Posts tagged with: labor

Faith leaders protest budget cuts (at U.S. Capitol, not NCC meeting)

A “budget is a moral document,” right?

The Institute on Religion & Democracy reports that following the loss of a major donor, the National Council of Churches (NCC) finds itself “closer than ever before to the precipice” of financial collapse. The progressive/liberal church coalition, comprised largely of mainline Protestant and Orthodox churches, is running out of dough. IRD’s Barton Gingerich:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Presiding Bishop told the NCC’s September board meeting: “We have 18 months sustainability.” All voting NCC board members were scrambling for “immediate sustainability,” mostly behind closed doors as they discussed the NCC’s audit and budget. Further highlighting the crisis was an interruption of the meeting by placard waving union employees distressed over benefit cuts to NCC staffers.

Meeting in secrecy? Workers protesting draconian budget cuts? In response, some NCC leaders suggested that the organization do nothing for a year but seek out prospective donors. Of course, they used the appropriate biblical vocabulary for “shutting this place down”:

At one point, the board broke up into small table groups to propose solutions to these besetting toils. One table, headed up by Bishop Mark Hanson and United Methodism’s Betty Gamble, even recommended the NCC take a “jubilee.” Under this plan, the NCC would withdraw from public activities and focus on fundraising. Many delegates pointed out that such a recess would negate any reasons for donors to contribute.

But how strange that the same NCC leaders who signed onto the Circle of Protection’s faux-prophetic admonition to “resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people” are now looking at slashing pension and health care benefits for their own employees. Didn’t the NCC hear that our nation is facing a health care crisis? Wasn’t it General Secretary Dr. Michael Kinnamon who not so long ago reminded us all that with the troubled economic times, “millions more are finding increases in medical co-payments and participation requirements unmanageable or are losing health benefits with the loss of employment”?

Didn’t NCC’s president, the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, point out when she endorsed the Circle of Protection that Christians have sometimes failed to heed “the call to economic justice in our national life. Sometimes we have gotten so concerned about our personal lives we have neglected this very point”?

The employees of the NCC, and presumably their union steward, don’t care for the budget cutting idea at all:

Accentuating the tension was an interruption by the NCC staffers’ union, the Association of Ecumenical Employees, which marched into the board meeting waving placards. Ironically, the pro-union NCC has been trying to reduce retirement and health benefits with its own union. It seems that contract negotiations have lasted nearly eight months, prompting distressed unionists to conduct their silent interruption, after which they quietly marched out.

Maybe the memory is too fresh in their minds of NCC executives getting themselves arrested in the U.S Capitol Building last summer while they were offering “public prayers asking the Administration and Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.”

Is it finally sinking in among some on the religious left that you can’t just wish away a looming budget meltdown? Perhaps the NCC leadership would profit from a review of the Acton Institute’s Principles for Budget Reform or the website of Christians for a Sustainable Economy. They won’t find any fundraising tips on these pages but they might just start to better appreciate the virtue of fiscal prudence.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Solyndra and the False Hope of Green Jobs” I look at the original problem with federally funded Green Jobs. The Solyndra debacle has been called a “microcosm of Obamanomics,” an example of what always happens when the Federal Government starts handing out $500 million checks. That’s true, but it’s a microcosm of something more — of an economy that’s lost it’s understanding of vocation. We stumble around trying to “create jobs” by Congressional action without really knowing what a job is.

A concern for jobs, simply, is dangerous. The dignity of a man’s employment does not come from his salary per se. Rather, it comes from his nature — man is called to work, to till the soil, from the very beginning, and the nobility of his labor is wrapped up in both the activity itself and in its ends. It does not befit a man to do work that is of no consequence.

Sadly, in the rush to “create jobs” by government stimulus, little thought is given to what work really is, or how more of it can be created. It is considered enough that a job run from nine in the morning till five in the afternoon, and that it come with a regular paycheck.

The green jobs movement is especially guilty of this unthinking attitude — indeed, it has never been defined what a green job is, and various bodies give widely varying definitions. If it’s not known broadly what a green job is, it won’t be possible to know whether all green jobs are compatible with the dignity of human labor, and whether governments are really capable of spurring their creation.

The now ubiquitous pictures of the president’s visit to Solyndra last year perfectly illustrate our now-empty conception of work: it is the U.S. Government that now creates jobs, not the entrepreneur.

The risks taken within the free market by an entrepreneur are calculated to yield a profit. That profit is, as Pope John Paul II put it, “the result of the overall expansion of work and the wealth of society.” The entrepreneur must create meaningful jobs, or else face the consequences imposed by the market.

Governments, because of their coercive power, do not feel the consequences of failure. The Department of Energy is the entrepreneur’s antagonist: it has just taken $535 million and flushed it, over the course of two years, down the drain. The loss was unintentional, but predictable, and we should expect that it will happen again, because the department’s work as a regulatory body is to consume, not to produce—as long as it is pretended that a job is nothing more than a desk and a salary, “jobs” will be created at a loss.

