Madison Bishop Writes Catholics on WI Union Debate

Readers of the CV blog likely will be interested in reading this letter released today by Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, WI.  His letter is an important supplement to the statement released by Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki last week.

In sum, contrary to several media reports, the Church is not “backing” the union position.  Neither is it backing Gov. Walker.  Instead, the Church begins with the question of what will ultimately serve the common good, and recognizes that there are good arguments on both sides that must be weighed.

The official position of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference is: “Neutral”

As for the obligations of the faithful, Morlino explains:

The teaching of the Church allows for persons of good will to disagree as to which horn of this dilemma should be chosen, because there would be reasonable justification available for either alternative.

The question to which the dilemma boils down is rather simple on its face: is the sacrifice which union members, including school teachers, are called upon to make, proportionate to the relative sacrifice called for from all in difficult economic times? In other words, is the sacrifice fair in the overall context of our present situation?

At a time when all are called to sacrifice, this question requires a weighing of the relative sacrifice which all are called upon to make, so that a judgment about just proportions can be made by each one of us.

At the end of his letter, he quotes from the John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens:

“Just efforts to secure the rights of workers who are united by the same profession should always take into account the limitations imposed by the general economic situation of the country. Union demands cannot be turned into a kind of group or class ‘egoism,’ although they can and should also aim at correcting — with a view to the common good of the whole of society — everything defective in the system of ownership of the means of production or in the way these are managed. Social and socioeconomic life is certainly like a system of ‘connected vessels,’ and every social activity directed towards safeguarding the rights of particular groups should adapt itself to this system.

“In this sense, union activity undoubtedly enters the field of politics, understood as prudent concern for the common good. However, the role of unions is not to ‘play politics’ in the sense that the expression is commonly understood today. Unions do not have the character of political parties struggling for power; they should not be subjected to the decision of political parties or have too close links with them. In fact, in such a situation they easily lose contact with their specific role, which is to secure the just rights of workers within the framework of the common good of the whole of society; instead they become an instrument used for other purposes.”

As Bishop Morlino says, definite “food for thought”



  • leo weishaar

    of what the civil servants will be deprived of? excuse me, we who pay their salaries ought to have to sacrifice like they do. when you can’t afford to pay for something you don’t buy. you cut back. we cannot afford free health care for everything and other benefits and their retirement. we cannot afford to pay them as we have in the past. it is an injustice to us.

    our civil servants were asked if they would contribute $2.00 a month for medical insurance, they said no. in the meantime the rest of us are paying hundreds a month for our families and their families.

    unions yes but not for gov’t workers.

  • Becky S

    What disturbs me most about this is that the public/private sector dilemma only accounts for about 17% of Scott Walker’s plans. In the spirit of “divide and conquer” he managed to pit middle-class against middle-class and distract us from the bigger picture. Meanwhile, cuts are in the offing that will adversely affect the already poor. Medicaid changes. Seniorcare changes. Transit system changes. Badgercare changes. Farmland preservation changes. School changes. Library changes. These are benefits the poor use.

    I think the Catholic Church should read ALL of the bill(s)and take a stand based on that. Neutrality doesn’t seem like an option to me. I heard during a local sermon that we should “accept” and “pray for healing.” While I agree with the 2nd, I can’t agree with the first without attempting to make what impact I can on a bill I think would push Wisconsin into a depression. Would it not be better to tell individuals to pray for their own unique part in this? And exactly how was it neutral to include it in a homily?

    I am and A.D.D. prayer–so I write my prayers every morning, along with 1 unique thing I have to be grateful for. I looked in my prayer journal to discover that I had prayed and exact 20 times since early February on this issue. 17 prayers were for healing, and 3 were for understanding what part He wants me to play. Not what the parish priest wants me to play. Not what the Catholic Church wants me to play. But Him. Sitting on my butt was NOT His answer.

  • Mary

    To set the scene: Employees of privately owned businesses across the country have taken pay & benefit cuts or lost their jobs altogether in this tough economy. While bringing home less pay & paying more for their health insurance & other basic expenses, they have paid ever-increasing taxes to give government employees, including teachers, guaranteed annual pay raises, free pensions & the best health care money can buy (at little or no cost to the recipients).

    Bishop Morlino makes excellent points about fairness & relativism, but I’m perplexed at his juxtaposing the common good & “the rights of workers to a just compensation for services rendered,” as if the budget repair bill in question achieves one at the expense of the other. In fact, Wisconsin public employees would still contribute far less than private-sector employees to their pensions & health care premiums (for generous benefits most private-sector workers could only dream of). And they aren’t exactly low-paid…

    AVERAGE WAGE AND BENEFITS (remember this is for about 9 months of work)


    Milwaukee $86,297
    Elmbrook $91,065
    Germantown $83,818
    Hartland Arrwhd $90,285 (highest teacher was $122,952-lowest was $64,942)
    Men Falls $81,099
    West Bend $82,153
    Waukesha $92,902
    Sussex $82,956
    Mequon $95,297
    Kettle Mor $87,676
    Muskego $91,341


    Arrowhead – Bus Mng – Kopecky – $169,525
    Arrowhead – Principal – Wieczorek – $152,519
    Grmtwn – Asst Princ – Dave Towers – $123,222
    Elmbrk – Burliegh Elemetary – Principal Zahn- $142,315 (for a primary school!!)
    Madison – Asst Principal – McGrath – $127,835

    UNIVERSITY of WISCONSIN STAFF (2009) (salary alone):

    Michael Knetter – Prof of Bus – $327,828
    Carolyn Martin -Chancellor Mad- $437,000
    Hector Deluca – Prof of Nutritional Science – $254,877 (really??)

