In this Prager University video, Philip Howard explains how unions are sucking money from city and state budgets across America. This type of financial drain led, in part, to the demise of Detroit. As Howard points out in the video, “Government is supposed to serve the public good, not government employees.”
One of the strongest arguments against Right to Work legislation is that such laws exasperates the “free rider” problem. In the context of unions, a free rider is an employee who pays no union dues or agency shop fees, but nonetheless receives the same benefits of union representation as dues-payers. While this concern should not override an employee’s right of free association, it was a concern that, I had always thought was worth taking seriously.
But yesterday I discovered that there is no free rider problem unless a union explicitly chooses to create free riders.
My sister has a small pillow in her bedroom that’s embroidered with the words “She who dies with the most shoes wins.” I’m sure Lloyd Blankfein’s daughter has one just like it. And you’d think that the patchouli-scented Occupy Wall Street crowd might not like such a pillow, but you’d be wrong, as Ray Nothstine pointed out in this week’s Acton Commentary. The anger at Zuccotti Park isn’t sparked by greed on Wall Street, it’s sparked by greed in Zuccotti Park.
Unions that have joined the Occupy Wall Street protests are signing on to these demands for government-facilitated greed. The local Transport Workers Union spokesman told CNN,
Their goals are our goals. They brought a spotlight on issues that we’ve believed in for quite some time now. … Wall Street caused the implosion in the first place and is getting away scot-free while workers, transit workers, everybody, is forced to pay for their excesses.
So in return, the Transport Workers Union demands free art school for everyone. How that is in the best interest of the members of Local 100 is beyond me, because in the end, their union is parroting Gordon Gecko’s “Greed is good” speech from Wall Street.
The Transport Workers, the SEIU, and other labor groups pretend to align themselves with a groundswell of moral outrage directed at thieving, manipulative fat cats, but the outrage isn’t moral at all. It’s appetitive, and that’s not the political urge of a free society.
Author’s Note: My sister, an extremely smart and capable young lady, complains that I make her sound “like a complete airhead.” That is not at all the case, so if this post gave you that impression, know that she is very poor-in-spirit.
Rev. Sirico was recently quoted in an article by Our Sunday Visitor titled, “Unions, yes. But when the Church is the employer?” The article utilizes various historical examples to describe the relationship between United States Catholic Church leaders and institutions with their employees. The article seeks to demonstrate a strained relationship between Church leaders and their employees by citing historical examples, such as the 1949 gravediggers strike in New York.
When Catholic social teaching is discussed in the article, Rev. Sirico weighed in:
But Father Robert Sirico, president of the free-market think-tank, the Acton Institute, said there is a popular distortion about how Catholic social teaching views unions. Even in the 1949 gravedigger strike, Father Sirico said, Cardinal Spellman acted only after the union had already rejected a 3 percent raise offer. There were also 1,000 bodies waiting to be buried in the cemetery. “This should be a clear example of the legitimacy of breaking a strike,” he said.
Father Sirico said that if there is any problem in the Church institutions’ dealings with workers, it is that employees are often kept on even if their performance is deleterious to the mission. He said it is incumbent upon Church administrators to make efficient use of their money since the faithful has entrusted them with those resources.
Click here to read the full article.
To read more on Catholic social teaching on unions please click here to read Rev. Sirico’s Acton Commentary, “Catholic teaching’s pro-union bias,” which was also published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on March 1, 2011.
Time 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:
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:
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.
The Catholic Herald, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Madison, Wis., recently published a column by Dr. Constance Nielsen on the principles held by the Catholic Church concerning unions. Dr. Nielsen provides a very insightful outlook on how Catholics can view the current debate occurring in Wisconsin over union rights:
In this context it is good to recall John Paul’s warning against too strong of a connection between the work of Unions and the political arena. Though Unions enter into politics, understood as “the pursuit of the common good,” they are not meant to engage in the struggle for the power of political parties, nor have too close of a tie with any political party. In such a case, “they easily lose contact with their specific role, which is to secure the just rights of workers within the framework of the common good of the whole of society; instead they become an instrument used for other purposes” (LE 20, emphasis in the original).
Again, the Pope primarily has the private sector in mind. Unions are actually meant to resolve economic issues in order to avoid undue intervention of the State, not to increase it (see RN 45 and CA 48). But his comments are even more pertinent for public sector unions where fiscal power, in the form of campaign contributions, could be wielded by the Unions in order to effectively choose their own bargaining partner. This has the potential for creating a relationship of mutual self-interest, leaving those outside of the arrangement marginalized and voiceless, but still paying for it. Such a condition actually poses a greater threat of excessive State involvement, which it is the very purpose of Unions to help avoid.
