benefits of $83 per hour is bankrupting the auto companies and making them unable to compete with companies like Toyota whose happy American employees are paid $35 per hour in nearby states.Reform is necessary but EFCA will lead to more labor abuses in happy companies..
Brien Kinkel | 2/27/2009 - 7:00pm
Newt Gingrich spoke eloquently to the CPAC conference regarding the alleged evils of the EFCA. These talking points obfuscate the present day reality of employer intimidation that makes a mockery of the secret ballot. In order for EFCA to have a chance of passing, workers, unions, Democrats and the faith community will have to work very hard and fearlessly to articulate present-day realities, otherwise the Gingrich talking points will rule the day. Additionally, President Obama needs to clean house in the Department of Labor, and especially the National Labor Relations Board.
ROBERT O'CONNELL | 2/27/2009 - 4:39pm
The idea that"EFCA is indeed necessary to protect the right of workers to unionize . . . ." is naive nonsense. Labor unions have been ineffective at organizing -- but even if there outlawing secret ballot elections cures that deficiency, why the mandatory arbtration provision of the EFCA? Perhaps labor unions are also ineffective at keeping support of the employees they unionize and dealing with employers. Why does this law not allow employees to decertify a union by "majority signup"? All EFCA will really do is send more jobs out of this country.
JOHN WALTON MR | 2/27/2009 - 4:05pm
So, tell me again, what is intrinsically evil about allowing an employee to choose for themselves by private ballot? Does this somehow "dis-affirm" Catholic Social teaching? Intimidation is a two way street.
Leonard Martino | 2/27/2009 - 3:34pm
1. Labor unions do not create jobs. 2. Labor unions are solely concerned with the status of their members. The fact that workers that do not belong to unions are being asked to subsidize the medical plans of union members, among other things is never seen as an "injustice." As a Jesuit, you know that he who defines the terms wins the arguments. 3. Unions like to complain about companies that "bust unions" neglecting the fact that it is the unions busting of companies (albeit among other things) that has led to the massive loss of jobs we suffer from.4. If you cannot afford caviar when times are good, what makes you think you can afford to eat caviar every day when you are broke?

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