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Video: Professor Joe McCartin
NFPC is pleased to offer a link to a YouTube video of a presentation by Professor Joe McCartin to the April 2013 gathering of Labor Priests at the NFPC Conference held in Reno, NV.
The theme of the 35-minute presentation is Labor, Labor Priests, and the Catholic Church in America: An Overview.
Dr. McCartin is Executive Director of Kalmanowitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor based at Georgetown University. He is also Associate Professor of History at Georgetown.
"Not paying a just wage, not providing work, focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at making profit...That goes against God!"
BONUS CONTENT: Where’s Mark Janus Now?
This June the Supreme Court dealt unions a severe blow in 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, making the entire public sector “right-to-work.” The decision that Illinois social worker Mark Janus had a “right” to be a free rider, enjoying the wages and benefits of a union contract without paying any dues or fees to the union that bargained them, had been opposed by the USCCB and inspired much reflection in the Catholic press in the month the followed.
Among the best contributions came courtesy of Professor Joe McCartin, who heads Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor (and serves on the board of the Catholic Labor Network). In his Commonweal article “Labor’s Existential Crisis” he explains why “like our forebears in the era of Rerum Novarum, we now face the challenge of articulating principles and devising practical mechanisms that can build a more humane and democratic world.”
Under the provisions of the Janus decision, governments must assume that their employees prefer to be free riders unless they indicate otherwise… The devastating effects of the decision are already being felt. Public-employee unions are now cutting their budgets, laying off staff, and putting once robust campaigns like the fast-food workers’ Fight for $15 on hold. The nation’s largest union, the National Education Association (NEA), which represents more than three million teachers, estimates that it will lose 370,000 members over the next two years. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) also expect significant membership losses…
Interestingly, these unions, through trial and error, are landing on an approach with strong echoes in Catholic Social Teaching. They are trying to add the common good to their list of bargaining demands.
Realizing that they must revitalize bargaining in response to these new conditions, public-sector unions began to experiment with new approaches in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Since 2012, teachers’ unions affiliated with the NEA and the AFT in Chicago, St. Paul, and Seattle, and municipal workers affiliated with the SEIU and AFSCME in San Diego and Los Angeles, have sought to expand the ranks of those who participate in collective bargaining, open up its processes, and broaden its purposes. They have invited community allies to help craft bargaining demands that advance shared goals, then insisted that these allies get a seat at the bargaining table…. To survive, unions know they must enlist allies and cultivate public support by defending the common good.
McCartin is optimistic about the prospects of such “Bargaining for the Common Good.”
Meanwhile, in the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters greeted the decision with the observation that “the badly named “right-to-work” laws have been made universal within the United States…. Freeloaders and libertarians are thrilled.” Ken Briggs saw the decision as a defeat for the Catholic notion of solidarity and a win for a Protestant individualist ethic in which “it is up to the person to succeed without a group.”
Where’s Mark Janus?
And what of Mark Janus, the child support specialist at Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services who explained to us that
I went into this line of work because I care about kids. But just because I care about kids doesn’t mean I also want to support a government union. Unfortunately, I have no choice. To keep my job at the state, I have to pay monthly fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, a public employee union that claims to “represent” me.
Thanks to Janus v. AFSCME, Mr. Janus no longer had to pay monthly union fees in order to keep his state job. Curiously, Mr. Janus celebrated his victory by promptly resigning from his Child Support Specialist job to work at a free-market think tank.
5-4 court majority ignores appeals from USCCB, unions in Janus v AFSCME
In a dramatic decision announced June 27, a narrow supreme court majority overturned decades of law and found that workers represented by public sector unions have a new constitutional right – the right not to pay union dues or fees. In the case, an Illinois state employee named Mark Janus – with deep-pocketed supporters from the Koch network and elsewhere – argued that paying a fee to cover the union’s costs for bargaining and grievance handling abridged his freedom of speech. The nation’s labor unions in turn argued that it was unfair for dues-paying members of the union to bear all the costs while Janus and like-minded “free riders” got union-negotiated raises and benefits for nothing.
The USCCB filed an important amicus brief urging the Court to reject Janus’s request, pointing out that Catholic social teaching favored solidarity and the common good and had long supported labor unions as essential in the struggle for social justice [Laborem Exercens, 20]. The brief also pointedly noted that, just as in Roe v. Wade, a decision for Janus would be declaring Catholic teaching unconstitutional. Most of the Catholic justices were unimpressed: of the five, only Justice Sotomayor sided with the union, while Kennedy, Thomas, Alito and Chief Justice Roberts supported Janus.
Bishop Frank DeWane of Venice, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, was saddened by the Court’s move, observing:
It is disappointing that today’s Supreme Court ruling renders the long-held view of so many bishops constitutionally out-of-bounds, and threatens to ‘limit the freedom or negotiating capacity of labor unions.’ [Caritas in Veritate, no. 25]. By reading the First Amendment to invalidate agency fee provisions in public-sector collective bargaining agreements, the Court has determined—nationwide, and almost irrevocably—that all government work places shall be “right-to-work.” Now that such agency fee agreements are outlawed, state and federal legislators should explore alternative means “for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights. [Caritas in Veritate, no.25].”
Speaking for the US labor movement, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka responded:
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, abandons decades of commonsense precedent. In this case, a bare majority of the court, over the vigorous dissent of four justices, has conceded to the dark web of corporations and wealthy donors who wish to take away the freedoms of working people. Until it is overturned, this decision will be a political stain on what is intended to be the most honorable, independent body in the world. But more importantly, it will further empower the corporate elites in their efforts to thwart the aspirations of millions of working people standing together for a better life.
