Acton Institute Powerblog

Churches, faith bloggers weigh in on Wisconsin union protests

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Let’s start with Heritage Foundation’s interview of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin: “We’re broke,” he says.

Religious leaders offer sanctuary to senators

Two Illinois clergymen offered sanctuary Friday to Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin in an effort to stop an anti-union bill. But neither said any renegade lawmakers had taken them up on their offer of hospitality. The Rev. Jason Coulter, pastor of Ravenswood United Church of Christ in Chicago, and Rabbi Bruce Elder of Congregation Hafaka in Glencoe joined several Wisconsin faith leaders in speaking out on the behalf of workers’ rights to collective bargaining and praising the missing Democrats.

Wisconsin Catholic bishops urge protection of workers’ rights as protests surge

Although Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee and other bishops around the state have not spoken in direct opposition to the proposed budget, they’ve unequivocally reiterated the importance of protecting worker’s rights in light of the Church’s social doctrine. Archbishop Listecki said in a Feb. 16 statement that even though “the Church is well aware that difficult economic times call for hard choices,” current situations “do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.” The archbishop then quoted Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” in which the pontiff criticizes governments for limiting the freedom or negotiating capacity of unions. He also referenced the late Pope John Paul II’s observation that unions remain a “constructive factor” of social order and solidarity. “The bishops are very careful – it’s a balanced statement,” Huebscher said. “Because you support workers or the right of unions to assert and affirm their interests, (it) doesn’t follow that every claim made by workers is valid.”

Faith leaders voice support for unions

Bishop Linda Lee of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church sent a letter to Walker on Wednesday articulating her church’s support of unions and collective bargaining. Madison Rabbi Jonathan Biatch invoked biblical and Talmudic passages that support workers’ rights during a candlelight vigil and training event for union members in Madison. And on Thursday, the Washington-based advocacy group Catholics United issued a statement thanking Listecki for taking a stand and calling on Wisconsin officials to “suspend (their) attacks on public workers.”

Wisconsin Is the New France: Entitlement Derangement Syndrome

There is a fundamental and negative cultural shift when individuals move from thinking they should keep the fruits of their own labor to believing they’re entitled to the fruits of others’ labor. Shutting down government for the sake of benefits you didn’t pay for, and health insurance you didn’t purchase, represents an entitlement mentality run amok. Here’s a sobering thought: Entitlement Derangement Syndrome is in its infancy. Wisconsin is paralyzed because of one reform impacting a small minority of its citizens. What happens when the axe falls—as, sooner or later, it must—on Social Security? On Medicare? If the unions can mobilize tens of thousands in Madison, can the entitlement culture muster millions in Washington?

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • Chuck Serio

    Why would the bishops insist on continuing to compel teachers to be represented by the one of the largest and most powerful pro-abortion organizations (National Education Association) in the country? As one who has spent many years being “represented” by a labor union, I can honestly say that the union’s first priority is its political agenda and the interests of its members come in a distant second.

  • Patrick Powers

    I’m not certain exactly how the churches have a dog in this fight. Obviously the workers have a stake in the outcome, but so too does the tax-paying public and others who are vendors or lend to the government. Unions that represent private industry offer the consuming public choices through the price system, but government, in the final showdown, has the guns. There is no negotiating the price or selecting off-shore sources.
    The issues are complex and components of the Republican resolution are multiple. Whether collective bargaining issues should be joined with composition of the compensation packages, or not, might well be open to debate. But without the Democrat side, there will be no debate. However, with the Republicans having the majority, it is fair to say that the taxpayers are represented. On the other hand, one can understand the Democrats using every means possible to delay or deny the expected outcome, in order to protect their minority constituency.
    Another issue that makes negotiations in this part of American history different from prior periods, is the life expectancy growth and the declining ratio of workers to retirees. At some point the issue of government or industry funded entitlements may become the central issue.
    Thus, at this juncture, I believe that some church’s decision to support workers rights at the neglect of others is good theater, but nearly irrelevent, except that it encourages unrealistic expectations in some constituencies.

  • Chuck Serio

    Who is protecting the employees’ right to choose with whom they associate and what public policies they support with their own money?

    “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”

    ~ Thomas Jefferson ~

  • David Fjeld

    Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner.
    Employees of the State often teach things that they disagree with. My tax dollars pay for wars which we were lied into and my tax dollars kill innocent women and children in Iraq and other places.
    The “interest” of the union is pro-union politicians that won’t wipe out hard fought rights. With the stroke of a pen provided by the Koch brothers, who were given the right by the Bush Supreme Court to give unlimited dollars to whomever they choose. Walker and his paymaster, at the same time, attempts to take away the power of the dollars that unions have to contribute to candidates that support workers’ rights.

