Lessons Learned From the Wisconsin Union Battle

Joan Frawley Desmond has published an excellent and balanced recap of the Wisconsin fight over reforming government unions and how local bishops responded to the struggle.

It’s not a rosy picture — Bishop Morlino of Madison in particular laments the divisions and partisanship which defined the Catholic debate throughout its course. But it’s important going forward that we understand what happened here, because similar wars over government union wages and benefits are sure to be fought in other states besides Wisconsin if we are to have any serious chance of balancing state budgets:

“…the internal Church debate has been complicated by dueling judgments regarding the legitimacy of public-sector unions and their tangled relationship with political leaders, who negotiate their contracts and then may expect their support during re-election.

Many social-justice advocates contend that public and private-sector unions are equally worthy of Catholic support. That position has provoked skepticism in tough economic times, when public employees may receive more generous benefits than other workers.

Once faithful allies of the nation’s trade-union movement, the bishops have turned their attention to immigration reform as a top priority, in part, because Hispanic Catholics have moved to the mainstream of the Church, while public-sector unions often back policy positions antithetical to Catholic teaching, from abortion rights to same-sex unions.

Given the Church’s legacy of strong support for workers’ rights, some public-union activists looked to the Wisconsin Catholic Conference for an endorsement.

Archbishop Listecki, president of the Wisconsin Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a carefully worded statement that affirmed the rights of workers but included a caveat: “It does not follow from this that every claim made by workers or their representatives is valid.”

[Continue reading…]



  • Bill

    “public-sector unions often back policy positions antithetical to Catholic teaching, from abortion rights to same-sex unions.” Seems to me pretty clear why this article was written and why the Republican legislature voted to make public employees unions illegal, and it’s not because teacher, firefighters, and police officers are being paid too much.

  • Wendi

    If 40,000 a year isn’t enough to support your family I would say your priorities are seriously out of whack.

    • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

      Or that you live in most metropolitan areas. Rent/mortgage? Skyrocketing food prices? High gas prices? School tuition if you can’t trust the public schools? $40K is not much for a small family in a good portion of the country.

    • Everett

      Perhaps you’re not familiar with cost of living adjustments? $40,000 a year where I live might support a husband and wife, but certainly no children if you have any interest in ever buying a house or retiring.

      • Fred

        Tom and Everett,
        If you see this. Then why are you against a fair living wage? Why do you support policies that drive down our wages? The Unions want to get you a better wage and yet you are against them.

        • Everett

          I’m not opposed to unions on principal. I’m opposed to the actions of unions that sometimes demand benefits packages (not just wages) that are out of line with the rest of the market. The Catholic Church strongly supports the right of workers to associate.

        • Joe M

          Fred. A) Unions are for union members. They do nothing to achieve benefits or wages for the vast majority of workers that aren’t in unions. B) Nobody needs unions to get good wages. We need a good economy full of healthy, competitive industries for that. And unions have been working against that for years now (for their own personal gain).

  • Nan

    The problem with public sector unions is that they create a separate class of government employees with higher wages, better benefits and greater job security than the average person in the state, whose taxes pay their wages. In the past there was a tradeoff; working for the government paid less and was more secure than the private sector.

  • Michael Blissenbach

    I actually strongly support unions, but I think the leadership of many of them no longer reflects the values of their membership and in many cases has embraced the Culture of Death, which is very sad. That is certainly the case here in Minnesota.

  • patrice

    The average school teacher earns around $40,000 per year, barely enough to support one person, let alone a family. Meanwhile, Catholic Charities pays people $150,000 a year.

    • Thomas Peters

      patrice – is your argument that the average union teacher in WI makes less in wages and benefits per year than the average catholic charities employee? I’d like to see that proof.

      • patrice

        I gave you my argument. Catholic Charities pays someone $150K a year. Meanwhile your advocating that teachers that make around 40K per year shouldn’t have the right to form a union and fight for a living wage so that they can support their families.

        • Thomas Peters

          Catholic Charities pays someONE $150K a year therefore EVERYONE in that organization makes more than the average WI teacher? That’s no argument – that’s silly. The AVERAGE compensation package for a WI teacher is $75k (over $100K in Milwaukee, for instance). Are you saying the average Catholic Charities employee in Milwaukee and Wisconsin makes MORE than those figures?

          FYI: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/276007/wisconsin-teachers-head-exits-christian-schneider

          • patrice

            The starting SALARY for a teacher in Wisconsin is $25,222 while thhe average SALARY for a teacher in Wisconsin is $46,390 according to teacherportal.com (salary.com shows similar results). According to lead411, Catholic Charities pays an average SALARY of $47,000 per year. Who’s making too much now?

          • Everett

            Patrice, you’re talking only about salary, while Thomas is talking about benefits packages. I can’t tell you what packages look like for each type of employee, but your numbers are going to be different as long you keep talking about different things.

          • Mateo

            You can’t be pro-family and against the unions that protect and support families. That’s an oxymoron.

          • Michael F

            Mateo: What if a significant number of the families are against the union? I live in a very conservative, right to work area of the country, and the families I’ve met here are just as happy and blessed as when I lived in a union state.

          • Joe M

            Matao. When the unions are for their families, at the expense of everyone elses families, yes you can be against them and be pro-family.

  • Michael Blissenbach

    Great article, Thomas! Thanks for sharing this with us! :)



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