USCCB Supports Wisconsin Workers

Today the US Conference of Catholic Bishops  added its voice to those supporting the union rights of Wisconsin's public employees. Supporting the clear stand of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, a letter (by Bishop Stephen Blaire in his capacity as Chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development), stated:

You and our brother bishops in Wisconsin are offering a timely reminder of what the Church teaches on the rights and duties of workers, including the right to form and belong to unions and other associations, and the obligation to address difficult problems with respect for the rights and needs of all. As you insist, “hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers....” The situation in Wisconsin is not unique. Other states and the federal government also face daunting challenges of growing budget deficits and how to allocate burdens and share sacrifice in ways that reflect principles of social justice, economic fairness and wise stewardship. Your efforts to share the consistent teaching of the Church in the midst of this controversy are an example for all of us on how to apply our moral principles to the “signs of the times.” Catholic teaching and your statement remind us these 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.


Scott and Jeff Fitzgerald - the two brothers who lead the two houses of the Wisconsin state legislature - pride themselves on their Catholic roots. How will they respond to the interventions of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference and the USCCB?

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Michael Kelly
8 years ago
Re: Shayne, post # 12: “… the police and firefighter unions have kept their bargaining rights.  The reason this is so is because they endorsed Walker over his opponent in the election.”
             Interesting way to argue.  Just make up facts.  A little research on Google would show that while the Milwaukee police and firefighters unions (1,400 and 875 members, respectively) supported Walker, the statewide police and firefighters unions - the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (11,000 plus members) and the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin (3000 members) - supported the Democratic candidate for governor.  The local police and firefighters unions in Wisconsin (310 out of 314 according to Governor Walker) endorsed Walker’s Democratic opponent.  
Vince Killoran
8 years ago
Here's a surprise: I disagree with Jeff & Cosgrove's argument, not to mention the validity of their proof.  I am mindful, however. of the editors' plea that we stay focused on the original posts. I'll end with question: how do Catholics who dissent from the Churches' teaching on labor rights express their dissent? 

It seems like they note their disagreement (some argue that it's not a "core" part of Catholic social teaching) but they do little else in terms of creating a dialogue. 
8 years ago
I find it impossible to accept that one can support Gov. Walker's position and not be considered to be in accord with Catholic Social Teaching re labor rights.  I say this given the historical context of Rerum Novarum (the idea of a civil service was unknown at the time), the threats facing the long term good of the welfare state, and the unique facts that these workers' unions have spent millions of dollars electing the very people they now purport to negotiate with.  I cannot accept that Catholic Social Teaching would find such a situation acceptable.  After all, not even a man whom most liberals find as authoritative (if not more so on most days) than the Catholic bishops found this situation acceptable.  Herein, from Franklin D. Roosevelt:
[M]eticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.
All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.
Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of pubic employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.

I accept the Church's teaching on labor unions (as anti-Union as I am), but I simply cannot accord the present situation with anything that Rerum Novarum says because the labor situation of the public employee is so clearly different from that of the laborer in a private factory.  If that makes me a dissenter, so be it.  It would be nice if the Bishop had engaged in some moral analysis of this distinct situation, even if he rushed headlong into supporting the public union employees.
8 years ago
''pride themselves on their Catholic roots.''

I hope they do the right thing, the socially just one, and rid Wisconsin of collective bargaining for public service unions. 

