Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A good Catholic cannot support Gov. Walker's plan. Discuss.

From the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:

The Magisterium recognizes the fundamental role played by labour unions, whose existence is connected with the right to form associations or unions to defend the vital interests of workers employed in the various professions. . . . Such organizations, while pursuing their specific purpose with regard to the common good, are a positive influence for social order and solidarity, and are therefore an indispensable element of social life.

It may very well be the case that public employees' unions have been too late to recognize that fiscal reality requires significant concessions on their part, but can a requirement that those unions give up the bulk of their collective bargaining rights be reconciled with Church teaching?  Or is Church teaching hopelessly outdated on this front?

http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2011/02/a-good-catholic-cannot-support-gov-walkers-plan-discuss.html

Vischer, Rob | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d834515a9a69e20147e2c4ecb3970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference A good Catholic cannot support Gov. Walker's plan. Discuss.:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Rerum novarum discusses the need for "working men" associations, i.e. unions for workers presumably laborers in factories and the like. I am not sure that civil servants would fall into the category of "working men" and therefore be in need of protections from Capitalist exploitation.

Furthermore, the above statement acknowledges the good of unions but it does not state that collective bargaining is appropriate or required in each and every circumstance. Public service, where one is employed by the taxpayers, may be one such circumstance where collective bargaining is not required.

As an anecdote, the teachers at the Catholic high school I attended were exceptional in their quality and enjoyed their jobs despite the fact that they were not unionized made less than their public school counter-parts. Was this Catholic high school not following CST by not having a teacher's union? (I am not sure if the teachers there ever wanted to unionize)

Posted by: AML | Feb 23, 2011 11:53:54 AM

Following up on the previous point, a legitimate distinction can be made between public employees' unions and private unions in that public employees' unions have the ability to vote for those who set their compensation, and they often get to vote regarding their own compensation via referenda. I don't think that makes Catholic teaching outdated; it just means the situation here is different from the one contemplated in the compendium.

Posted by: Chris | Feb 23, 2011 12:09:16 PM

As a great proponent of Catholic Social Teaching I think it is Gov. Walker who is on the side of Catholic Social Teaching properly considered. One can sometimes forget that CST brings together numerous and dynamic realities that are summed up in the Common Good.
The right to organize is not being denied by Gov. Walker.
What is being stressed is the Common Good with an emphasis on the virtues of temperance and justice.
The fact is it must be the dictates of reason that guide all authority.
In the historical situation that gave rise to Rerum Novarum it was the capitalist owners who held all of the cards. They violated justice and the Common Good in numerous ways. The right to organize needed to be recognized because it was being ignored.
Nevertheless as unions became increasingly powerful the unions were the recipient of more power and authority thus creating situations where it was the unions who were trespassing on the Common Good. I believe this is the case in Wisconsin.
Gov. Walker's proposal are imminently reasonable and should win the consent of the unions by an appeal to justice and solidarity. Unfortunately many in the public unions have been softened by sweetheart deals over the years which have caused them to be blinded to the dictates of justice.
Gov. Walker is attempting to rectify what should have never been.
Just like a substitute teacher taking over a class that has been coddled and mollified with lack of discipline, his attempt at discipline is being met with resistance because of the now disordered appetites of the public unions.
The attempt to bring order when disorder has reigned supreme is a monumental task. I wish him every success and urge Catholics and people of goodwill in the WI public unions to freely assent to his reasonable proposals because it is the right thing to do.

Posted by: Chris | Feb 23, 2011 12:14:58 PM

A good politically-conservative Catholic can and must support Governor Walker, since what he is doing is dictated by CST, as Chris so eloquently argues. A good politically-liberal Catholic can and must oppose Governor Walker, since what he is doing is utterly contrary to CST. We have had similar discussions about CST before, and it seems no one ever finds them to require any modifications of their own political views—only other people's. I am beginning to suspect that there is something truly miraculous about CST, sort of like the Apostles speaking on Pentecost and every person hearing them in his or her own language.

I have repeatedly asked this question. Can anyone fill in the blank in this statement: "I am politically liberal/conservative, but because of CST, I find that on the issue of _______________ I find I am obligated to break ranks with my fellow liberals/conservatives. Occasionally someone will say they are conservative and would be inclined to support the death penalty were it not for the Church's stand. Aside from that, it appears CST does not interfere with anyone's political stance, whether they are of the left or of the right. It's a miracle!

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 23, 2011 12:34:16 PM

Building on David's comment, I have frequently wondered what work CST is actually doing in our political judgments. Maybe I can reframe my original question: in what ways do you think a right-leaning (left-leaning) Catholic should depart from his fellow conservatives (liberals) in substance and/or tone in evaluating the situation in Wisconsin?