No arm of the government can purchase jobs as commodities and promote the common good, because such a purchase commodifies the worker and strips him of the dignity of real work.

Full piece here.

Reactions from religious communities to last week’s jobs speech from President Obama are running the political gamut, as one might expect. Over at Think Christian, my piece has garnered some rather vociferous response.

And at the Faith in Public Life blog, Jessica Barba Brown compiles some responses that focus on “the need for serious job-creation legislation.” The problem here is that while a society with opportunities for employment for all is seen as a moral imperative, the primary agent responsible for creating those jobs is viewed as the government rather than actors in the market.

The faith in government evident here is really just astonishing. Politicians promising jobs is just another example of making grandiose promises that they can’t hope to fulfill. It’s really just telling us what we want to hear (or at least what they think we want to hear), rather than what we need to hear.

It’s true of course that work is an essential part of what it means to be human. But it is a serious confusion of our social life to think that government is the institution primarily responsible for providing work. Rev. Kevin DeYoung addressed the question cogently last week, “Daddy, where do jobs come from?” The answer, as you might suspect, is not the government (at least it shouldn’t be!).

And Cal Thomas’ piece from yesterday is also worth noting: “If we want government to become smaller and perform within its constitutional boundaries, we are going to have to expect less from it and more from ourselves.”

For more on the real moral imperative of work in our lives, I highly recommend Lester DeKoster’s little classic, Work: The Meaning of Your Life–A Christian Perspective.

Blog author: kspence
posted by on Thursday, September 8, 2011

Union leaders have been jockeying for position ahead of President Obama’s “jobs speech,” since the proposals he makes will be big opportunities for organized labor. AFL-CIO head Dick Trumka has asked the president to spend with abandon, and has reminded him rather ominously, “This is going to be a moment in history when our members are going to judge him.” Teamsters boss James Hoffa has called for the President to force companies with cash in the bank to spend that money on new hires.

It’s a good time to ask what exactly is the purpose of a labor union (or what is it supposed to be), and whether Trumka and Hoffa haven’t ventured beyond a union’s proper domain. Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum is most often invoked by defenders of big labor, because it provided an early explication the relationship between “labor” and “management,” and an endorsement of the right of the working class to form labor unions.

The encyclical gives as the aim of a labor union, “helping each individual member to better his condition to the utmost in body, soul, and property.” (¶57) Before that definition, which comes at the end of the encyclical, there is the explanation of what brings a men to join such associations—“because the hours of labor are too long, or the work too hard, or because they consider their wages insufficient.” (¶39) That is to say, men join labor unions because their employers have got the better of them individually, and they hope by common action to tilt the scales of power.

While that is still a main concern of unions—witness the Verizon strike last month—their leaders are more often found hammering politicians than upper management. Big Labor’s forceful methods were more palatable to Americans when workers were fighting forceful opposition from their employers. What the public found so distasteful about Hoffa’s pep talk earlier this week was that he brought that same swaggering Teamsters demeanor to politics, which despite the colloquial, has generally been a cleaner business.

What Hoffa and Trumka want, and what union-backed politicians are willing to give them, is a State that creates jobs for them, by taxing companies and the rich and redistributing money to companies that will hire union workers. The feasibility of such a scheme notwithstanding, lobbying for it does not fall within the purview of a “Catholic” labor union.

“Quintessential labor priests” may have existed in the 1920s and ’30s, but even Msgr. John A. Ryan, known as “The Right Reverend New Dealer,” noted that “no increase in beneficial legislation can adequately supply for the lack of organization among the workers themselves.” Arguments that today’s unions are somehow divinely favored—like this recent nonsense from Sojourners—are at best anachronistic.

Thanks to The Pulpit for the link!

Paul Krugman made the mistake of over-sharing this past weekend when he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria he thinks that the United States economy would benefit from a military build-up to fight made-up space aliens. He’s been defended as being fed up with Republican obstructionism, being desperate to make a point, or even being wholly and completely correct. He’s entirely wrong though, and his thinking (what there is of it) is an example of the kind of depersonalized economics that has cost this country so much.

You’ve probably seen the video by now. If not, your sides will ache through the rest of this post:

Economics is more than just the manipulation of balance sheets, which is how the hyperinflation trillions-in-stimulus crowd see it. Professor Krugman does not accept that essentially, economic activity is the production of something valuable, and he does not believe that human labor has intrinsic worth, besides its taxability. Therefore what people do does not matter; in fact, if lying to them makes the economy function more smoothly, that’s fine.