    ( -as the UW removed salaries from being posted online in 2007- why if they are so low?)

    How about some other “public servant” jobs??? What do they make?

    Madison Garbage men (2009) (salary only):

    Garbageman, Mr. Nelson earned $159,258 in 2009, including $109,892 in overtime and other pay. Garbageman, Greg Tatman, who earned $125,598 7 Madison garbage men made over $100,000 30 Madison garbage men made over $70,000


    136 Drivers made more than $70,000
    54 Drivers made more than $80,000
    18 Drivers made more than $90,000
    8 Drivers made more than $100,000
    Top Driver made $117,000
    (Source WTMJ)

    (The average private bus driver makes $9-13 an hour (about 20,000 yr) with no pension, or healthcare.)

    …so, what was the concern about “just compensation?”

  • Katherine

    I was involved in an organizing campaign a while ago for a group of government workers (not in Wisconsin). We had one employee, who made about $25,000/year. He had saved up for years to take his family to Disney World. He put in a request for annual leave and received it back, signed and approved. He made non-refundable payments for the trip of several thousand dollars. Then he got a notice his leave had been cancelled. He complained to his boss but backed off when he thought if he continued to complain, he would be fired.

    Another employee told me a similar thing happened to her — such put in for leave for Good Friday, got it approved and latter was told too many people were taking “that day” off. (Well, duh! Some of us are Christians). Thankfully, she didn’t throw any money away.

    The union won and this practice has now been put to an end.

    This is just one little example of workplaces abuses and the need for workers to have an independent voice on the job.

    • Bruce

      Workers should have bargaining rights. But unions also need to make concessions when times are tough, so as to not cripple and close the very institutions and businesses they work for.

  • Ted Seeber

    I’ve been reading a lot of blogs on the Union side of this- the side I feel I have to come down on after re-reading the 7 encyclicals that the Church has put out on the subject of economics- and it appears to me that THEY are in agreement with Gov. Walker on the fairness of the *economic* measures. What they’re fighting for is the right to be able to renegotiate in the future and keep the union dues flowing so that there’s somebody left at union headquarters TO negotiate in the future.

    While I’m not so sure I’m with them on the dues (public union dues have grown at several times wage inflation in the last 30 years); I am with them on the right to negotiate. Public Employees are human too- and while they need more scrutiny from “who will watch the watchers” standpoint, they certainly should have the right to negotiate on more than just wages & benefits. Disciplinary schemes, workplace safety, PUBLIC safety, these should all be concerns of a public employees union of any stripe.

    And if we take away human rights from them, how can we say we uphold human rights for everybody from conception until natural death? All it takes is removing ONE person’s human rights, to begin the slippery slope of removing human rights from everybody.

    • JohnE

      My understanding of Catholic social teaching is that unions should be voluntary associations. Aren’t most unions in the U.S. pretty much involuntary — you have to join if you want a job? If so, that seems to be a pretty serious defect.

      • sjay

        The Wikipedia article on “union shop” might be helpful to you in getting a handle on just what the rules are in the United States. “Closed shops”, where you have to be a member of the union before you can get a job, were outlawed by the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. The justification for union shops is preventing free riders since, when the union is the bargaining representative for a bargaining unit, it has to represent all employees in contract negotiations and grievance proceedings. I have had both private and public sector jobs since high school — the only job I ever had where I had to join a union was with UPS. During one of my stints as a public employee, I voluntarily joined AFSCME. For the last twenty years I have been in management jobs in the private sector and not been a member of a union.

    • Mary

      Ted, you are right, the unions are ‘fighting for the right to be able to renegotiate in the future and keep the union dues flowing.’ But you cite workplace safety, public safety & many other employee issues, which are already guaranteed for all workers by state & federal laws (heard of OSHA?). Non-union employees of privately-owned businesses (the vast majority of American workers) can ‘negotiate’ salary, benefits & other issues without the help of a union, but the bottom line is their job performance vs. the ability of the employer to pay more. No employee, public or private has the right to guaranteed employment, pay raises & free benefits. Yet this is what the unions demand. To call those perks a ‘human right’ & compare them to the right to life is, well, whatever. I live in Wisconsin, & the past two weeks I have heard so many of these union members say they want OUT! But they are forced to be in the union to have their jobs. Where are their human rights?

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