Catholics Announce New Effort to Pass Employee Free Choice Act

Posted March 10, 2009

Catholics United today unveiled a “Catholics for Working Families” campaign to help pass the Employee Free Choice Act, a law designed to protect workers who want to form a union from employer retribution. The initiative, launched support from Pax Christi USA and Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice, includes a Web site (www.catholicsforworkingfamilies.org) that presents facts about the legislation, explains the place of workers' rights in the Catholic social tradition, and provides opportunities for grassroots supporters to engage elected officials and the general public. Catholics United also plans to launch a radio and print advertising campaign in key states to rally Catholic support behind the Employee Free Choice Act.

“The Catholic Church teaches that all workers have a fundamental right to make their own decision whether to bargain collectively their employer,” said Joseph Fahey, professor of religious studies at Manhattan College and chair of Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice. “Current U.S. labor laws, however, provide inadequate protection to those who try to exercise this right to form a union. By creating a more democratic process for forming unions and imposing stiffer penalties on employers who retaliate against their workers, the Employee Free Choice Act will modernize our nation's labor laws and offer greater protection for workers who choose to organize .”

Support for workers' rights is a bedrock principle of the Catholic social tradition, the body of Church doctrine that concerns Catholics' responsibility to create a just and equitable human society. As CEOs make record salaries and bonuses, working families continue to struggle. Catholic social teaching demands that workers earn wages that can support the full development of families. Pope Leo XIII wrote his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum – generally regarded as the inaugural document of the Catholic social tradition – in order to address the vast discrepancies in wealth and power between employers and their workers that had arisen in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. The encyclical clearly articulates the Church's support for vulnerable workers and their families:

"Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages... If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice." (Rerum Novarum, § 45)

“Catholic teaching is unequivocal in its support of the right to organize,” said Chris Korzen, a former union organizer and executive director of Catholics United. “I have seen firsthand how far unscrupulous employers will go to prevent their workers from exercising this right, by waging campaigns of fear and intimidation in the workplace and even firing workers who support the union. The Employee Free Choice Act will remedy these abuses by creating a fairer and more democratic process for forming unions.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have specifically condemned the sort of employer-sponsored anti-union campaigns that current U.S. labor law fails to prevent. “No one,” they wrote in 1986, “may deny the right to organizeout attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers from organizing.”