God's not on the side of the union busters


Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED/TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 250 of his recent columns.

God may or may not be on the side of unions, but a Catholic scholars group says that being on the other side, that is being against unions, is a "grave violation" of the church's social doctrine. Opposing unions is, in fact, a mortal sin. And should be.

Anti-union actions violate both the letter and spirit of Catholic social doctrine, declared the Massachusetts- based Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice in a document distributed recently by the Catholic News Service.

 Specifically, say the scholars, it violates church doctrine to try to block union organizing campaigns, stall in union contract talks, unilaterally roll back wages and benefits and violate existing labor contracts and other labor-management agreements.

Those tactics are far too common among the tactics used against unions by far too many employers, including many who are Catholic and presumably follow church teachings.  That's not to mention the lay employers who operate Catholic hospitals and other facilities for the church and are openly – sometimes fiercely – anti union.

The Catholic scholars make an irrefutable case. As they say, Catholic social doctrine is "forthright and unambiguous " in regard to unions. "It states boldly that they are essential to the universal common good."

 The scholars note that in supporting unions, the church is supporting the vital philosophical principle of freedom of association and the vital moral principle of "a just and or living wage."

From the scholars' point of view, it boils down to this: "The right to form unions is rooted in divine law, " and man-made law and the enforcement of it should reflect that.  Opposing unions – that is, opposing the workers' natural right of free assembly and right to decent wages and benefits - harms not only the workers directly involved. It also hurts society-at-large by lessening overall income and social solidarity and thus diminishing the universal common good.

The scholars' statement stemmed primarily from concern over an increase in the use of anti-union tactics in recent years by some Catholic dioceses and Catholic organizations that obviously are not practicing what they preach.

 "There are many Catholic institutions that live up to Catholic teachings," said Joseph Fahey, a Manhattan College professor of Religious Studies who chairs the Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice. "But there are some, either by ignorance or by design, that ignore Catholic teaching."

Those who violate workers' rights of unionization, added Fahey, "are involved in the grave matter of mortal sin."

Fahey and his fellow scholars are particularly critical of the sponsors and managers of Catholic institutions who hire "union avoidance firms" to help them block their employees from unionizing or to help employers oust - or "bust" - unions that previously won the legal right to represent their employees on setting pay, benefits and working conditions.

Ousting or breaking unions in that way - or any other way - amounts to "wage theft" and "the theft of the human right of free association," say the scholars.

Whatever your religion, or lack of it, you have to agree they're absolutely correct. You have to agree there's a great need for the spread of unionization to bring about the truly just society that the Catholic scholars, the nation's union leaders and members and so many others of varying backgrounds seek.

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED/TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 250 of his recent columns.


I strongly believe in the right of workers to be unionized. The difficulty for many Catholics, and people of Faith, is that many unions have ceased to have as their to priority the rights of workers and have turned their focus into becoming political parties.

I served with pride as a local president of my union.However, it became clear that when there was a conflict between the political agenda and the rights of union members, the workers lost out.

The fact that the political agenda was at odds with Catholic teaching and anti-Semetic places Catholics in a very difficult position. That is, we favour the right to unionize but not political advocacy that is done at the expense of employees and furthering an agenda that creates and extreme and hostile message for people of Faith.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

Unions hate free association. They don't think it's a cherished human right. 'll disprove that claim with two facts that have been proven time and again by every union under the sun.

1) Whenever there's a strike, what's the first thing union bosses do? Start a picket line and intimidate people who want to exercise their FREE RIGHT to associate with that company and do business with them. They get in your face, yell at you, tell you not to do business with them, and call people who cross picket lines scabs. So much for "the human right of free association." That's hate, covetousness and jealousy, pure and simple. Completely anti-Catholic.

2) Unions always try to foil attempts by independent workers who are FREE from the union and are willing to FREELY offer their services for less than the union bosses DEMAND the company pays the union employees. Why? Because the FREE employee doesn't need more money from the company to pay union dues to line the pockets of the bosses.

Unions drive a wedge between a company and its employees. This is where the REAL union should be, and is in most companies who are FREE of unions: between A COMPANY and ITS EMPLOYEES. Union bosses are DEAD WEIGHT. People may be free to form unions, but once companies enter into an unholy union with them, the union throws freedom out the window.

Lucifer tried to form a union in heaven. Problem was, by doing so he broke his union with God. God and St. Michael busted up that union. Do you think that God is going to allow any other unions in heaven besides the one between Christ and His Church?

Let that be a lesson to people who want to play god. Be careful who you make enemies with, especially when that enemy pays your wages, which pays your rent, which feeds your kids, which clothes them, etc. etc. etc.

The author of this column doesn't know who God is; how would he know what side he's on?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2010 @ 6:59 pm

Fortunately this group has no ecclesial authority so its pronouncements are not only dishonest but also not binding.

I am a cradle Catholic. I have opposed unions all my life, and will proudly go to my grave opposed to them. Union thugs are every bit as evil as Communist party apparatchiks and corporate managers who place profits entirely over people. There is nothing special abut unions that would warrant a sense of sanctity, and in fact are usually just as eveil s the worst instincts of those corporations they seek to bleed. To wit: examine the disintegration of our industrial base and its transfer to Pacific rim countries.

Social teachings of the Church are decidedly NOT so clear, adn there is plenty of room for disagreement. Sure, people ahve the right to unionize but to oppose unions is often warranted and cannot EVER be a sin - much less a mortal sin.

These staements are hilarious to knowledgable Catholics but I fear everyday Catholics will fall for this nonsense. This is truly the smoke of Satan having entered the Church.

Posted by Phil Steinacker on Jun. 21, 2010 @ 7:40 pm

Finding the truth about most anything from religion is a pointless ordeal, religion is often just a justification for your economic or political views wrapped in religious rhetoric.

From the abuse of Central American unionists with the help of the church we learn an entirely different story.

This whole framework is silly. Catholics be they right or left just use religion to justify their already decided views.

Posted by mr matlock on Jun. 21, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

Scholars?!? Ahahahahaha

Posted by Paolo on Jun. 23, 2010 @ 9:22 am

I just did a word search and the article uses "Scholars" all through it. Funny.

It's funny that the "Scholars" at the Guardian think politics and religion shouldn't mix when it comes to prop 8, but seem to be trying to make a point here?

There really is no conviction that can be negotiated with progressives.

Posted by mr matlock on Jun. 23, 2010 @ 5:46 pm