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.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, is quoted in a Religion News Service story on the Wisconsin budget and union battles. The wire service story was picked up by, among others, the Huffington Post and Christian Century:

Wisconsin dispute exposes Catholic split on unions

Feb 28, 2011 by Piet Levy

(RNS) The fierce budget battle in Wisconsin that’s pitting unions against Republican Gov. Scott Walker has also pitted the state’s top Roman Catholic bishops against each other in a series of public exchanges over the church’s historic support for unions.

The war of words — however polite — has exposed a longstanding rift between the church’s progressive and conservative wings, reopened in the birthplace of the modern labor movement.

Walker’s budget-repair bill requires public employees to pay more for their pensions and health care, and restricts collective bargaining power for most. The plan has prompted impassioned protests by thousands at the state capitol in Madison, and sent Democratic lawmakers into exile to prevent a vote.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki kicked it off with a statement on Feb. 16 that, quoting Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, said it was “a mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth.”

The next day, Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison issued his own statement, emphasizing the church’s neutrality. Within a week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sided with Listecki, praising him for his “clear statement” and making no mention of Morlino’s.

The same day the U.S. bishops sided with Listecki’s pro-union message, Morlino wrote in his diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Herald, that he and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference were neutral, even though the Catholic Church has long sided with the rights of unionized workers.

“The question to which the dilemma boils down is rather simple on its face: Is the sacrifice which union members, including school teachers, are called upon to make proportionate to the relative sacrifice called for from all in difficult economic times?” Morlino wrote.

“The teaching of the church allows for persons of good will to disagree as to which horn of this dilemma should be chosen because there would be reasonable justification available for either alternative.”

To be sure, Morlino has emerged as a hero of the Catholic right. In the heat of the 2008 campaign, he blasted vice presidential nominee Joe Biden and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi for “stepping on the pope’s turf — and mine” in appealing to church fathers for their support of abortion rights.

In 2009, Morlino fired a female church worker for using male and female imagery for God in her 2003 Master’s thesis.

Morlino argued that unions should not be subjected to the decision of political parties or be too closely linked with them. Conservative Catholic activists soon rushed to Morlino’s defense, with the Rev. Robert Sirico of the Michigan-based Acton Institute praising him as a “model of clarity” in the fractious debate.

“It is also useful to keep in mind that the Catholic position on unions is not an endorsement of all unions, in all places at all times and under every circumstance,” Sirico wrote at Catholicvote.org.

The Rev. Bryan N. Massingale, associate professor of theological ethics at Marquette University in Milwaukee, doesn’t necessarily see a conflict between Morlino and Listecki — at least from the statements.

“That’s not the way Catholic bishops tend to operate,” he said. “They tend to want to present a unified public voice.”

But Michael Fleet, a political scientist at Marquette, sees it differently.

“Obviously (Morlino) wouldn’t have written (his letter) unless some clarification or reframing was necessary,” he said. “If you think about it, Morlino would write a short letter if he agreed with Listecki, but he wrote a longer letter articulating how (Listecki’s statement) should be understood.”

For their part, priests in Listecki’s archdiocese sided with their archbishop. The Milwaukee Archdiocese Priests Alliance released a statement Feb. 25, that noticeably made no mention of Morlino’s statement in calling for the governor to restore collective bargaining rights for the unions.

I’m blogging a recent piece I did for NRO on National Public Radio funding but first a quick note on the net neutrality debate. House Speaker John Boehner told a meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters association, meeting in Nashville over the weekend, that “the last thing we need, in my view, is the FCC serving as Internet traffic controller, and potentially running roughshod over local broadcasters who have been serving their communities with free content for decades.” Amen. See my recent response to the Catholic bishops conference statement on net neutrality here.

Back to you, Corey.

‘Free’ Public Radio Is Anything But

By Bruce Edward Walker

National Public Radio listeners are being inundated with warnings that they soon may have to drive to work every morning without the sonorous intonations of Morning Edition’s Corey Flintoff, Steve Inskeep, and Renée Montagne, and may be forced to drive home without the narrative drone of All Things Considered’s Robert Siegel, Michele Norris, and Melissa Block.

Just this morning, I received a panicked e-mail from the director of broadcasting at an NPR affiliate in my home state, Michigan. You know, one of those state-based public-radio operations that just last October received a portion of George Soros’s $1.8 million Open Society Foundation gift to hire two government reporters in each of the 50 states; one of the same group of radio stations benefiting from the Joan Kroc Foundation’s $200 million endowment in 2003; one of the same stations that host interminable on-air fundraisers at least twice a year.

They are warning that Congress may eliminate taxpayer subsidies to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the entity that heaps money on 900 NPR affiliates across the country.

The warnings reek of disingenuousness.

