When Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit wrote their book, Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right, they made their case largely from historical, legal, political, social, and economic perspectives. However, since publication, they have received support from a source that went largely unexamined in the book: the religious community. They have heard from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars how their traditions have long held that organizing a union is a fundamental human right, and that they are supportive of including it in our civil rights laws. Recently, they were honored to receive a formal Statement of Support from the Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice.
The mission of the Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice is “to promote Catholic Social Teaching on the rights of workers and the indispensable role that unions play in securing justice (1) for workers and their families, (2) in the workplace, and (3) for the universal common good.” Their steering committee is comprised of some of the most prolific and committed Catholic scholars in America. In the past they have issued formal Statements of Support for organizing campaigns across the country, as well as for legislation such as the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
In endorsing the proposal, the organization states:
Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice is pleased to issue a Statement of Support that would make labor organizing a right that is protected by the United States Civil Rights Act (1964). While it is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act (1935) to fire workers for exercising their right to join together to pursue fair wages and a voice in the workplace, the penalties are so weak that employers openly violate the law by engaging in union busting practices that include firing the organizers and intimidating their employees. Indeed some employers go through a great deal of trouble and wasteful financial expense by bringing in outside “union avoidance” experts who specialize in union busting activities.
Catholic Social Doctrine holds that this behavior violates the natural right of free association that is rooted in the divine law and, therefore, constitutes a grave violation of the moral law. This violation of the moral law cannot stand! Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice strongly supports amending the Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination against workers who attempt to form labor unions. It is time in the United States to recognize labor organizing as a civil right that enjoys the same legal protection as discrimination based on race, sex, and national origin.
The Statement of Support further describes some of the important Catholic social teachings that support this position, from the 1891 Rerum Novarum to the 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. In 1986, the Catholic Bishops of the United States wrote, “The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions…No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself.” The Bishops also called for “labor law reform” in order to “provide more timely and effective remedies for unfair labor practices.” Hopefully this strong Statement of Support will help further that reality.