Sunday, December 16, 2012

On Right-to-Work law: Catholic vs. Catholic

Ann Arbor, Michigan - Legislation granting workers the right to opt out of paying union dues has passed in Michigan, with more details here.

Many of the issues we discuss on Kresta in the Afternoon are clearly defined by the Church as  moral goods or evils. Abortion and gay marriage are two prime examples. Laws regarding the collection of union dues, however, do not deal necessarily with intrinsic evils, but rather with matters on which our prudential judgment may, and should, be put to use. Catholics of good will may hold differing opinions on such matters. This week, two prominent Catholics published commentaries holding forth opposite points of view on Michigan's Right to Work legislation. We share them with you now, in hopes of fostering continued conversation.

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a retired auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, expressed opposition to the new law:  
Bishop Gumbleton

"The right-to-work legislation that was passed by the House and the Senate in Michigan just this month is designed to break unions. It is designed to prevent workers from organizing. And we must oppose it as firmly as we did during the 1980s.

As Catholics, we believe that if the dignity of work is to remain protected, then the basic rights of workers must be protected — fair wages, freedom from discrimination and the right to organize and join unions. We believe in justice. We believe in the common good.
Right-to-work laws go against everything we believe...

Right-to-work laws do not help the least among us. Rather, they profit those who already hold more power and wealth than is their fair share. They foster extreme inequality, inequality that can only lead to extreme disparities and extreme division." (entire article available on Mlive.)

Fr. Robert Sirico
But Fr. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute, penned a response to Gumbleton, entitled
"Big Gains for the Union Liberation Movement"in which he states, in part:

"I dissent. Michigan’s new right-to-work law is neither “unjust” nor will it “foster extreme inequality.” The law simply gives working people the freedom to choose whether or not they want to be members of a union. What’s more, they are not forced to pay union dues or agency fees as a condition of employment. Another word for this is freedom.

Historically, the Catholic Church has looked favorably on unions — with exceptions, of course. The Church sees unions as one way to look after the well-being of workers and their families. However, this favorable bias does not mean that workers are obligated to join a union, nor that management is obligated to accept the terms of a union. The right to join a union, in Church social teaching, is rooted in the natural right of association, which of course also means that people have the right not to associate. Which is exactly what this legislation addresses; it protects workers from being coerced to association with and paying fees to a group with whom they would rather not join.

Pope Leo XIII addressed the intolerable treatment of workers during the Industrial Revolution in Rerum Novarum. As I have observed earlier on this blog, the “savage capitalism” that occurred several decades ago is not what workers in Michigan face today. The entire thrust of Leo’s encyclical, beginning with its title, was precisely aimed at looking around at the “new things” (Rerum Novarum) that were emerging in his day, and reflecting upon them in the light of Scripture, Tradition and the Natural Law. If the situation for Michigan workers is remotely comparable to the subsistence living conditions under which many workers lived in the latter part of the 19th century, this has somehow escaped my notice." (article in its entirety available on the Acton Institute's website.)

What do you think?


  1. I agree with Father Sirico's analysis.

    1. Fr. Robert Sirico is correct in stating this is called freedom, I live in a right-to-work state and I do not belong nor pay dues to the union which is suppose to represent me, for they don't, they support political candidates which promote an anti-life agenda, anti-traditional marriage agenda, and basically an anti-Church agenda. I do not want my money to go to support these agendas which spit into the face of my faith and my freedom. The unions are not ressponsive to the members, they are ruled from the top down and those in control are mainly socialist, communist, and athiest in league with political corruption and organised crime. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton should be ashamed of himself to speak against freedom this law gives the worker and the memebers of the Church.