Catholic Church voices support for unions, to a point
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome L. Listecki says there's “moral obligation… to respect the legitimate rights of workers.”
March 1st, 2011
01:40 PM ET

Catholic Church voices support for unions, to a point

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

With the Roman Catholic Church in the United States mostly identifying with conservative political causes these days - think abortion or gay marriage - seeing the American bishops come out for union workers battling Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came as something of a surprise, a throwback to an era when the church was pretty well aligned with the American left.

“These are not just political conflicts or economic choices; they are moral choices with enormous human dimensions,” Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said in a public letter last week.

“The debates over worker representation and collective bargaining are not simply matters of ideology or power, but involve principles of justice, participation and how workers can have a voice in the workplace and economy,” his letter said.

At the same time, the bishops are not actively lobbying on behalf of labor in Wisconsin or in other states where union/statehouse battles are playing out.

“We’re not preparing anything else,” U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spokeswoman Mar Munoz-Visoso said Monday.

“The bishops of each state have the opportunity to participate in the dialogue and to bring Catholic teaching to that dialogue,” she said.

It’s a sharp contrast to how the church approaches some other issues, like abortion and immigration reform, on which the bishops have staked out a liberal line. On those issues, the bishops have used their political muscle to lobby Congress and other public officials.

The leader of the Catholic Church in Wisconsin issued a statement (PDF) on Walker’s call for curbing collective bargaining rights that sounded sympathetic to unions, but he is refraining from further activism, a spokesman says.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome L. Listecki weighed in on the unions’ battle with the governor in February, saying that “hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.”

It is a “mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth,” Listecki’s statement said.

He quoted Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote in 2009 that “the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend (workers’) rights must … be honored today even more than in the past.”

But a spokesman for Listecki said Monday that the archbishop and the broader church would refrain from further activism in the fight between workers and Walker.

“The role of the church is not to be partisan or to take sides; it’s always to teach,” said Jerry Topczewski, Listecki’s chief of staff.

The archbishop has turned down many requests to appear at rallies for and against Walker’s plan, Topczewski said.

He said Listecki’s statement last week has been cited by both supporters and opponents of Walker’s proposal and noted that the statement did not offer unqualified support for unions.

“Every union, like every other economic actor, is called to work for the common good, to make sacrifices when required, and to adjust to new economic realities,” the archbishop’s statement said.

“Depending on who you talk to, you would think the archbishop is the biggest union supporter or the biggest union buster in Wisconsin,” Topczewski said.

Either way, the Catholic Church is staying on the sidelines of the nation's current labor battles for now, letting its public statements speak for themselves.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bishops • Catholic Church • Politics • United States

soundoff (251 Responses)
  1. espirit2

    I wouldn't define government employees as "the workers" Food, clothing, housing.... the people that provide these essential things to us are the real workers. It seems the same voices that want protection for the unions of government workers also want protection for the immigrants that have taken those jobs from the real workers.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  2. Phil

    Now THAT'S the Church Militant.

    Jesus Christ, Steward, Nazareth Carpenters Local #1.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  3. Zenas

    Actually, it was the American left that used to be "pretty well aligned" with the Catholic Church. Who changed? Please pay attention.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  4. espirit2

    If the Catholic Church has filed a 501c3 they are not suppose to be preaching partisan politics.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  5. old guy

    The church collection plates would be quite empty without the contributions of the good working-class population. Unlike the evangies, at least the Catholic church is not trying to deny science, or rewrite the US history to paint as a "Christian Country." I wish they would speak-up more on some of these issues, and be clear on where they stand. If they would get on board with birth control, and accept that women have the right to terminate an (early) unwanted pregnancy, I would have a lot more respect for them. We have to keep the Fundies out of office. They're no different than the Taliban. Separate saviors/prophets, same results. I propose everyone on the planet should follow one simple rule/commandment: Thou shalt not tryeth to converteth thouest neighbor, nor shall thou proclaim that your neighbor be damned to hell, or less-deserving of his/her life.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  6. Mary

    The Catholic church has a long tradition of being on the side of workers. This should come as no surprise.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  7. Mary

    Technically the churches opposition to abortion is a liberal position as it has been legal for almost 40 years. It is the established norm in this country. Opposition to it thus is a liberal cause, the conservatives want to keep abortion legal and safe.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  8. espirit2

    Every private industry has been stripped of bargaining in one way or another. From manufacturers sending jobs to countries with sweat shops to low paid immigration building our roads, houses and picking our crops. Why shouldn't government workers feel what is happening to our country. What makes them more deserving than the average citizen.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  9. Ed

    Yes and all church's should pay property taxes!

    March 2, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  10. roddy

    The Church, and Christians, bear prophetic witness.

