Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2018 / 18:09 pm
With the U.S. Supreme Court hearing a case that could have a great impact on the future of public sector unions, the U.S. bishops have filed an amicus brief citing Pope Benedict XVI in opposition to “right-to-work” arguments.
The Office of General Counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ brief, filed Jan. 19, cited Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate which invoked repeated papal calls since Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum to promote “workers’ associations that can defend their rights.” Benedict’s same encyclical criticizes limits on unions’ freedom and negotiating capacity.
The brief cited the Church’s strong commitments to protect both the poor and vulnerable from exploitation, and to protect the right of association from governmental infringement. It invoked Catholic bishops’ historic, consistent support for workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively.
“Because this right is substantially weakened by so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws, many bishops—in their dioceses, through their state conferences, and through their national conference—have opposed or cast doubt on such laws, and no U.S. bishop has expressed support for them,” said the brief.
The brief comes in response to the court case of Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee who is suing the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Drawing on “right-to-work” arguments, he contends that mandatory “agency fees” paid to the union for contract negotiations violate his free speech because the union takes actions with which he does not agree, the Washington Post reports.
These fees are not used for political purposes, but his lawyers argue that the unions’ lobbying efforts are political acts.
“I enjoy my job and want to serve my state; public service is part of who I am. But I don’t want to pay a union to do so,” Janus said in a Feb. 26 essay in USA Today.
He said the union uses his monthly fees “to promote an agenda I don’t support,” objecting to the legislation supported by the union’s lobbying arm and politicians supported by its political arm.