Posted by: rob vischer | Feb 23, 2011 12:53:36 PM

With regard to your reframed question, I think any Catholic must note in this issue the value of unions generally and the reasons why the Church believes them to be necessary and important. Many on the right, I think, disagree with this. I think its a different question entirely whether this or that particular union is engaged in conduct that is part and parcel of the Church's teaching. I tend to doubt the teaching of the Church has much to say about the specifics of collective bargaining or any other union issue that has or will come up, unless its the outright elimination of them (something which I think may be in legislation in TN). But how can this (Wisconsin) issue possibly one in which a faithful Catholic *must or cannot agree/disagree? Its a common habit of public dialogue to label something generally (a union issue) and apply principles regarding the general (anti- or pro- existence of unions) to anything specific (collective bargaining, wages, etc.). But its an unreasonable way to discuss policy.

Posted by: John | Feb 23, 2011 1:42:28 PM

With respect to the question of whether or not CST does any work here with respect to the formation of correct political judgments (the plausible case having been made that a person could take CST to heart and either support Gov. Walker's position or that of the unions) I would suggest that if Gov. Walker's proposal went further such that it not only took away collective bargaining with respect to pension and benefits but wages as well, then I think CST would be in favor of the unions as a way of ensuring a just wage. See the Compendium par. 302.

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justpeace_doc_20060526_compendio-dott-soc_en.html#The%20relationship%20between%20labour%20and%20private%20property

Posted by: John M. Breen | Feb 23, 2011 2:20:59 PM

I think that once you pose the question in the manner that David Nickol (and then Rob Vischer) does, you're lost. The point is not to develop a political identity and *then* see how CST might cause you to alter one or another of your already held political beliefs in light of its teaching. The point is to form yourself as a Catholic such that your political beliefs are themselves a reflection of CST. To ask the other question is rather like asking, "How would a Stoic and an Epicurean alter beliefs they antecedently hold in light of the Gospel message?" This is the wrong question to be asking. CST is not some set of principles to be added onto one's political identity, it is (or, rather, should be) the foundation for one's own political, social, and economic thinking.

Posted by: WJ | Feb 23, 2011 2:27:40 PM

By the way, if this actually happened, our political discourse would become immediately transformed. And we'd start asking an entirely different set of questions about policy, law, and society altogether.

Posted by: WJ | Feb 23, 2011 2:30:11 PM

Another vote here for Chris. The matter cannot be framed in terms of a broad appeal to Catholic Social Thought, because the issue across America is not whether teachers have a right to collective bargaining, but about how that right has to be integrated with the publics' right to manage their schools. After all, CST doesn't assert that any time a union demands higher pay, the management is morally obligated to grant it. CST contemplates a society of competing, legitimate interests and of legal structures that manage the resulting conflicts. What is happening in Wisconsin is a legitmate conflict. The people have chosen Governor Walker to represent their interests, which seems to be precisely what he is doing.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Feb 23, 2011 3:00:05 PM

WJ,

I don't think the problem is in the way the question is posed. I think that in actual fact political positions and CST are compartmentalized, and it is a rare individual who forms his or her political opinion based on Church teachings. So for most people, it is a matter of being confronted with CST once a political position has been formed and seeing if CST can be reconciled with that position. I assumed, for the sake of argument, in the way I posed my question, is that a good Catholic can be either a liberal or a conservative generally, but CST (or other Catholic teachings), may require either a conservative or a liberal to be in some respects, still a conservative or a liberal, but an atypical one. If I were to pose the question from my very own point of view, I would ask, "How in the world can there be politically conservative Catholics given what the Church says in CST???" :)

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 23, 2011 3:34:13 PM

Joel wrote: "After all, CST doesn't assert that any time a union demands higher pay, the management is morally obligated to grant it."

Quite right. CST surely doesn't require such a response from the state or from any other employer. What CST does demand is the structure in place that embodies the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity as a means of arriving at a just wage. It may well be the case that the wage sought is not just, that is it is overly generous, perhaps even extortive. Such a move represents an abuse of the purpose behind the structure, and the employer (whether the state or a private entity) is not bound to give in to such unjust demands. At the same time, unjust demands do no justify elimination of the structure. Rather, CST would require that the right to negotiate a just wage take place within the context of a concern for the common good. Such a perspective would also transform our political discourse and interactions, although in a far more modest way than the radical transformation prompted by the Gospel (to which WJ refers).

Posted by: John M. Breen | Feb 23, 2011 3:35:42 PM

"I assumed, for the sake of argument, that a good Catholic can be either a liberal or a conservative generally..."