It seems that the bishops do not understand social justice.  When a law or a process unfairly punishes a large number of the citizenry to protect the few then that law or process is not socially just.  All over the country, public employee unions are using collective bargaining to punish their fellow citizens and stack the deck in favor of the few. 
Michael Kelly
8 years ago
            Sorry to disappoint you Mr. Sinyai, but the Fitzgerald brothers don’t have to worry about how they should respond to the Wisconsin Catholic Conference and USCCB’s “intervention”.
            The USCCB did not “add its voice to those supporting the union rights of Wisconsin's public employees”.  The bishop of Stokton Stephen E. Blaire, Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development merely wrote a letter to Bishop of Listecki stating his support for the statement of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.  There is no indication in the press release or the letter of a vote by the bishops on the specific issues involved in the Wisconsin dispute.  And even if the bishops were to vote in support of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference statement it would not be cause for concern by the Fitzgerald brothers, or for any thinking Catholic for that matter.  First, to the extent that it asserts that civil service protected public employees have a right to collective bargaining akin to the rights of workers in the private sector, it is nonsense.  
      Second, the very brief statement by the WCC does not in any way endorse the right of government employee unions to engage in the kind of tactics that have contributed greatly to huge budget deficits in many states.  Specifically, tactics such as practicing via “collective bargaining” the politics of bribery and threat directed toward county, city and state officials: Accede to our demands for benefits far beyond what non-governmental workers receive – yet to be paid for by them - and we will spend our dues money (obtained through the mandatory membership and mandatory deductions from employee paychecks) to help you get reelected.   Oppose our demands and we will spend those union dues to defeat you.
            In other words, Catholicism does not require Catholic legislators and voters to take Wisconsin where California has already gone.  See .
Vince Killoran
8 years ago
This brings out some pretty fierce reaction by bloggers but the stark fact is that there is over a century of Catholic social teaching at all levels in support of collective bargaining rights. In the 1940s many bishops, clergy, and the Association of Catholic Trade UNionists backed "corporativism": this was a arrangement in which government, business, and labor unions would oversee, in a tripartite fashion, the nation's industrial sytstem. In 2011 the bishops haven't rushed "head long" with their support but (despite Michael Kelly's claims) they have restated the basic principle that workers have a right to engage in collective bargaining and the denial of that right is unjust.

A couple of points:

1. FDR was not exactly the parton saint of the labor movement-mostly he reacted to demands in the 1930s for social legislation (he famously told some labor leaders who petitioned him in the White House to "go out and make me do it"). In any case FDR was discussing strikes and that is not at issue here. Nevertheless, the cutting and pasting of FDR's letter has made the rounds on conservative websites and now Jeff brings it to us. The full letter is available at the National Archives and here's how FDR ends it:" I congratulate the National Federation of Federal Employees the twentieth anniversary of its founding and trust that the convention will, in every way, be successful."

2. Jeff's distinction between private and public sector workers is not convincing to me. Some of the most abused workers-long hours, low pay, poor working conditions-were school teachers.  Well into the mid-twentieth century they served as virtual indentured servants in many parts of the country. I'm gald justice was served and they organized themselves into unions.

8 years ago

I don't want to turn this into a tit-for-tat for you and me.  So I will stop at saying my only beef/desire/suggestion is to see some distinctions drawn between collective bargaining rights for private workers, wherein there is obviously a grave need to work against the economic incentive to maximize shareholder value by lowering costs, labor included, and the public sector, where most public employees (school teachers included) work for monoplies wherein they face little to no competition (show me the last time a government worker lost their job), have the added protections of the civil service, get to spend MILLIONS of dollars to elect the very people they will negotiate their contracts with, and do not face the same economic incentives as the private firm.  This is not to demonize government workers, public school teachers (my wife is one, ps), or even to attack the notion of collective bargaining. FDR's quote raises the issue of the distinct context of the public sector, and I have yet to see a compelling case for why that is a distinction without a difference.  Its simply a matter, for me, of good ole Catholic moral analysis, a litlte causistry would be nice.

And, by the way, they still get to keep their collective bargaining on, what to me is the most important issue - salaries and benefits!
Vince Killoran
8 years ago
This bill will effectively destroy the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin's public workers (even the "bargaining" over wages only is severly limited). The bishops see this is the case.

The attempt to deligitimize the rights of public sector workers does not convince me (or most Americans): these are people who, like private sector workers, need health & safety protections, a grievance procedure to prevent unfair dismissal, as well as wages and benefits.

