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Union busting is mortal sin, Catholic scholars say

Union busting is mortal sin, Catholic scholars say

May. 20, 2010

By Dennis Sadowski Catholic News Service

Union members march and rally for jobs in Lansing, Mich., in 209. When Pope Benedict XVI releasedhis third encyclical lasat year, "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth"), he stressed that the voice ofworkers must be heard along with heads of state and industry moguls. (CNS/Jim West)

WASHINGTON — A group of Catholic scholars contends that managementefforts to break labor unions are a grave breach of the church’s socialdoctrine and tantamount to committing mortal sin.A statement from Weymouth, Mass.-based Catholic Scholars for WorkerJustice, released May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, offers a detailedargument that actions to thwart union organizing campaigns, stifle contracttalks, unilaterally roll back wages and benefits, and break existing laboragreements are a "grave violation of Catholic social doctrine on laborunions." "This violation of Catholic doctrine constitutes material grounds for mortalsin because it stands in grave violation of both the letter and spirit ofCatholic social doctrine," said the document, titled "Union Busting Is a MortalSin." In laying out their argument, the scholars said efforts to deny workers theright to organize violate the First, Fifth and Seventh commandmentsregarding idolatry, scandal and theft, respectively.Joseph Fahey, professor of religious studies at Manhattan College in NewYork City and chairman of the scholars group, told Catholic News ServiceMay 14 that the statement analyzes the criteria for mortal sin much like apriest would during the sacrament of reconciliation."We said, ‘What commandments does [breaking a union] violate? Whatspecific matters of Catholic teaching does it go against? Is it a grave matter?

If it is, is there an objective case for mortal sin?" Fahey explained.

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"We do make a case that if you work to violate Catholic teaching to theextent that you violate a worker’s right to free assembly, you are involved inthe grave matter of mortal sin," he said.The statement, posted on , wassigned by 13 scholars, clergy and women religious. Additional signers werebeing sought, Fahey said.Founded in 2008, Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice works to developCatholic teaching on worker rights and to support workers. It has 250members around the world, according to Fahey.The statement arose out of a concern that the scholars have had regardinganti-union efforts they say have been carried out by some Catholic diocesesand organizations in recent years."There are many Catholic institutions that live up to Catholic teachings,"Fahey said. "But there are some, either by ignorance or by design, that ignoreCatholic teaching and we as scholars feel we have a role to play by pointingthat out." The statement said Catholic social doctrine is "forthright and unambiguous"in regard to labor unions. "It states boldly that they are essential to theuniversal common good," the document said, citing the Compendium of theSocial Doctrine of the Church. "The church’s support for labor unions is rooted in the philosophicalprinciple of freedom of association and the moral principle of a just or livingwage," it continued, explaining that Catholic teaching has long held thatworkers have "the natural right of free assembly."The scholars explained that under church teaching, such a right is rooted indivine law and that efforts to break a labor organization using civil laws iscomparable to idol worship, which is contrary to the First Commandment."Since the right to form labor unions is rooted in divine law, no created lawmay be invoked to deny, or frustrate, or impede that right," the documentsaid. Furthermore, the statement continued, efforts to deny union representationto workers limit employee access to just wages and benefits, thus harming"social solidarity" and diminishing the "universal common good," both citedas violations of the Fifth Commandment. "This is even more the case with sponsors and managers of Catholic institutions who ignore or deny Catholic social teaching on unions by hiring’union avoidance firms’ to prevent or ‘bust’ unions," the document said."When an employer or manager, all the more with a Catholic employer ormanager, engages in such scandal by publicly and systematically denying theofficial magisterial teaching of Catholic social doctrine on labor unions, thatperson has committed the grave matter of a mortal sin."The action of breaking labor unions also amounts to "wage theft" as well as"the theft of the human right of free association," according to the scholars.Both violate the Seventh Commandment, they said.Other violations of the Seventh Commandment cited in the statement include what the scholars described as "stealing" institutional funds to hire firms thatspecialize in anti-labor activities and "stealing" public tax funds to employcivil laws and government agencies to "unjustly delay, prevent or to ‘bust’unions." The scholars concluded their document by suggesting that Catholicemployers, managers and sponsors who fear they may be violating Catholicsocial teaching consult with their confessor.