Well, that's a rather big assumption, don't you think? I don't think it's at all clear that a good Catholic can be "either a liberal or a conservative generally," since both positions (as they are defined and exist in fact in contemporary political discourse) operate from premises that are explicitly antithetical to those found in CST. (This is largely, but not entirely, due to the fact that both liberalism and conservatism are really just different modes of liberalism. And liberalism is false.)

Posted by: WJ | Feb 23, 2011 4:02:42 PM

"I assumed, for the sake of argument, that a good Catholic can be either a liberal or a conservative generally..."

Well, that's a rather big assumption, don't you think? I don't think it's at all clear that a good Catholic can be "either a liberal or a conservative generally," since both positions (as they are defined and exist in fact in contemporary political discourse) operate from premises that are explicitly antithetical to those found in CST. (This is largely, but not entirely, due to the fact that both liberalism and conservatism are really just different modes of liberalism. And liberalism is false.)

Posted by: WJ | Feb 23, 2011 4:02:42 PM

Rob's interesting hypothetical as he framed it does not present a situation that violates the rights of workers to unionize or not. Hence, I do not see how the Church's social doctrine is being followed or adversely affected by the Governor's efforts in dealing with the union. The Governor, in order to bring the spending of state within its means, is trying to revise a compensation scheme. Does this mean he is really trying to subvert collective bargaining? If we are to take the full implication of the Church's social doctrine, should we also not consider the state employees' bargaining representative's obligations to the common good?

Posted by: Robert John Araujo, S.J. | Feb 23, 2011 5:05:07 PM

WJ,

Can one be a good Catholic and a good American at the same time? Or does being a good American not require buying into classical liberalism?

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 23, 2011 5:10:47 PM

"The Governor, in order to bring the spending of state within its means, is trying to revise a compensation scheme. Does this mean he is really trying to subvert collective bargaining?"

Since the proposal (as I understand it) is to limit collective bargaining to base wages and limit those to the consumer price index, isn't that an effort to subvert collective bargaining? It seems a lot broader than simply revising a compensation scheme to me. (I'm not saying a good Catholic cannot support the subversion of collective bargaining in a given context, just saying that is what seems to be going on here, to my untrained eyes.)

Posted by: rob vischer | Feb 23, 2011 5:21:59 PM

Fr. Araujo

You say: "The Governor, in order to bring the spending of state within its means, is trying to revise a compensation scheme."

But the unions have conceded on the money issues. It is the right to continue to bargain over matters in addition to wages that the union is seeking to hold on to. It is certainly within the power of the state to continue to bargain over matters other than wages and insist on its own way. The governor seems to be trying to save the state from itself, as if it can't hold the line in bargaining and must simply make sure no bargaining takes place.

The requirement for unions to take a vote once a year in order to remain organized seem to be nothing more than placing a burden on unions. What has that got to do with saving the state money? Likewise the requirement for unions to collect dues themselves rather than to continue having them deducted from their paychecks is hardly a money-saving measure for the state, but rather an attempt to make it more difficult for the union to collect dues.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 23, 2011 5:43:46 PM

David,

It is not clear to me that CST requires civil servants to have the power to unionize. Public unions consolidate political power to guarantee that the tax payers money keeps heading their direction. Unlike private sector union, public sector unions do not need to temper their demands with the possibility that it will go bankrupt. The state potentially has access through its power of coercion to infinite credit and revenue.

It would likely violate CST to ban subsidiary forms of organization, but that doe not mean these associations are necessarily entitled to collective bargaining rights.

Also, you say that it is an undue burden on the unions that they hold elections. Is it an undue burden on politicians that they have to go through the trouble, as you say, of elections? Its a useful check on power. And yes, public service unions often do wield huge amounts of political power (in part through payroll deductions that are channeled to PACs--salaries paid with tax dollars then go to politicians who give more tax dollars to union employees).

Posted by: AML | Feb 23, 2011 6:36:46 PM

David, The short answer is: probably not.

Posted by: WJ | Feb 23, 2011 7:17:55 PM

Hello folks. It's been a couple of months since I last commented on this blog (after some discernment, I decided to step away and let another commenter have the last word in a debate). I believe some of you will find the resources at this website helpful. It offers a partial map of the terrain in the debate:

http://thechurchandtheliberaltradition.blogspot.com

The page used to highlight some of Stanley Hauerwas' material too. I would add some links to works of Radical Orthodoxy and Liberation Theology (but I gather the webpage administrator, Christopher Blosser, takes a dim view of those currents).