    Hostility to unions equals hostility to people. They (we) have the right and liberty to organize and join together. One may not like the results, any more than every jury is always right, or every political party is always right, or every corporation is always right, or every partnership is always right.

    Hostility to unions equals hostility to people.

    March 2, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  11. EatRunDive

    What do you expect from the Catholic Church? They follow the teachings of the biggest LIBERAL in history!

    March 2, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  12. Carl

    Just as liberals attempt to couch the anti-illegal-immigration debate as "anti-immigration", we have a continual attempt to couch the anti-public-union debate as "anti-union". This is a fairly transparent attempt to blow the issue way out of proportion by attempting to throw the legitimate in with the illegitimate. If you can't have a discussion head-on to resolve the issue, obfuscate with BS...how typical!

    March 2, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  13. chef dugan

    What the unions want, and should never get, is the university equivilant of tenure. Want to keep a half-assed professor in a job for life? Give him or her tenure and forget completely about academic excellence.

    March 2, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  14. Thanh B.

    The past had been an example for all to see and learn from.
    All empires governments in the past failed due to their greed and selfishness.
    This USA is known to be an Empire. I hope rich people understand the logic of the
    sustaining of humanity. Without the help from everyone we will go down bigf time.

    March 2, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  15. nymama

    “The debates over worker representation and collective bargaining are not simply matters of ideology or power, but involve principles of justice, participation and how workers can have a voice in the workplace and economy,”

    Public Sector and Union Workers have a voice in the workplace, freedom of speech. Same as for the private sector workers. They also have two feet. If they feel there is injustice in their workplace (salary, benefits, pension) they can go work somewhere else! The taxpayer must also have justice and a voice in the economy, that is why they elected new leaders in November to stop the crazy spending.

    March 2, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  16. AF

    The writer of this piece shows his ignorance and bias in the very first sentence, saying that the Catholic Church mostly aligns with conservative causes, and then names pretty much the only two that back up his point. The American bishops, at least, are virtually an arm of the Democrat party - on immigration, welfare, spending, taxation, etc. - and what little effort they put into opposing perversion and the murder of the unborn is typically much too little and much too late to matter.

    Public employee unions negotiate against the public - they should be banned.

    March 2, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Amos

      "The writer of this piece shows his ignorance and bias"

      "Public employee unions negotiate against the public — they should be banned."

      March 2, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  17. NewMalthus

    What "RIGHT" to collective barganing?

    Fact: President Obama is the boss of a civil work force that numbers up to two million (excluding postal workers and uniformed military). Fact: Those federal workers cannot bargain for wages or benefits. Fact: Washington, D.C. is, in the purest sense, a "right to work zone." Federal employees are not compelled to join a union, nor to pay union dues. Fact: Neither Mr. Obama, nor the prior Democratic majority, ever acted to give their union chums a better federal deal.

    Scott Walker, eat your heart out.

    For this enormous flexibility in managing his work force, Mr. Obama can thank his own party. In 1978, Democratic President Jimmy Carter, backed by a Democratic Congress, passed the Civil Service Reform Act. Washington had already established its General Schedule (GS) classification and pay system for workers. The 1978 bill went further, focused as it was on worker accountability and performance. It severely proscribed the issues over which employees could bargain, as well as prohibited compulsory union support.

    Democrats weren't then (and aren't now) about to let their federal employees dictate pay. The GS system, as well as the president and Congress, sees to that. Nor were they about to let workers touch health-care or retirement plans. Unions are instead limited to bargaining over personnel employment practices such as whether employees are allowed to wear beards, or whether the government must pay to clean uniforms. These demands matter, though they are hardly the sort to break the federal bank.

    From Fri. WSJ

    March 2, 2011 at 9:24 am |

    Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development

    Liberal if there ever was one – No wonder he supports the criminals calling themselves a UNION

    March 2, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  19. clevercandi

    Sorry, but IMHO if you don't pay taxes (or vote), you have no right to stick your nose (or your opinion) in government.

    March 2, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Nothing says that any member of the Clergy cannot vote as long as they are US citizens over the age of 18, and not prohibited from doing so according to the any felony status. As for paying taxes – does that mean that billionaires like the Koch Brothers, who do not want to have to pay any taxes, should not be allowed to voice their opinions, either?

      March 2, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • deuce

      Then I guess you'd better get rid of the lobbyists for all those multi-billion dollar corporations that also have 0 tax liability every single year...

      March 2, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  20. Maimonida

    I think that any religious organization may participate in choice of way to leave their lives for their believers. But they shall stay out of government policies. It is principal for separation of church and state.
    Since there are people of different religions and people with no religion and their morals are controlled by different motives than morals of people of this religion

    March 2, 2011 at 9:20 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.