MILWAUKEE -- In a statement sent February 16 to the members of the state legislature's Joint Committee on Finance, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, president of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, addressed the rights of workers and the value of unions.
The statement comes during a debate in the Wisconsin legislature over a proposal by Governor Scott Walker to address the state's current budget shortfall. The proposal would affect the state's public employees by cutting benefits and collective bargaining. A vote by the legislature's budget committee is expected to take place Feb. 16, followed by the senate taking up the bill on Feb. 17. The assembly is expected to take up the bill later this week.
"The Church is well aware that difficult economic times call for hard choices and financial responsibility to further the common good," Archbishop Listecki wrote. "Our own dioceses and parishes have not been immune to the effects of the current economic difficulties. But hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers."
He continued, quoting Pope Benedict XVI in his 2009 encyclical, Caritas in veritate (Charity in Truth): "Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labor 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 honored today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level (Caritas in veritate, #25)."
"It does not follow from this that every claim made by workers or their representatives is valid," the archbishop wrote. "Every union, like every other economic actor, is called to work for the common good, to make sacrifices when required, and to adjust to new economic realities.
"However, it is equally a mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth. As Pope John Paul II wrote in 1981, '[a] union remains a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore it (Laborem exercens #20, emphasis in original).'
"It is especially in times of crisis that 'new forms of cooperation' and open communication become essential," he continued. "We request that lawmakers carefully consider the implications of this proposal and evaluate it in terms of its impact on the common good. We also appeal to everyone -- lawmakers, citizens, workers, and labor unions -- to move beyond divisive words and actions and work together, so that Wisconsin can recover in a humane way from the current fiscal crisis."
For a PDF of the statement and information on the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the state bishops, visit www.wisconsincatholic.org