After all, crying poverty is public broadcasting’s modus operandi. If it didn’t do it extremely well, no one would donate during those radiothons, corporations wouldn’t spend huge sums of money to sponsor programming, and “people just like you” wouldn’t forgo paying the cable bill so they could help meet a challenge grant from their neighbors and co-workers.
As an example of how much begging public radio does, Wisconsin Public Radio — a network of 32 stations programmed by seven regional stations – reported that 13 percent of its total budget in 2009 was used for fundraising. Additionally, the network’s website reveals that 25 percent ($1.94 million) of the revenues garnered from listener and corporate donations ($6.25 million and $1.58 million, respectively) are directly allocated to fundraising.

So it came as no surprise when I received the director’s e-mail, which warns, “I believe this is one of the most serious challenges to public broadcasting that we have ever faced.”
Not mentioned in his emotional appeal are the substantial costs American taxpayers are stuck with.

Read more here.

Other Acton essays on funding public broadcasting can be found here and here.

Blog author: lglinzak
Monday, February 28, 2011
By

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.

Despite a promise of “complete and fair coverage of health care for everyone for free,” the Greek state-controlled system is broken and corrupt, the Athens daily ekathimerini.com reports. Predictably, Greeks have taken it upon themselves to build a private health care sector:

Despite hikes in Greece’s health spending between 2000 to 2008 being among the highest of all OECD countries, this has not been matched by growing life expectancy rates, the report added. Turning to the hospital system, corruption has grown due to poorly run operations and an improper organisation structure with about one in five Greeks admitting to having paid a bribe in order to receive medical treatment at a state hospital. These problems have contributed to growth in the private healthcare industry which provides crucial services but also enjoys the benefit of not having any competition, the report added.

In the UK, the National Health Service has been using hospital beds as housing for senior care, to the detriment of people who actually need hospital beds. From the Telegraph:

If current trends continue, almost 100,000 of 170,000 NHS beds will end up being filled by elderly people who are well enough to be in residential care. This will cost the health service millions of pounds and throw its day-to-day operations into chaos, says the report by Bupa, the health insurance and care provider. It blames the looming crisis on a “17-year legacy of under-funding in the care home sector”. The next few years will see the problem getting progressively worse, the report’s authors predict, despite a Coalition pledge that local authorities will have an extra £2 billion to spend on adult social care over the next four years.

For more on this issue, see Acton’s Health Care resource page.

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.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico is interviewed by Joan Frawley Desmond, a reporter for National Catholic Register, in today’s paper:

Father Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, a free-market think tank, suggested that the bishops’ response to the union protests marked a new era of episcopal leadership and a more nuanced understanding of economic realities in the United States.

He noted that both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had sought to reorient an overly politicized approach to social justice concerns and that new Catholic leaders had responded to this new direction. “Politics is not the governing hermeneutic of the Church,” said Father Sirico, “but for many years politics was the whole paradigm through which everything was seen.”

But he also suggested the Wisconsin bishops’ stance implicitly acknowledged “the changing reality of the American Catholic population as a whole. “The only sector of union membership that is growing is public unions,” he said. “That is highly problematic from a Catholic point of view, because these public unions publicly favor abortion rights and ‘gay marriage’ and seek to undercut the Church’s agenda on social questions.”

Full article here.

On CatholicVote.org, Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews Rev. Robert A. Sirico about various bishops’ statements concerning the budget battles and labor union protests in Wisconsin:

Kathryn Jean Lopez: The archbishop of Milwaukee issued a letter a few days ago on the rights of workers, noting that “hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.” Does that mean he is on the side of Democratic lawmakers who are hiding out on the job?

Fr. Robert Sirico: There are many commentators who would like us to think so, but Archbishop Listecki was simply outlining the Church’s teaching on the rights and dignity of workers (and all people for that matter, because after all, it’s not just employees who are “workers”) as well as his pastoral concern for the people involved in a very contentious debate. The archbishop knows very well the clear warning given to unions by Pope John Paul II to the effect that unions need to avoid partisan political identification.

Lopez: What’s the most important message of his letter?

Fr. Sirico: First and foremost, the Archbishop is a pastor and has many people within his flock who are torn on both sides of this divisive issue. From what I can tell, he is simply attempting to calm the waters, remind people of their mutual dignity, yet without taking sides. In all but the most extreme cases of industrial disputes, that’s exactly what a Catholic bishop should do.

Lopez: Thursday morning a press release went out from the Catholic bishops’ conference in Washington seconding what Archbishop Listecki had to say. Does this make it look like the Church in some way is all about the protesters in Madison and opposed to the governor?

Fr. Sirico: I’m not entirely sure of the purpose of the statement that came from Bishop Blair. On the one hand he wants to express his (and the Bishops’ Conference’s) solidarity with a fellow-bishop trying to guide his flock in a difficult situation. That is entirely appropriate. On the other hand, I can see how some might think it gives the impression that Archbishop Listecki has taken sides in the debate, which he and his spokesman said he has not.

Lopez: Does Bishop Robert Morlino’s letter on “fairness” provide the most clear moral guidance about what’s going on in Madison?