Your challenge to "show me the last time a government worker lost their job" must have been an attempt at humor!  Plenty of public workers are laid off on a regular basis including my cousin.
8 years ago
My daughter is about to get laid off as a tenured teacher because the teachers make too much money.  If every teacher in our area took a 10% cut in salary and benefits there would be no problem and no layoffs but they are bargaining for raises which will force additional layoffs.  The average salary in our area is about $100,000 plus an additional $25-35 thousand the states pays each year in retirement benefits.  Most of the police make over $100,000 a year with similar benfits and few ever face a life threatening situation. All these salaries were reached via collective bargaining getting raises much higher than the general public and the inflation rate. 
They are bankrupting the state of New York.  Similar stories are available in California, New Jersey, Illinois and many other states.   How anyone could defend these practices is beyond me.  These extremely generous salaries and onerous practices are due to collective bargaining.  It has created an extremely greedy class of people who can intimidate and with the media backing them they are made to look like victims while they live a very comfortable life while a lot of the general public has been suffering.
Public employees are not the dedicated civil servants of the 1930-1950's working for low pay and trading pay for security of job.  They have learned how to game the system big time using collective bargaining, the Democratic Party and the media who present a false narrative.  How the Catholic Church or anyone could defend such practices in the name of social justice is an example of people losing their way.  
8 years ago
I believe the Wisconsin bill does not affect fire fighters and policemen.  Correct me if I am wrong.  So a major section of the public employees will still have collective bargaining rights.
8 years ago
''The attempt to deligitimize the rights of public sector workers does not convince me (or most Americans): these are people who, like private sector workers, need health & safety protections, a grievance procedure to prevent unfair dismissal, as well as wages and benefits.''

Let's take this one by one, and maybe we can have a civil analysis without ''deligitimizing'' anything.  (I will say, however, that public polling shows a majority of Americans have dismal views of labor unions, most especially public sector and teachers unions that they see as constantly blocking reform.  Here's evidence:

  Now, you say they need:

1) ''health & safety protections'': ok, first, its not as if they're working in a steel factory here.  So presumably a large portion of them need LESS such protection than their private couterparts.  Nonetheless, there are a veritable host of federal and state statutes providing redress to government employees injured on the job.  Moreover, all are covered by their states' workers comp system.  For example, a quick google search actually turned up Wisconsin's workers comp provisions.  I found this line intriguing: ''The State is a self-insured employer, which means that agencies do not purchase coverage for workers' compensation, but pay expenditures as they occur.'' Something tells me that means higher rewards than comparable private plans.

2) ''a grievance procedure to prevent unfair dismissal'':  but this is the whole purpose of the civil service!!!!  There are veritable REAMS of regulations on grievance procedures against government workers.  So I fail to see why unionization is needed to beef these procedures up; they are a matter of state statute and regulation!

3) ''wages and benefits'': and, well, of course, this is the whole beef.  REAMS of evidence show BENEFITS at times 20% percent higher than private benefits.  I know everytime examples are brought up, liberals roll their eyes and grumble about Regean and his welfare queens.  But the economic evidence shows that, at least with respect to BENEFITS, there are in essence two economies at work: one for government workers, one for everyone else. 

So bottom line, unionization, to my reading of the evidence, does nothing whatsoever to guarantee (well with the glaring exception of the gold-plated benefit plans) the things you've mentioned.  Protections are primarily guaranteed through federal and state statute and regulation, in addition to civil service.  What the unions do is collect millions of dollars that they then use to ELECT their own bosses!  Its mind-boggling to me that liberals moan and groan about money in politics, the Koch brothers, ''Big Business'' (never mind they're all Democrats), and yet have no problem whatsoever with Big Labor pouring MILLIONS of dollars into elections.  After all, they were subject to the same regulations the Court overturned in Citizens United.  But nary a grumble about this certifiable, verifiable FACT.