But however the secular media might portray the unrest in Wisconsin, as “taxpayers vs. public workers” or “liberals vs. conservatives,” an authentically Catholic view of society would not frame it this way. What is most salient for the Catholic perspective is John Paul’s corrective that the conflict ought not, in fact, be understood as a power-struggle. The struggle, he writes, should always be aimed towards achieving justice; it should never be seen as a struggle against other people (LE 20). In other words, both sides of any labor disagreement ought to be working for justice and the common good, rather than to achieve their own personal victory.
More can be found on Dr. Nielsen’s commentary on the Catholic Herald’s website.
The issue of labor unions has recently been a cause of much heated debate. Throughout the United States, there are many states facing budget shortfalls and are trying to rejuvenate struggling economies. State expenses are being slashed, and union benefits are just one of many expenditures on the cutting block for many states. Recent events in Wisconsin have caused many people to engage in the debate of union benefits, and many more are still left wondering where to stand on this current hot button issue.
In his monograph, Liberating Labor, Charles W. Baird seeks to answer questions regarding how the Catholic social teaching view unions and the role unions should play if they are to uphold the ideas held by Catholic social teaching.
Baird articulates that unions are fully endorsed by Catholic social teaching and are justified on the grounds of freedom of association. In Quadragesimo Anno, Pius XI conveys that freedom of association is a natural right. Furthermore, in Sertum Laetitiae, Pius XII states, “it is not possible without injustice to deny or to limit either to the producers or the laboring and farming classes the free faculty of association.”
However, while the right to unionization is supported by freedom of association, there are parameters under Catholic social teaching that unions should follow.
Baird further explains papal views concerning unions and how those have designed the current viewpoint regarding unions. According to Baird, Libertas, and encyclical written by Leo XIII on the nature of human liberty in the Catholic thought, expresses that:
…liberty requires being free to choose and this freedom of making choices is the essence of free will. This implies, for example, that in the market for representation services, workers should have alternatives from which to choose, including self-representation.
Later in Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII declares that workers must have the freedom to choose not to associate with unions whose actions are not consistent with the Catholic teaching, and, based on the freedom of association and the principle of voluntary exchange, compulsory unionism is forbidden by the Church.
Leo XIII is just one of the many papal leaders who Baird cites. Throughout his monograph Baird communicates support against forced unionism that is not coherent to Catholic social teaching by Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, and John Paul II.
Not only does Baird criticize the current state of unionization, but he also offers a model for improvement. Voluntary unionism, will fulfill the rights supported by freedom of association, and, as Baird explains, one aspect of voluntary unionization is that, “Each worker would be fee to choose which, if any union from which to obtain representation services.” Such a model does not force workers into a union, gives them the option to represent themselves if they so desire, and does not force workers to paying union dues even when the worker chooses not to be represented by the union he or she is paying dues to.
To discover more on the Catholic social teaching on unions, and to read more of Baird’s arguments along with his solution you can purchase Liberating Labor at the Acton BookShoppe. There is even further discussion on unions and the viewpoints held by Catholic social teaching on the post, Voluntary Association and Union Politics.
This morning, the New York Times reported that a broad bipartisan effort of senators convinced Democratic leadership to drop provisions in the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that would have weakened the right of workers to hold secret ballot elections to determine whether or not they would unionize.
EFCA had become known by many of its opponents as the “card check bill” because of its central proposal: if over half of workers at a firm signed cards authorizing a union to represent them, then there would be no federally-supervised election. An election would only happen if over a third of the workers specifically requested it before the card check benchmark was reached.
It is important to look at the different themes of Catholic social teaching regarding labor unions in order to understand the immorality of this suggestion. Pope Leo XIII’s social encyclical Rerum Novarum asserted the rights of workers to form associations in the late 19th century, saying that “to enter into a ‘society’ of this kind is the natural right of man.” Centesimus Annus, a social encyclical from Pope John Paul II, reiterated that the right to unionize exists “because the right of association is a natural right of the human being, which therefore precedes his or her incorporation into political society.” It is the right of free association that gives workers the right to unionize.