Fr. Sirico: Bishop Morlino, as the bishop of the diocese in which all this is going on, has given us a model of clarity of the role of a bishop in an admittedly volatile situation. In a letter published in his own diocesan newspaper, and modestly noting that he is only addressing the people in his diocese, Bishop Morlino clearly states that he and the Wisconsin bishops are neutral, and yet walks his people thought how one might think about the matter.

Lopez: Morlino wrote “I simply want to point out how a well-informed conscience might work through the dilemma which the situation poses.”

Fr. Sirico: This really demonstrates the respect that Bishop Morlino has for his own people. He helps them to inform their consciences and provides a model how to come to a conclusion on the matter without going beyond his role as a teacher of the Catholic faith.

Much more here.

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.

 

The original Article Who’s Responding: “The Call of the Entrepreneur” in La Spezia was written by Francesco Bellotti for the Italian newspaper “Avvenire” (translation and editorial contributions from Michael Severance):

Kishore Jayabalan responds to questions in the industrial city of La Spezia

“The Christian entrepreneur is not the person who goes about wealth creation all week and then leaves a nice offering at church on Sunday. Rather, he is exemplified by the type of person who gives the best of himself to create wealth and opportunity for himself and others,” said Mr. Kishore Jayabalan, Director of the Italian office of the American think tank, Acton Institute, while introducing the premier showing of the Acton documentary “The Call of the Entrepreneur” at the Teleliguria Sud TV studios in La Spezia, Italy last February 19.

The documentary’s showing and debate on television was organized in collaboration with the Movement of Christian Workers of La Spezia before a private audience of entrepreneurs, business executives, and free-lance professionals invited from the northern Italian region of Liguria.

“No doubt there are greedy entrepreneurs, just like any other group of greedy professionals and tradesmen,” Mr. Jayabalan said. “But they are certainly not defined by this (vice).”

For the good entrepreneur, “risk-taking is born out of his trust and hope in the future. He perceives things that others do not easily see and works to build something where there is nothing.”

Continuing his reflection on the entrepreneurial vocation, Jayabalan stressed that economics is not like a game of poker.

“Economics is not zero sum game in which the rich get richer at the expense of the poor. The free market is a means by which all of man’s material needs may be satisfied.” The entrepreneur must “study his fellow men in order to better satisfying their needs. In this way, his creative work contributes to the common good. What’s more, he creates jobs while risking his very own well-being.”

To be sure, it is not this way for all entrepreneurs, but “we must know how to recognize and value such a vocation that is absolutely rich in meaning, especially in the social sense,” said Jayabalan.

When asked, how can we help support the growth of entrepreneurship, Jayabalan concluded by saying “we cannot “program or plan” for good entrepreneurs to come about. Indeed, they are persons who respond to a certain calling. But, at any rate, there are some fundamental conditions which our state institutions must guarantee to facilitate entrepreneurship, namely: respect for private property, rule of law, minimal bureaucracy, and fair taxation.”

One of the panelists at the debate, Massimo Ansaldo, an attorney and executive member of Italian Catholic business society “Compangnia delle Opere di Liguria”, said: “When thinking about it, the principle of subsidiarity must be followed, in order for us to pass on social responsibility from the state directly into the hands of the local private intermediaries, such as the family, businessmen, professional associations and cooperatives.

Gianluca Ceccarelli, an infopreneur on the discussion panel, said, “With my work, I am able to support my family. I am not interested in earning huge lumps of money, but rather reinvesting it to continually improve my state…The internet affords endless information and opportunity for growth. It is an incredible phenomenon, though we need to know how to take advantage of what it offers, otherwise we can easily lose our wealth.”

Gian Piero Marafante, an entrepreneur in attendance, gave his reactions to the documentary: “What I like most is teamwork in building up business. Often people ask me why I am so willing to share my business secrets with my colleagues. My answer is that, first off, no one can take my experience from me. But, above all, when teaching others my skills I contribute to the growth of the team and gain tremendous satisfaction from this.”

Finally, Rev. Pietro Damian of the nearby Diocese of Massa Carrara and immigrant from Bucharest, gave his personal testimony from the speaker panel: “When I arrived in Italy, I came to understand the ‘secret’ of economic development in Western countries.”

“Unlike in communist countries where the state owned everything, here people could freely develop (wealth) according to their own talent and ingenuity,” he said.

“My participations in Acton’s educational initiatives (Acton University) in the United States has enriched my knowledge and inspired my pastoral outreach to promote the values that have made our civilization great. Without faith, we risk stifling progress, even in economic terms! Instead of ideologically demonizing business, let’s inspire a rebirth of a culture that unites free enterprise with ethical responsibility, as we find its very foundation in our Christian faith.”

The Acton Institute’s Italian premier of “The Call of the Entrepreneur” in the city of La Spezia was the first of many more showings foreseen in the coming months to stimulate debate in Italy on the virtues of entrepreneurship. Soon the American think tank will travel to Verona for another showing of its documentary before members of the Union of Christian Entrepreneurs and Managers from the Italian region of Veneto.

Electronic engineer Dr. Francesco Bellotti is Professor of Industrial Research and Development for the University of Genoa.