The statement was in response to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill introduced Friday, Feb. 11 that would require most government workers at the state, county and local levels to contribute 50 percent of their annual pension payments and at least 12.6 percent of the average cost of their annual health care premiums. Opponents of the measure charge that the bill would strip most collective bargaining rights from public employees. The bill sparked days of protests in Madison as tens of thousands of people rallied, most in protest of the proposed legislation.
In his “Statement Regarding the Rights of Workers and the Value of Unions,” Archbishop Listecki wrote, “The church is well aware that difficult economic times call for hard choices and financial responsibility to further the common good. 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 quoted Pope Benedict’s 2009 encyclical, “Caritas in veritate”:
“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.”
Yet, Archbishop Listecki, in the statement distributed by the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, public policy arm of the state’s bishops, noted that not every claim made by workers or their representatives is valid.
“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,” he noted.
However, it would also be a mistake, wrote the archbishop, 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.”
The archbishop called on both sides to open lines of communication and work cooperatively.
“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.”