This is a vision in which Man has no dignity—in which Man is not made in the image of God or anything else. The study of human interaction, then, is nothing more than moving numbers around on a page, and people are no different than plastic cars to be shifted across a traffic jam board game. (It’s telling that Krugman turns to space aliens to save our economy.) Contrast this view with what the Pope said this morning at World Youth Day.

What does have value? The state, which for progressives like Krugman is the engine of historical progress. Enter Keynsian economics, and this weekend’s gibberish.

Acton On The AirTime for another roundup of recent appearances by Acton folks on radio outlets; today we focus on Acton’s Director of Research, Dr. Samuel Gregg.

On March 16, Dr. Gregg joined host Al Kresta on Kresta in the Afternoon to discuss Pope Benedict XVI’s ongoing efforts to highlight and reconnect Europe with its Christian heritage. The interview is 14 minutes long and available via the audio player below:

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Yesterday, guest host Sheila Liaugminas welcomed Sam to The Drew Mariani Show on Relevant Radio in order to participate in the continuing discussion on the role of unions in society, especially in the aftermath of the Wisconsin protests over legislation to restrict public sector union collective bargaining rights. You can listen to Dr. Gregg engage both host and callers below:

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In today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Acton President and co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico publishes a new opinion piece that looks at “the protests in Wisconsin against proposed changes in collective bargaining for public-sector unions” through the lens of Catholic social thought:

Catholic teaching’s pro-union bias

By the Rev. Robert A. Sirico

There is a long-standing bias in Catholic social teaching toward unions, and this dates from the long history of labor struggles for fair wages and safe working conditions. There is a romance associated with this history, and it is bound up with strong moral concerns. And it is not just historical. The Catholic Church played a heroic role in the fall of Communism in Poland through its influence on labor unions that were striking against oppression, which is to say state coercion.

Pope John Paul II, who knew something about the social role of labor unions, also warned about their drift into politics. In his encyclical Laborem Exercens, he wrote: “Unions do not have the character of political parties struggling for power; they should not be subjected to the decision of political parties or have too close links with them.”

The reality with all public affairs, however, is that conditions change. Just because something is called a union does not make it automatically good and moral. Essential considerations of justice and freedom must be in place. Generally speaking, the long history of unions has been bound up with the right of free association. So far as I can tell, the current practice of public-sector union organizing has little or nothing to do with this principle, so it is right and proper that Catholic social teaching should also recognize this.

This reality comes to mind because of the protests in Wisconsin against proposed changes in collective bargaining for public-sector unions. But the driving force behind the budgetary move has nothing to do with human rights, unless one considers the rights of Wisconsin taxpayers.

The alarming reality of state and federal overspending and debt is something that cannot be denied. Prudent and necessary cuts must be made in the Wisconsin budget, and state employees must be part of that plan. How do public-sector unions fit into this? It is nearly impossible for anyone to work for the public sector without being a member, and unions collect dues, which operate like taxes for most everyone else.

This was not always the case. Public-sector unions emerged after World War II in the wake of the crack-up of many big-city political machines, and they were a convenient way for government employees to extract higher salaries and benefits at public expense.

What does this have to do with the freedom of association? Industrial unions have been on the decline for decades precisely because of the freedom of association. Organizing activity for years has shifted to the public sector, where union political contributions carry a lot of weight. Unions that remain strong are that way because they push against the freedom of association, denying alternatives to workers and taxpayers.

A one-time member of a Wisconsin union, Stephen J. Haessler, tells me: “My previous experience with agency shop as a former member of a WEAC (Wisconsin Education Association Council) local affiliate is instructive. I opposed my dues monies going to endorse pro-choice political candidates, but my opinions and preferences did not matter because dues were automatically deducted from my pay whether I joined the union or not. This was a violation of the principle of the freedom of association.”

Here’s the question Catholics need to ask themselves: Are the unions I support of the same type that are idealized in Catholic social teaching? Or have they changed to the point where they are unions in name only but actually just political machines for coercing workers and extracting money through the political process?

The bias toward unions in Catholic social teaching is rooted in a perception that unions fulfill certain moral conditions. When they fail to do so, the application of moral teaching can change. There is no a priori reason to back every union demand and no reason for Catholics to feel under any doctrinal obligation to do so.

The Rev. Robert A. Sirico is president of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Blog author: lglinzak
posted by on Monday, February 28, 2011

For those who are searching for more opinions on the Catholic social teaching in regards to unions and the current events in Wisconsin, the Social Agenda, put together by the Acton Institute, is a great resource.  The Social Agenda covers a wide range of topics, including unions, and, is a collection of central statements of the Roman Pontiffs from papal encyclicals, apostolic letters, and Conciliar documents.