I've worn out my welcome on this topic.  Have a good weekend.
Shayne LaBudda
8 years ago
Post #9 seems to want to show that it's not all that bad since the police and firefighter unions have kept their bargaining rights.  The reason this is so is because they endorsed Walker over his opponent in the election.  However, police and firefighters are on the street protesting in support of the other class of public employees. 
8 years ago
I have attempted to create "dialogue" by arguing that it is plausible that the Church's teaching on labor unions does not address (or at least has not been brought to bear on) the distinct economic labor market that is government services, a market wholly unique from the private labor market towhich Rerum Novarum was initially addressed, and that therefore the position of Gov. Walker & the Fitzgeralds is not "dissent" because there is no teaching on this particular instance to "dissent" from.  If Rerum and its progeny DO address the unique situation of the government labor market, I have not read that analysis, nor have I seen a cogent argument made that it does so, other than statements to the effect that school teachers have worked long hours and otherwise been "abused" in the past (which have made most of my teachers saints in my eyes).  Maybe Vince and others believe there is NO meaningful distinction between those markets, but again I have not seen a cogent argument made to that effect.  All I've read are brays about "delegitimizing" worker rights, and brodhanded comments about the invalidity of my argument and evidence, albeit these dismissals have not been supported by counter-vailing or invalidating proof of their own.  As far as the Bishops' various statements, my criticism remains; unless the broad principle of the right of workers to unionize and collectively bargain can be tailored to (in my view) the distinct labor market we are dealing with, then that teaching remains nothing other than statements of broad principle which inadequately teach the faithful and give political cover to self-serving politicians.
Marie Rehbein
8 years ago
I am glad I don't live in Wisconsin, and more than that, I am glad I am not an employee of that state.  I find it very difficult to believe that the union has bullyied the citizens of Wisconsin to pay people exhorbitant amounts of money for work that is done in the private sector for less.  In my experience, state governments underpay their employees in exchange for job and retirement security.  The likely result of this action in Wisconsin will be to fill the jobs with unqualified workers to whom the elected officials owe their election.  It won't save the taxpayers anything, but it will give the politicians another way of rewarding their patrons.  It's really quite nauseating to witness the self-serving actions of the newly elected.
William Atkinson
8 years ago
How come what is good for the goose (public officials and workers unions) is not same for gander (catholic officials and workers within catholic church USCCB and Diocese), Interesting that all doctrine supports workers vs government, but same doctrine does not apply to those issuing doctrinal rights of workers; where are catholic priests, religious, workers unions and would they, if they existed, have rights to grievances and arbitration with church officials, magisterium, catholic university, ordinaries, and ruling forces within church.   Seems a bit two faced for USCCB to come out on side of workers rights to unionize when within their own feudal and dictatorial organizations workers don't have and enjoy rights.
Vince Killoran
8 years ago
C'mon Jeff-give up on that angle: teachers unions have been around since the 1910s and federal government unions since the 1930s and the bishops et al. have never made the distinction you are making. I do not mean to be disrespectful but have you actually read these papal and episcopal statements?

When I wrote "dialogue" i wasn't looking for you to restate your position on unions. Rather, I was interested in how opponents to this central tenet of Catholic social teaching engage with pastors, the USCCB, etc.  
8 years ago
Interesting to me that America didn't bother to post the Bishop of Madison's statement on the union debate.  To have done so would require some tampering with the title of this post.
8 years ago
And, yes, I have these papal encyclicals, albeit not within the past year.

William Kurtz
8 years ago
Bishop Morlino of Madison won't criticize Walker, because they have the same management style: Rule by decree, and create your own reality.  
Jim McCrea
8 years ago
Vince said/asked:  "I'll end with question: how do Catholics who dissent from the Churches' teaching on labor rights express their dissent?"

Vince, Vince, Vince:  dont' you know that they are being "prudential?"  That's theocon/neocon for "cafeteria Catholic."

Now you know the rest of the story. 


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