Free association among workers cannot be respected under card check schemes. EFCA had the potential to force millions of workers into unions that they did not want. Unions may be correct to argue that some businesses intimidate their workers into opposing collective bargaining, but the unions are guilty of intimidation, too. Unions can also have a direct impact on politics, too, by donating member dues to campaigns and using staff as campaign volunteers. Unions are also exempt from anti-monopoly laws, which allow them to exert far greater influence on the market than any business can.
Actions like these put many labor unions out of touch with Catholic social teaching. Pope Leo XIII warned that unions could seek to abuse their civil power by using it to harm workers and gain excessive power: “There is a good deal of evidence in favor of the opinion that many of these societies are in the hands of secret leaders, and are managed on principles ill-according with Christianity and the public well-being; and that they do their utmost to get within their grasp the whole field of labor, and force working men either to join them or to starve.” It is not unions in and of themselves that Catholic social doctrine supports; it is the right to join one if a worker so desires that is natural and good.
Workers have the right to join labor unions, and many find that it is in their best interests to do so. Many others disagree. Opposition to unionization is not just found in corporate boardrooms. The majority of American workers do not want to unionize. Some do not want their dues going to interests that they oppose. Others want to negotiate with their bosses directly over the compensation they receive. Still others do not want unions to hamper the competitiveness of their employers, as has happened in Detroit in recent years. Only secret ballot elections can determine whether or not workers find unions to be a worthwhile endeavor, no matter how much unions may protest that they do not get exclusive access to workers in order to make their points.
Preserving the right to secret ballot elections is the best way to ensure that all workers have the right to associate according to their own desires. Senators Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor, Tom Harkin, and their colleagues should be commended for honoring what Pope Benedict XVI, writing in the social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, calls the “valid distinction between the respective roles and functions of trade unions and politics” that “allows unions to identify civil society as the proper setting for their necessary activity of defending and promoting labor.”
It’s still more than a week off, but the US Catholic bishops are out in front, issuing a Labor Day statement this week. Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the (extravagantly titled) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, wrote the statement, which begins as an encomium to the late Msgr. George Higgins, arguably the last of a species once well known in American Catholic life, the labor priest. Fr. Sirico ably described the strengths and weaknesses of Higgins’ career upon his passing six years ago.
Without question, Catholic social teaching affirms the right of workers to organize in defense of their rights and prerogatives. Whether and how effectively contemporary labor unions serve the common good, or even the interests of their members, is debatable. (Consider that this nation’s largest union, the National Education Association, officially supports unlimited access to abortion, a policy difficult to square with the mission of promoting justice for public school teachers.)
It would be hard not to offer some positive words about unions in a Labor Day statement, and Murphy does so, mostly in the context of his praise for Higgins. Nonetheless, Murphy’s remarks are on the whole an excellent reiteration of the Church’s teaching on labor and the economic sphere. He resists the temptation to opine on policy matters, instead restricting his comments to the solid principles of the Church’s social message. Noteworthy, in light of previous statements emanating from Bishop Murphy’s committee (formerly the Social Action Department) is his emphasis on the individual responsibility of Catholics to form their consciences properly and apply the social teaching in their everyday lives; and his lack of emphasis on recourse to government action as the default solution to social problems.
“An informed conscience,” Murphy writes in connection with upcoming political contests,
moves beyond personal feelings and individual popularity. An informed conscience asks first what is right and true. An informed conscience examines the candidates and the issues from the perspective of human life and dignity, the true good of every human person, the true good of society, the common good of us all in our nation and in this world.
At the risk of nitpicking, I note one passage that seems poorly expressed:
The principle of subsidiarity champions the freedom of initiative that allows everyone scope and opportunity to be creative and productive and reap the benefits of hard work and energy. When taken to the extreme, it can become exploitive of others. Yet joined to the principle of solidarity, subsidiarity and all its creative impulses become harnessed to an end that includes the makers of a vibrant economy.
Subsidiarity, to the contrary, cannot be “taken to the extreme.” Embedded in the concept is the assumption that, when individuals or intimate institutions are inadequate to their normal responsibilities, larger or less immediate institutions should provide the support necessary to meet the need. The perception of solidarity as a kind of check on or correction to subsidiarity is a common one. It is more accurate, I think, to view subsidiarity and solidarity as entirely complementary rather than in tension: subsidiarity is the method by which solidarity is practically implemented.
Nitpicking aside, Bishop Murphy’s words are a salutary reminder that our obligation to practice virtue extends to policy debates, workplaces, and voting booths.