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People of faith on so-called "Right-to-work" laws in Michigan

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Today, people of faith across the country are crying out to Michigan lawmakers demanding justice for workers. Lawmakers passed so-called "right-to-work" legislation this month making it harder for public and private employees to work with unions and stick together for better working conditions, pay and benefits. "Right-to-work" laws continue to lower the bar for worker standards.

By Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

“We firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers for organizing.”

RTW infoMy brother bishops and I wrote that more than a quarter-century ago in our 1986 letter Economic Justice for All. Regrettably, it rings true still today.

The right-to-work legislation that was passed by the House and the Senate in Michigan just this month is designed to break unions. It is designed to prevent workers from organizing. And we must oppose it as firmly as we did during the 1980s.

Click here to learn Why Unions Matter and What Faith has to do with it.

As Catholics, we believe that if the dignity of work is to remain protected, then the basic rights of workers must be protected – fair wages, freedom from discrimination and the right to organize and join unions. We believe in justice. We believe in the common good.

Right-to-work laws go against everything we believe.

Economists tell us that right-to-work laws devastate economic justice. They lower wages for all workers. They lessen benefits for all workers. They increase poverty for all people.

Workers tell us that these laws decrease cooperation, collaboration, love and solidarity.

This legislation should not just offend Catholics, but all Christians and members of all faith traditions. At the core of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and all great religions are the values of dignity and respect, values from which economic justice and the right to organize can never be separated.

Governor Rick Snyder’s Presbyterian tradition “affirms the rights of labor organization and collective bargaining as minimum demands of justice.” Similar statements have been made by the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to name but a few.

However, we do not need statements from on high to understand what we know to be true on the ground. Right-to-work laws do not help the least among us. Rather, they profit those who already hold more power and wealth than is their fair share. They foster extreme inequality, inequality that can only lead to extreme disparities and extreme division.

In the book of Isaiah, the prophet proclaims, “Woe to those who make unjust laws.” Indeed, woe to those in the Michigan state legislature who voted in favor of these laws. Woe to Governor Snyder whose pen is at the ready to sign these bills.

Just as Catholic bishops united in 1986 to speak against organized efforts to break unions, it is now time for Michigan citizens of all faiths to unite against an unjust law, passed in great haste, which will do great damage to our state. Each of us must take responsibility for speaking out and taking action to prevent a terrible injustice from occurring in Michigan.


This reflection originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton is a retired auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. Infographic courtesy of our friends at the AFL-CIO.

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