On Friday I linked to MLive’s presentation of two Christian views on right to work. In that article, Rev. Sirico argued in favor of the legislation since it advances the freedom of workers. On the opposing side was Peter Vander Meulen of the Christian Reformed Church. Meulen didn’t argue against the morality of the law, but only complained that it led to further political polarization and harmed the potential for bipartisan support on issues that “make life better for the large majority of people.”
A similar article in the National Catholic Register pits Fr. Sirico against another religious leader, Father Sinclair Oubre, the spiritual moderator of the Texas-based Catholic Labor Network. Fr. Oubre claims that in Right to Work states workers have had “a much harder time exercising their right to associate into unions.” Such a claim is rather dubious. Since federal laws protects the right of workers to associate into unions in every state, it’s unclear how or why right to work laws would affect such decisions.
Fr. Oubre also says the laws allows “some workers to benefit from the collective effort of other workers without standing in solidarity with them.” But as we noted on this blog last week, this is only true if the unions want to include non-union members in their collective bargaining agreements. In fact, even in Right to Work states, the choice of who to include in collective bargaining is a prerogative of the union. Individual non-union workers are only allowed to negotiate employment contracts if the unions allow them to have that option.
So far in the debates, Christian opponents of Right to Work laws have had a difficult time coming up with legitimate justifications for why workers should be denied their freedom of association. There certainly is no obvious reason why Catholics should automatically oppose Right to Work laws. The Catholic Church has no policy position on particular legislation, as Rev. Sirco notes, but rather “a set of principles” concerning justice and “the best prudential opportunities that are available to workers for the sake of their families, and the well-being of the community as a whole.”
“Who knows best what workers need? It seems to me that workers themselves know best what they need,” Father Sirico said.
“This legislation, to my understanding, will not stop people from joining unions. What’s stopping people from joining unions is pricing the work out of the market. That seems to be the judgment of most workers in Michigan, at least in the private sector,” he said.
Father Sirico cited the decline in private sector union membership in Michigan, saying that workers “feel that their interests are best served by being able to negotiate their own contracts in a competitive market.” He said Catholic teaching holds that the right to join a union is “rooted in the natural right to association” which means people have “the right to associate or not associate.”