Monday, February 28, 2011


      NOTE: This article ran across the front page of last week’s The Wanderer, the oldest national Catholic weekly newspaper in America.                    
    To the Most Rev. Jerome Listecki, Archbishop of Milwaukee: 
     What in the world possessed you to turn out a statement conveying the view of all the state’s bishops that comes down on the side of the amply well-paid union strikers in Wisconsin?
    I write as a labor union member in good standing (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists AFL-CIO). Your statement was maintains it is a plea for “the legitimate rights” of public employees.  Thus it was immediately snapped up by the liberal media as endorsement of the well-paid public employees under misleading rubric of “social justice.”
                Dem Lawmakers Flee the State Rather than Vote.
      Archbishop, where is the “social justice” where taxpayer-paid lawmakers flee the state to avoid a democratic vote in an era when citizens are rebelling against a looming public-pension crisis that threatens bankruptcy in cities, counties and states—a crisis  made possible by public employees, already protected by civil service and who cannot be terminated, who hold politicians hostage in their collective bargaining?  
    The crowd demonstrating in Madison claims to support democracy like the crowds urging democracy in Tunisia. In reality they are antithetical to democracy, cheering dereliction of legislative duty, supporting the thwarting of the will of the majority by supporting the Democratic minority that has fled to Illinois.
        Regrettably they are using your statement among others as pretext—and tying Catholic theology to it.
       The issue between Wisconsin’s public employee unions and Gov. Scott Walker was a natural for you, Archbishop, to pass up.    These are not the 1890s when fat cat profit-squeezing robber barons exploited workers, nor the 1920s when fat-cat owners hired strikebreakers to beat up on the dissidents.   There are no moral questions remotely resembling the “worker is worthy of his hire” pronouncements of Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum in 1891 or Pius XI in 1931’s Quadragesimo Anno.  Or Benedict XVI inCaritas in Veritate. 
         Instead you issued a statement that was used as demonstration fodder by the unions storming the Capitol and citing this statement that pretends nothing has changed since the days of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and the original J. P.  Morgan. 
      Milwaukee Archbishop Backs Union was the headline of the militantly liberal Madison Capitol Times
     In reality you should have known that wordage imploring legislators to abide by a “moral obligation” to consider what you called “the legitimate rights” of public employees was naïve…pitting the Church on the side of so-called “exploited workers” such as Milwaukee teachers, the average of whom will be receiving in compensation $100,005 this  year, $56,500 of which is in salary and a huge $43,305 in benefits.
                            Teachers Living High on the Hog.
      Tell me, Archbishop Listecki, where is the social justice when public school teachers phone in lying that they are “sick” and thereupon having  closed school districts down in Milwaukee, Madison and Janesville…and on the demonstration site a cadre of physicians issuing willy-nilly bogus “ill health notes”to justify the demonstrators absence from work?
     Considering teachers’ salaries alone, they are well ahead of many ordinary working stiffs who are in private employment.   An analysis of current Census data shows that Wisconsin’s public workers are not underpaid.   In fact the contrary is true.
        Regarding the teachers:   Once the time-worked adjustment is made, it can be seen that public teachers’ salaries are significantly higher than those of other public employees and even private sector employees.  Morever since unionized teachers’ salaries are allocated without regard to  merit, unionism has ensured that the best teachers are not rewarded for competence.
      Again: where is the maxim “the laborer is worthy of his hire” when Wisconsin’s teachers unions have recruited out-of-state demonstrators from Illinois—which means bus-loads are passing each other on the highways to and from Illinois.  To Illinois come buses containing  fleeing Wisconsin lawmakers and from Illinois roll buses with cadres of out-of-state union demonstrators.            
      In your press release, you instruct us on “the legitimate rights” of union members.  What about “the legitimate rights” of taxpayers?   Isn’t this implicit if not explicit in Catholic tracts of social justice?     Granted you’re aware of the heavy debt Wisconsin is carrying.  Do you understand that Catholic social justice does not belong to employers alone but to organized labor depriving the public of legitimate services to which they are entitled?  If so why did you make no mention of this?
        It’s a two-pronged issue—right to ownership of property and the right to a decent wage.   Modern Catholic social teaching proclaims the duty of citizens to vote and the obligation of citizens to accept public decisions made at the ballot box. But the workers’ protesting in Madison, Wisconsin cheer no vote by the legislature and further emphasize that the electoral decision made by the people of Wisconsin last November  should be ignored.   Elected lawmakers taking the public’s dime fleeing their responsibility while still collecting their salaries for doing nothing—is this emblematic of Catholic social justice, Archbishop Listecki?  
                                  Wisconsin’s Heavy Deficit.
        Gov. Scott Walker’s stand—which he promulgated in the 2010 campaign--is hardly anti-labor.  He faces a $137 million budget deficit—so he wants to avoid laying off 5,500 state workers (there’s your social justice, Archbishop!) by suggesting they contribute 5.8% of their income toward their pensions and 12.6% towards their medical insurance—which is the national average that privately employed people pay (those who unlike public employees  can get fired at the whim of their bosses) and less than half the national average of what other government workers contribute to their health care.
       He’s not interfering with their rights to bargain for wages but for benefits--outlandish state pensions being a central cause of huge deficits in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Unions can still represent workers but can’t seek pay increases above those pegged to the Consumer Price Index unless approved  by public referendum.
      These are not sweat-shop tactics, is it, Archbishop?  What about the “social justice” practiced by the 14 Democratic state senators who vamoosed to Rockford, Illinois, vacating their responsibilities, accepting their pay and per diem without voting? 
