Right to Work for Less?

Seven ways that Oklahoma's right to work for less proposal violates the social teachings of the Catholic church.

By Robert Waldrop OKC Catholic Worker HOME

I. The campaign is based on a lie.There is NO forced unionism in Oklahoma.

If a worker gets a job at a union shop,and for whatever reason does not want to join the union, he or she is not forced to do so. They do have to pay their fair share of the costs associated with the union representation, but this is a matter of equity: people should help pay for what they benefit from. If workers object to the political activities of the union, they can request a refund of the political portion of their dues. If the worker has religious objections to union membership, they can pay an amount equivalent to their dues to a mutually agreed upon charity. Thus, the dignity and the rights of all are protected.

The common claim that workers are suffering from "forced unionism"and that this campaign is about "freedom" is propaganda. The "freedom" that they claim as the issue is actually the structural encouragement of the abandonment of personal responsibility, and you won't find advocacy of what amounts to license in any list of Catholic social virtues.

II. The Church teaches that unions are vital to the proper functioning of the economy.

The sub-text of the right to work for less campaign is that unions are anti-economic development and undesirable. But that's the culture of death speaking, not the Church. The Church has plainly taught for a hundred years that unions are necessary to the proper functioning of a community and its economy. These teachings have been plainly stated by Pope John Paul II in his encyclicals, particularly Laboren Exercsens, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis and Centesimus Annus, which we quote elsewhere in this issue.

Union membership in the United States peaked in the 1940s, with about 35% of the work force represented by unions. After WW II, anti-union political groups went to work, and in 1947 secured passage of the Taft-Hartley act, which provided for "right to work for less" laws as a "state option." The purpose of the law was to discourage union organizing efforts; one congressman hailed its passage saying, "It recognizes and deals with the expansion of unionism." Make no mistake about this: the purpose of this law is to hurt unions. Pro SQ 695 propaganda claims that this isn't an anti-union issue, it is pro-freedom, but the history and the rhetoric of its supporters expose this as a lie.

III. Right to work for less laws hurt the poor.

Perhaps the most bizarre justification for this campaign is that it will somehow help the poor. Over the past 30 years, the poorest of workers have seen real declines (in inflation adjusted dollars) in their wages. If we want to help low income workers, we should encourage more union organizing drives at low-wage businesses like nursing homes, "big box" stores like Wal-Mart, restaurants, hotels, & the service industry..

The only upward movement in the economic fortunes for low income workers have been the occasional increases in the minimum wage (which remains below its 1960s level adjusted for inflation). Unions are one of the few organizations in our society that can be counted upon to support increases in the minimum wage laws. They do this because of the principle of solidarity: we should care for our neighbors as we do ourselves. Those who support right to work for less have repeatedly lined up in opposition to proposals that require employers to pay a fair day's wage for an honest day's work for the poorest workers. Their claim that a right to work for less law would help the poor is public relations hypocrisy. When we look at their deeds - including the wages they pay their workers - it is as obvious as the day is long that the proponents of right to work for less do not have the best interests of the poor in mind.

IV. Right to work for less laws violate solidarity.

Passage of SQ 695 will encourage workers to abandon their financial responsibility to their fellow workers. It will encourage freeloaders and abandonment of personal responsibilities. As such, it is certainly in keeping with the culture of death's promotion of radical selfish autonomy & gluttonous materialism, but that isn't in line with the teachings of the Church. According to Pope John Paul II, solidarity is one of the most important social virtues. His encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis is entirely devoted to a discussion of this subject. We should recognize the right to work for less law for what it is: a structural attack on community solidarity. That violates the teachings of the Church.

V. SQ 695 violates subsidiarity.

Subsidiarity is the Church's social teaching that society should encourage a multiplicity of organizations and groups, and large entities should not gobble up smaller ones. A healthy society has a diverse civil society. In this context, we note that the decline of unions since World War II is not an accident. Large corporations go to great lengths to discourage union organizing. The quickest way to get fired from a business like Wal-Mart is to start talking about the advantages of union membership. Right to work laws are part of the anti-union tool kit that big businesses are using to destroy these grassroots organizations. Since the overall goal of this crusade is to ultimately destroy unions, "right to work for less" violates the Church's teaching on subsidiarity.

VI. SQ 695 substitutes the special pleadings of wealthy and powerful businesses for the common good.

The common good is best served when workers are widely represented by unions so that there are effective checks and balances on the economic power of corporations, and to help protect the dignity and rights of workers in the marketplace. The common good is attacked when powerful and wealthy businesses use the law to rig the playing field so that they are advantaged and their workers are at the disadvantage. This is the purpose of SQ 695.