Within the Social Agenda the right to unionize is recognized:

281. All these rights, together with the need for the workers themselves to secure them, give rise to yet another right: the right of association, that is, to form associations for the purpose of defending the vital interests of those employed in the various professions. These associations are called labor or trade unions. The vital interests of the workers are to a certain extent common for all of them; at the same time, however, each type of work, each profession, has its own specific character which should find a particular reflection in these organizations. (Laborem Exercens , n. 20)

The Social Agenda further explains Catholic social teaching on unionization and certain limits unions have:

283. The civil authority itself constitutes the syndicate as a juridical personality in such a manner as to confer on it simultaneously a certain monopoly privilege, since only such a syndicate, when thus approved, can maintain the rights (according to the type of syndicate) of workers or employers, and since it alone can arrange for the placement of labor and conclude so termed labor agreements. Any one is free to join a syndicate or not, and only within these limits can this kind of syndicate be called free; for syndical dues and special assessments are exacted of absolutely all members of every specified calling or profession, whether they are workers or employers; likewise, all are bound by the labor agreements made by the legally recognized syndicate. Nevertheless, it has been officially stated that this legally recognized syndicate does not prevent the existence, with out legal status, however, of other associations made up of persons following the same calling. (Quadragesimo Anno, n. 92)

The Social Agenda is a great resource for not just the current state of affairs with unions but also to explain Catholic social teaching on topics such as the environment, the economy, the role of the state, poverty and charity, and many other critical issues.

In light of the recent events in Wisconsin and the statement published by the state’s Catholic bishops, we’re republishing this 2005 article from the Acton Commentary archives:

Voluntary Association and Union Politics

By Charles W. Baird

The 50th anniversary celebration of the AFL-CIO in Chicago has been marred by internecine strife. The Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have broken away from the Federation, reducing its membership by 25 percent. At least three other unions – UNITE-HERE (textile and hotel workers), UFCW (grocery workers), and LIUNA (construction workers) – representing another 15 percent of AFL-CIO members, may join the exodus. The dissidents call themselves the Change to Win Coalition (CWC).

The issue behind the split is the survival of the American union movement in the private sector. In 2004 only 7.9 percent of private sector workers were union members. By comparison, in 1900–before any union-friendly legislation had been enacted–the figure was 7 percent. Private sector unionism is on the verge of irrelevance, and union leaders are trying to figure out what to do about it. There are two principal approaches – politics and organizing. John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO since 1995, believes the solution to the problem lies in spending union money to buy the favor of politicians who will in return change the law to make it more difficult for private sector workers to remain union-free. Sweeney has been following that strategy since 1995 to no avail. Andy Stern, president of the SEIU and prime mover of the CWC, says that to survive and grow unions must pay attention to recruiting new members.

Stern has the more logical approach. To survive and grow, businesses must constantly recruit and maintain new customers and congregations must recruit and maintain new members. Why should unions be any different?

There is a deeper problem that unions must confront. Since Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891), Catholic social teaching has supported labor unions as part of a general defense of freedom of association. This defense has not extended, however, to unions that are coercive or politically partisan. Freedom of association has two parts. First, each person is free to associate with any other willing person or persons for any purposes that do not trespass against the rights of any third parties. Second–and this is implied by the first–each person is free to decline to associate with any person or persons no matter how fervently those others may desire the association. American unions, formed and operated under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), are not voluntary.

The NLRA forbids workers individually to decide whether a union represents them, imposes union fees on workers to pay for representation they do not want, forces employers to bargain with unions, and permits workers who choose not to work at terms offered by an employer to prevent other workers, who are willing to do so, from working.

My approval of Stern’s desire to recruit new members applies only to recruiting activities that are themselves based on freedom of association. Peaceful persuasion is fine, coercion is not. Lately some unions have turned to blackmail of employers through so-called “corporate campaigns” to force employers to give them monopoly bargaining privileges over employees who want to remain union-free. For example, efforts to organize workers at Wal-Mart by peaceful persuasion have consistently failed as evidenced by the failure of unions to win majority votes in every Wal-Mart representation election that has been held. Now those same unions are trying to bring community pressure on Wal-Mart to force its workers into monopoly bargaining arrangements.

John Paul II took a firm stand against Sweeney’s strategy of relying on politics to save unions in his Laborem Exercens (1981, n. 20). “The role of unions is not to play politics…. Unions do not have the character of political parties struggling for power; they should not be subject to the decision of political parties or have too close links with them.” Sweeney’s goal of controlling the Democratic Party through the AFL-CIO has always been at odds with the popes’ emphasis on the common good.

Stern’s strategy has the better hope of arresting the private sector decline of unions. In order for unions to continue to be a relevant force in pursuing workers’ rights, organized labor must rely on persuasion rather than coercion. Workers’ interests need to be contextualized within the globalization of competition, which is a necessary condition for sustained real economic growth in both developed and developing economies. Labor unions should not be immune from the challenge to constantly respond to their constituencies and changes in the marketplace.

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?