Weighing in on the legislative debate in Wisconsin over the right of public employees to join unions and engage in collective bargaining, Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee – speaking in his capacity as President of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference – issued a forthright defense of workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively. The WCC “Statement Regarding the Rights of Workers and the Value of Unions” begins:
The Church is well aware that difficult economic times call for hard choices and financial responsibility to further the common good… But hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.
The statement reminds Wisconsin legislators that the Church’s traditional teaching defending the right to organize, laid down over a century ago by Leo XIII, was reaffirmed in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate in no uncertain terms:
Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past.
Wisconsin’s Bishops do not express an opinion about the proper level of public employees’ pay, pension benefits or health insurance contributions. They do, however, remind us that the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively is a basic tenet of Catholic social teaching.