That employers conspire together to reduce wages cannot be denied. Even the laissez-faire economist extraordinaire, Adam Smith, wrote about the dangers of employers conspiring together with government to reduce the wages of their employees. SQ 695 is not a free market issue, rather, it is but one more attempt to rig the marketplace to favor powerful businesses over workers. It is clearly designed to disadvantage unions in their organizing efforts, and thus represents a conspiracy by employers to lower the wages of workers.

VII. Human Dignity should be protected in the workplace.

Human dignity is an important value in Catholic social teaching. More is at issue with SQ 695 than economics. Everybody deserves respect and dignity in the workplace, but some employers seem to think that their employees are there as targets for management abuse. We hear terrible stories about abuses of workers in low-wage jobs in Oklahoma, especially in convenience stores, nursing homes, warehouse work, and other low wage, non-union enterprises. The claim that unions are no longer necessary can be demonstrated to be false simply by visiting the workplace of any low-wage employer in town. Continued on back page.

What about abortion?

Contrary to pro-right to work for less propaganda, the AFL-CIO has refused to endorse the pro-abortion position. SQ 695 advocates then segue to a claim that union support for Democratic politicians amounts to indirect support for abortion. But among the major funders of the SQ 695 crusade are corporations like Wal-Mart, who contribute to abortionist organizations. These culture of death folks stick together.

Regarding Republican claims to being pro-life, we say faith without works is dead. Before the elections, we heard promises that President Bush would sign a partial birth abortion ban. Even though this Congress started with Republican majorities in both houses, a partial birth abortion ban wasn't even introduced. Faith without works is dead.

The Republicans have clever writers that know how to pitch a speech to a Catholic audience, but pious words won't save the lives of unborn children. The president has reneged on a major pro-life campaign promise and authorized federal welfare to reward scientists who have murdered children! He continues our vicious boycott against Iraq - which has been severely condemned by the Pope & has caused the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children! If the Republicans are financing research on the corpses of tiny children who were butchered for medical experiments, & target the children of our foes for death, they forfeit any claim to moral superiority on this issue. Talk is cheap. Faith without works is dead.

Catholics seeking to reconcile the Church's clear pro-life teachings with its equally clear pro-union solidarity teachings, should work to ensure that their union's political activities support the life & dignity of everyone, from the moment of conception to the time of natural death. That is the pro-life choice in this issue, certainly not a proposal that will drive down wages, & thus encourage more abortions due to economic circumstances.

Is SQ 695 necessary for economic development?

The claim is made that businesses do not consider Oklahoma as a location because we don't have right to work for less. To this we say: thank God such bottom-feeding businesses passed us by and went elsewhere.

Corporations may be "persons" under the law, but just as with flesh and blood folks, some corporations are much better citizens and neighbors than others. NOT having a right to work for less law may have the positive effect of keeping such bad actors out of the Oklahoma marketplace.

Why do we think that economic development requires the relocation of businesses from elsewhere anyway? If we want economic development, shouldn't we start here at home, with the people and the businesses we have, rather than waiting for some fat cat corporation to ride in from New York City to save us poor Okies from poverty? Shouldn't we follow the advice of our grandparents, and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps via the old fashioned way: saving our money and investing it in our own communities?

Why don't these leaders of business and industry travel to Spain, learn how the Mondragon Cooperatives work, and then bring those principles back home and put them into practice? The Mondragon enterprises are 100% employee owned, multi-billion dollar, home-grown bootstrapped businesses with tens of thousands of worker owners. They began out of the teaching of one Catholic priest in an economically depressed area. If Fr. Arizmendiarretta was in Oklahoma today, he would tell our leaders of business, academia, and industry who are supporting right to work for less to grow up, quit whining & feeling so sorry for themselves, and get to work. This expectation that somehow all these corporations are going to come riding over the hill like the cavalry to save our economic bacon is real voodoo economics.

Everybody knows that Oklahoma government is neither transparent, frugal, nor honest - do you suppose that corporations investigating our state as a relocation site won't notice these problems too? Why would a corporation want to pay taxes to a state stoopid enough to pay $2 billion for $1 billion worth of roads, or finance a huge pork barrel junk bond issue every legislative session? Is the economic development problem really the "lack" of a right to work for less law - or is our problem bad bi-partisan leadership making foolish decisions and squandering our state's financial resources?

Beware of buying a pig in a poke.

The right to work for less crusade is a fake issue that distracts our attention from the real issues in Oklahoma politics, such as the corruption of the legislative process, the shameful waste of state funds for pork barrel projects, corporate welfare, & protection of the lives and dignity of all Oklahomans. It is a vicious attack on important institutions of civil society with a track record of contributing to the common good. It is because of unions that workers enjoy the 40 hour week, workmans compensation, and employer-financed health care.

So let us just say no to this latest challenge from the culture of death to the civilization of life which the Holy Father has called all people of good will to build.

OKC Catholic Worker HOME