For more Catholic coverage, see High court rules against unions in dues case; USCCB backed labor by Mark Pattison of the Catholic News Service, and Janus decision was a blow, but workers point the way forward by Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter.
The U.S. Supreme Court dealt workers of this country a severe blow today*, ruling against the right of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to be able to collect user fees from workers who choose not to join the union. The case, Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, was decided on a 5-4 vote. In effect, the badly named “right-to-work” laws have been made universal within the United States, and libertarianism has struck a blow against solidarity in this country.
Freeloaders and libertarians are thrilled. Mark Janus, the plaintiff, joined a union shop. He did not have to join the union. He did not have to pay union dues. He only had to pay a fee that covered his share of the cost of negotiating a contract, from which he benefits, and enforcing that contract. So, he decided to blow up the whole thing. The essence of libertarianism: My economic self-interest trumps the rights of the group to decide that in their common interest, they should work together.
If you thought conservative jurists were supposed to avoid judicial activism and respect precedent, think again. Right-to-work laws have been enacted in more than half of the states of the union. There is a legislative remedy for those whose hatred of unions, be that hatred political or ideological, incline them to seek such laws. But the “conservative majority” of the justices decided it was in their power to make such laws nationwide.
Chief Justice John Roberts, during his confirmation hearings, promised to exercise judicial restraint and respect stare decisis. First there was Citizens United. Now Janus. I think we can conclude Roberts lied.
In the face of a dreadful defeat, it is tempting to paint the curse as a “blessing in disguise” and today the disguise seems exceedingly effective. But the blessing can be discerned.
Some public sector unions, in recent decades, have focused much of their attention on political support for candidates for state office who would support their collective bargaining rights. Consequently, they neglected the basic work of a union: to organize.
In Wisconsin, after the Republican Party took control of the state legislature and governorship in 2010 and passed a right-to-work law, union membership declined by 40 percent, but the percentage varied among unions. AFSCME lost half its workers, while only 10 percent of the members of the United Auto Workersdecided to leave the union. Rick Badger, head of AFSCME in the state, pledged his union “is getting back to organizing basics” after the losses. They should never have abandoned those basics in the first place.
Last year, labor membership in Wisconsin ticked up by .02 percent, which is not earth-shattering, but shows the decline can be reversed.
This February, teachers in West Virginia went on strike, demanding not only better pay for themselves, but more funding for programs their students need. Soon, teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona followed suit. These were grassroots efforts, with union leadership following the lead of local groups, not the other way round. In Oklahoma, Cindy Gaete, the only Latina teacher in a school with one-third Latino students, led a march to the state capitol. She is now running for the legislature herself. Jay O’Neal, who led the effort in West Virginia, started his organizing on Facebook and only got official union support later.
President Donald Trump won all four states. All four states are right-to-work states. This counter-trend of workers organizing themselves is a wake-up call to the Koch-funded efforts to kill unions: The desire to organize is not going to disappear just because the libertarians want it to.
It is noteworthy, too, that in all four instances, the teachers made the common good of their communities, and not only their own wages, a centerpiece of their protests. In a selfish age and in a selfish culture, the altruism of these protests shone like a beacon of hope. Let the light from that beacon spread from shore to shore.
All workers, indeed all citizens, should be concerned when right-to-work laws are passed. Wages for all workers, not just union workers, dropped 3.1 percent in states that adopted right-to-work laws. In 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, non-union workers made only 80 percent on average compared to what union workers made, $829 versus $1,041. Of the 15 states with the highest gaps between what men and women are paid for equal work, 12 are right-to-work states. Union states also have lower poverty rates than non-union states.
I do not think there is a reputable economist who can, with a straight face, deny the correlation between the decline in union membership and the stagnation in wages since 1980. The Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the percentage of workers who belong to unions in 1983. Then, 20.1 percent of the workforce was organized. Last year, that number had been cut in half, with only 10.7 percent of the workforce belonging to unions.
Income inequality is not solely attributable to this phenomenon: The commencement of obscene salaries for CEOs was another bastard child of the Reagan years. But if, as Pope Francis says, inequality is the root of social evil, you should want more people to belong to unions, not fewer.
It is a core tenet of Catholic social doctrine that a healthy society requires vibrant intermediate social organizations. We do not believe that the individual is the basic societal unit, but the family. And we believe that unions and churches and guilds and voluntary associations of every stripe all help build up a robust civil society in which people feel connected, solidarity is fostered, and potential tyrants would hit a bump. Subsidiarity is the way Catholic thought shapes solidarity, with a preference for solutions at the lowest level of society possible, but the highest level necessary, all the while remembering that the Latin root for the word subsidiarity is subsidium, help.
My concern for the future of unions is rooted in my faith, but you do not need the eyes of faith to recognize the deficit in social solidarity from which this country suffers. Unions are a vehicle for solidarity and stand athwart the libertarian idyll championed by the Koch brothers and their ilk.
Solidarity lost a battle today* and I do not underestimate the severity of the loss. But it was not, it cannot be, a fatal blow. Unions arose in the first place because workers recognized the need to come together and balance the power of management, and that need will not disappear just because Justice Samuel Alito thinks it can be addressed by the invisible hand of the unfettered market. He and his fellow justices in the majority are wrong on the facts and wrong on the law, indeed the decision is a measure of the degree to which ideological corruption has afflicted the legal profession.
But we live to fight another day. Those teachers in the four red states point the way forward. Francis and the teaching of every pope since Leo XIII provide the sound teaching in favor of the right to organize. The cultural heritage of our increasingly Latino population is rocky soil for the seed of libertarianism. And, in those fights that lie ahead, the Catholic Church will be standing arm-in-arm as she always has with the working men and women of this country and with the unions they form.
[Michael Sean Winters covers the nexus of religion and politics for NCR.]