As teachers, firefighters, policemen, and other public employees in Wisconsin and Ohio battle to retain their collective bargaining rights, a contingent of anti-union politicians and pundits are contorting facts to vilify union workers as wealthy, elitist, and dangerous. However, one traditionally conservative organization is declaring official support for these beleaguered public servants: the Catholic Church. In a public letter to the Archbishop of Milwaukee last week, Bishop Stephen E. Blair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that unions are “moral choices” and collective bargaining rights reflect the “principles of justice”:
“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.
Blair also cited the teachings of Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II to note Catholic precedence for support of unions and the rights of workers. The U.S. bishops, however, are not actively lobbying on behalf of labor in specific states and are leaving it up to “the bishops of each state” to “participate in the dialogue and to bring Catholic teaching to that dialogue.” The bishops in Ohio decided Catholic teachings require opposition to Ohio’s anti-union bill and are “encourag[ing] leaders in government, labor, and business to pursue changes that promote the common good without the elimination of collective bargaining.”
The Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC), however, decided on a “neutral stance because the present dilemma comes down to either a choice fore the common good” and “a choice for the rights of workers to a just compensation.” “As Catholics, we see both these horns of the dilemma as good,” the WCC said. Still, many religious leaders in Wisconsin, including Catholic leaders, said “they’re on board” with the public union fight and even offered sanctuary to the Wisconsin Democratic senators who fled the state to prevent a vote on Walker’s union-busting bill.
As CNN’s Dan Gilgoff notes, the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. mostly identifies with conservative political causes, thus “seeing the American bishops come out for union workers” is “something of a surprise.” For unions, it’s surprising, but welcome, support.