     Limiting the public employee unions power to negotiate contracts and work rules would put Wisconsin in line with 24 other states who follow the practice.  The governor wants public employee unions recertified annually by a majority vote of all their members not just by a majority of those who deign to cast ballots—and he supports allowing workers to opt out of paying mandatory dues.  He would end the practice of the state government doing the unions’ bookkeeping by automatically deducting union dues from civil service employees’ paychecks—dues totaling between $700 and $1,000 a year.
           With their mandatorily collected dues, the teachers’ unions in Oregon funded a massive campaign that collectively raised business and personal income taxes by $727 million; in Arizona the teachers’ unions caused state sales taxes to rise to 6.6% from 5.6% to raise an additional $1 billion.   Mandated dues exacted by a union else you can’t work.   Where’s the social justice there?              
                                How Public Unionism Began.
        Ironically in the early days of the union movement,  liberals like FDR and New  York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia were adamantly against the organizing of public employees because government is a monopoly and would have its thumb on the scale in any bargaining dispute.
       Wrote Roosevelt to the head of a federal association of government workers in 1937: “A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied.  Such action, looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable.”
       What was still resonating with liberal Democrats in 1937 was the melee occurring less than 20 years earlier which propelled a largely unknown, colorless Republican governor, to national popularity—Gov. Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts.   In the summer of 1919 the Boston police announced they would organize a union.   They were forbidden to do so by the mayor.  Things drifted for a time; then on Sept. 9 the cops went out on an illegal strike.  
      Boston was lawless for days until Coolidge called out the Guard and issued his famous statement that caught the imagination of the country: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anyone, anywhere, anytime.”  Memory of this…and societal chaos which could engender anti-union and anti-liberal hostility… led Roosevelt and LaGuardia to clamp down on public unions.
        Then in 1958 New York Mayor Robert Wagner okayed AFSCME’s right to bargain and to strike. Running for reelection in 1961, Wagner was opposed by the presidents of all New York boroughs but he circumvented them and won reelection by unleashing a new force—the public unions.  
        This intrigued Bobby Kennedy who was planning his brother’s reelection.  Two weeks after Wagner’s reelection, JFK issued an executive order giving federal workers the right to join unions.   The old  leaders of public unions were phased out and two militants assumed power—Albert Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers who shifted the focus from principals to teachers, and Jerry Wurf of the ASCME.   Whereas in 1958 there had been only 15 public employee strikes which had been settled without fanfare, Wurf boasting an influx of 200,000 members led 254.
      A crisis point came in 1968 when Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis while supporting an AFSCME garbage collectors’ strike.   From that time on, a decided turn to the left was charted by  the public unions.    Whereas the old industrial unions seemed to be dying on the vine, the new public employees’ ones were gaining and were showing far more activism and leftist ideology.
     By 1975 ASCME was gaining a thousand (mostly female) workers a week but then its hubris frightened many.  That year New York city sanitation workers struck; garbage collected in the streets and after Mayor Abraham Beam closed the Manhattan gate of the Brooklyn Bridge, striking public employees marched under signs “Cops Out, Crime In!” and “Burn, City, Burn!”
       Not long later, 76,000 Pennsylvania state workers struck as AFSCME’s boss Gerald McIntee told the union “let’s shut the state down!”
             Read the Teachings on Social Justice, Archbishop.
        That’s why I say to you that the time has come, Archbishop, for church leaders like you to stop relying on 1930s cliches about the social teachings as filtered through Saul Alinsky and recast social justice in today’s terms.   From the apostles’ times to today, the Church has defended the right to ownership, obligating all to respect the property of an individual (read: the right of citizenry to receive services they pay taxes for) —condemning the taking of what does not belong to him as stealing (read: the deprivation of monopolistic government services by unconscionable public union demagogues).
       The right of capital to provide a living wage is endemic. But so is the mandate of the unions not to misuse their franchise and wreak hardship on people by depriving them from educating their children.
       Think beyond the liberal texts you had in seminary and judge if the wheel hasn’t turned 90 degrees to the point where public unionism’s grip is tightening on the national polity.
      I urge you and your colleagues in the Catholic hierarchy…often hobbled by teaching that is outdated, pegged to an era when unions were weak and involved only private sector negotiations, to understand that  the world has entered upon a new phase where the old monopolistic robber barons are gone and new monopolists exert unimaginable power over a people who pay their taxes in good faith and who are deprived of vital services such as education of their children.
      Once you reflect on this, you might want to rewrite your pietistic hoary out-of-date statement, attuning it to the problems of today not the 1930s.  


  1. I don't think he supported them. The statement said the bishops were neutral, then went on to say that unions need to be prepared to limit demands for the sake of the common good, that the common good cuts both ways.

  2. Q. So to summarize, you think renewal of the “right to work” issue could threaten to destroy the public unionism issue.
    A. I do. But there is also something within me…a residue of Catholic social teachings, Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum in 1891, Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno in 1931 and Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate…that argues the worker is worthy of his hire. The economy works best when two sides…capital and labor…have somewhat viable resources. Remember I am a unionist myself, a member in good standing of AFRA [the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists AFL-CIO]. Also I remember the halcyon Goldwater-inspired days when Republicans tried to storm the country state-by-state with “right to work” and lost their shirts in state contests in the early `60s.