Posted by: Clement Ng | Feb 24, 2011 2:52:57 AM

Here is Bishop Morlino: http://www.madisoncatholicherald.org/bishopscolumns/2083-20110224-column.html

Posted by: AML | Feb 24, 2011 10:58:34 AM

Seems to me that the room for different judgments in built right into the text, which conditions support on when the union is doing good things:

"Such organizations, while pursuing their specific purpose with regard to the common good, are a positive influence for social order and solidarity, and are therefore an indispensable element of social life."

The clause "while pursuing . . . common good" places a limit. In fact, it implies the converse is true: such unions, while pursuing their own interests to the detriment of the common good, are a negative influence, etc.

So the question is whether they are helping or harming the public good. In my estimation, reasonable minds can differ over how strong the remedy should be, but there is no reasonable room for denying that public sector unions do a great deal of harm, regardless of the good they may also do. The financial demands are unsustainable, and the protection of the worst employees is both wasteful and discouraging to everyone who wants a workable system.

Re-read the horror stories about the New York teachers getting paid to sit in a room doing nothing all day, then read the insistence of most union leaders that there are no problems at all and no need for reform. I don't know any sane person who can defend that.

The only question is whether milder or heavier reforms are needed. But when the unions are insisting on the status quo, we can't be surprised that some want to get rid of them entirely.

If they come around, I'm listening. But as long as they're stonewalling, I think they fall under the category of "negative influence."

If, on the other hand, CST really means that working-class non-union Americans must pay higher taxes to pay for people who don't work and can't get fired -- and yes, those people exist -- then CST has lost its way. I'd rather believe that CST stands with the working class over the non-working ones.

Posted by: Joe Catholic | Feb 24, 2011 11:22:58 AM

Joe Catholic,

I don't think your horror stories about New York unions necessarily apply to the union or unions in Wisconsin. They have already conceded on the money issues. The question is whether it is legitimate for the government to limit collective bargaining to wages, and to limit wage increases to the increase in the CPI unless a statewide referendum approves higher raises. Also we have the issue of requiring a vote once a year for the unions to remain in existence. I have no doubt that one can remain faithful to CST in keeping a bad union in check. But in effect Wisconsin is taking away their right to bargain collectively not because they unions are making unacceptable demands, but because they might make unacceptable demands in the future.

It is one thing to be tough at the bargaining table. It is another to permanently weaken a union that is bargaining in good faith. I think at the moment it is the latter that is happening in Wisconsin.

To hear some people talk, you would think every injustice in the workplace is the fault of unions.

So far, it appears that CST does not require anything of Catholics. There is always some loophole that allows Catholics of any ideology to say they are in conformity.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 24, 2011 12:34:31 PM

David,

I agree with several of your points in part, and for most, its a matter of degree. The NYC situation may not be representative in its degree, but I'm not aware of any large government body that does not have a problem with keeping bad workers on the payroll. It may be because of union rules, or civil service rules, or even ingrained culture, but we need a way to fire the worst without going overboard.

Whatever a balanced system requires, it can't be that union bargaining, and especially strikes, are a necessary ingredient. After all, the federal government does not have that, and I don't think they're all underpaid and abused. So a system with bargaining over some things, but not others, seems fair to me, and reasonable minds can differ over which things should be in or out in Wisconsin, New Jersey, or wherever.

As to your larger CST point: yes, it is disheartening to see so many people mold CST to meet the preferences they'd have without CST. But that's largely because CST itself is almost always stated in terms of "X is good when it promotes the public good," which leaves it an empricial question. I don't think the Church ever said monarchy was bad, but bad kings were bad.

Only a few things are "always bad," such as abortion (putting aside double effect subtleties etc.). We're now in a great debate over whether lying is always bad, or gets redefined as "not lying" when the Nazis are at the door, and so on. I don't know where I stand on that debate, but I think it's good that we're having it.

I don't see how, given the variety of human experience, CST ever could come out and say "unions are always good/bad."

But we all, including Church leaders, have a role in explaining and sharing how we apply CST to get where we are. It forces us to explain how our take will indeed help, not harm, the poor and the common good. It's not enough to argue on other grounds without including that component. That, to me, is a healthy thing, even if it doesn't do as much as some would like.

Finally, I am one of those mostly-conservative types who opposes the death penalty, and has some other "atypical" positions, because of CST's influence. It's a start.

Posted by: Joe Catholic | Feb 24, 2011 1:06:44 PM

USCCB Chairman Supports Wisconsin Bishops on the Rights of Workers

. . . .Catholic teaching and your statement remind us these are not just political conflicts or economic choices; they are moral choices with enormous human dimensions. 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. . . .

http://www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2011/11-038.shtml

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 24, 2011 4:42:31 PM