  • David Fjeld: You win the Dismissive Blog Comment of the Week Award for your summary of the life and work of Thomas Jefferson. And here’s some balanced perspective for you on the nature of corporate and labor union influence on politics from Open Secrets:

    QUESTION: How do you explain the power the corporations have, yet as a whole donate less than the labor unions? In other words, who is more politically powerful — labor unions or corporations? — Mary from Phoenix, Ariz.

    ANSWER: “There is a common misconception in the money-in-politics world that big corporations — famous for their large profits and sprawling operations — are generally more politically powerful than unions when it comes to campaign contributions,” explains reporter Evan Mackinder.

    “While there are indeed some corporations that rank higher than even the mightiest union, corporations and unions actually share several traits that lead to a fairly balanced comparison of the two.

    “As you can see from’s Heavy Hitters list, many big unions and big corporations are ranked side-by-side,” Evan continues. “That’s because both are limited to working the same channels of political influence: No corporation or union group can directly contribute campaign cash — be it to politicians, political parties or outside political groups — directly from their treasuries. They may only contribute directly to politicians and political committees through individual employees or an established political action committee.

    “Overall, though, corporations spend more money through their PACs and employees because of sheer numbers — there are just a heck of a lot more corporations in the United States than there are unions.

    “Both corporations and unions also lobby the federal government to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars annually,” Evan also notes. “This measurement is more difficult to gauge, because unlike campaign contributions, both groups are free to spend on federal lobbying at will, without fear of limitations. To that degree, you will see primarily large corporations out-spending unions, as you can see in our top-spenders list.”

  • Artaban

    David Fjeld,

    Your comment about Jefferson being a slave owner does nothing to change the truth of his quote. It is an error to think that hypocrisy on the part of a person somehow invalidates the truth of a statement.

    If the motives of most union leaders were what you say they are, why don’t we see them organizing unions in developing countries? Bringing up the wages and establishing “hard fought rights” oversees would do exponentially more to keep jobs and high wages in this country.

    No, most union “leaders” have shown they truly care nothing for the “rights” they claim to espouse. Their allegiance is to their own job and pocketbook.

    Too bad, as the rights first won by the early unions do need to be established in most countries.

  • Chuck Serio

    David Fjeld: Do you seriously believe that private organizations, such as labor unions, the National Rifle Association and the Knights of Columbus, should have a level of coercive power, comparable to that of the state, to compel financial support from citizens?

  • I’ve got an idea: revoke the tax exempt status of every church that expresses the conclusion that government is too small. Let ’em put their money where their mouth is!

  • From Red State:

    Open Secrets, Closed Eyes
    AFSCME says they spent $91m, Open Secrets says $12m
    Posted by Soren Dayton
    Tuesday, March 8th at 1:28PM EST

    I have tended to be a big fan of Open Secrets, a website by a lefty group that shows how money is spent in politics. The nice thing is that they provide data. And the nice thing about data is that it gives you good apples-to-apples comparisons. Based on data, you can argue things like “the largest donors and lobbyists in Wisconsin are the teachers unions” and have something to back that up with.

    So I was really disappointed to read this recent piece by Michael Beckel at Open Secrets entitled “Union Muscle Eclipsed by High-Profile Conservative Groups During 2010 Election”. They reviewed the publicly disclosed spending information and concluded that the unions spent less money than American Crossroads, the Chamber, et al. in the 2010 cycle. In particular, they found that the unions spent $46.7m while business groups spent $97m or so.

    There’s a catch though. AFSCME, the largest of the public employee unions, told the New York Times that they spent $91m. That number was actually up $3.5m from four days before then when a union representative told the Wall Street Journal, “we’re the big dog, but we don’t like to brag.” Open Secrets claimed that AFSCME only spent $12.6m, less than 1/7th of the total amount that the union says that they spent.

    Now I am not saying that the apples-to-apples study of disclosed data to disclosed data isn’t valuablein some cases. But when your study understates the expenditures of one organization by a factor of 7 you have to think that you are barking up the wrong tree in how you are collecting your data. It isn’t so much that your methodology is bad. It is that it is irrelevant and misleading.

    Of course, the guy who did the analysis used to work for the extremely liberal Mother Jones. Maybe he just knew what answer he wanted and picked the parameters to hit it.

  • Chuck Serio

    The money donated by union PACS to candidates is only the tip of the iceberg. Unions spend many times that amount of dues money in get out the vote drives and encouraging their members to vote for the candidates favored by the union bosses. It is not unusual for the large unions to release most of their paid staff to “volunteer” in campaigns. None of these non-PAC expenditures show up on FEC reports.