Right to Work is Social Justice

Right to Work is Social Justice 

By John Mallon

Various parties have attempted to suggest that a vote for right to work somehow violates Catholic teachings. It does not. 

In fact, I believe that passage of right to work is actually closer to the spirit of the great Catholic teachings like Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, and the related documents it spawned by subsequent popes. 

Recently the Priests' Council of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City issued a statement which reached no clear conclusions but raised some interesting questions regarding Catholic teaching. Having worked for the archdiocese I am well aware of the council's treatment of workers. It should be noted that the council's statement carries no canonical or juridical weight as a Church teaching document. It merely expresses the opinion of this particular group of men. 

Space obviously does not permit an exhaustive analysis of authentic Catholic teachings on labor issues — which I fully support and which I have addressed in some of my earlier essays — but I would like to respond to the invitation to consider the questions they raise. Far from violating justice, in my view the passage of a right-to-work law would not lead to injustices, but serve to correct injustices that have arisen under the status quo. 

Right to work is not 'union busting' but fully supports the church's view that workers should be free to organize and participate in collective bargaining. Nowhere does church teaching support the notion that workers must either belong to a union or at least pay fees equivalent to union dues. Right to work upholds freedom of association -- or the freedom not to associate. 

Some invoke the principle of subsidiarity and solidarity. The principle of subsidiarity essentially is to reduce bureaucracy. Right to work would protect the right of a worker to deal directly with management if he so wishes without that relationship being absorbed into the union. Again, if one desires union involvement he is still free to pursue it. 

Solidarity recognizes our unity and equality before God. One of the most urgent calls to solidarity in the church today is for solidarity with the unborn child. One of the injustices committed by unions today is use of workers' dues and fees to support political candidates who vociferously support abortion on demand. This is something no Catholic may turn a blind eye to. It is gross hypocrisy to speak of justice for one group (workers) as supported by the church, but ignore the duties of justice toward another group (the unborn), the rights of whom the church fiercely insists on. To do so is a gross violation of the principle of solidarity which demands justice for all. 

John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, who frequently refers fondly to his Catholic upbringing, has frequently reaffirmed 'I believe in full reproductive choice for all women.' (Catholic News Service, Sept. 28, 1995). In referring to God's unborn children as a 'reproductive choice' eligible for disposal he places himself outside of what the church means by solidarity and justice. 

Jesus said, 'The poor you will always have with you' but it seems to me that part of our Gospel duty toward the poor is, wherever possible, to create conditions and opportunities for them to rise out of poverty. I believe right to work will do that. To be brutally frank, Oklahoma must shed its image as an economic backwater where Oklahoma's children graduating from college have to get jobs in Dallas in order to be close to home, and where others must leave the state to make a decent living. 

I urge all my fellow Catholics to read Rerum Novarum and vote 'yes' on right to work — 'yes' on State Question 695.

John Mallon is contributing editor for Inside the Vatican magazine and a member of The Daily Oklahoman's Opinion Board of Contributors. He recently became Communications Director for Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin. This article originally appeared in The Daily Oklahoman on September 21, 2001 and is reprinted with permission.