Woe To Those Who Make Unjust Laws

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Union members rally at the Michigan State Capitol on Dec. 11. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

“We firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers for organizing.”

My brother bishops and I wrote that more than a quarter-century ago in our 1986 letter Economic Justice for All.  Regrettably, it rings true still today. 

The right-to-work legislation that was passed by the House and the Senate in Michigan just this month is designed to break unions. It is designed to prevent workers from organizing. And we must oppose it as firmly as we did during the 1980s. 

As Catholics, we believe that if the dignity of work is to remain protected, then the basic rights of workers must be protected – fair wages, freedom from discrimination, and the right to organize and join unions. We believe in justice. We believe in the common good.

Right-to-work laws go against everything we believe. 

Economists tell us that right-to-work laws devastate economic justice. They lower wages for all workers. They lessen benefits for all workers. They increase poverty for all people. 

Workers tell us that these laws decrease cooperation, collaboration, love, and solidarity. 

This legislation should not just offend Catholics, but all Christians and members of all faith traditions.  At the core of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and all great religions are the values of dignity and respect, values from which economic justice and the right to organize can never be separated. 

Governor Rick Snyder’s Presbyterian tradition “affirms the rights of labor organization and collective bargaining as minimum demands of justice.” Similar statements have been made by the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to name but a few.

However, we do not need statements from on high to understand what we know to be true on the ground. Right-to-work laws do not help the least among us. Rather, they profit those who already hold more power and wealth than is their fair share. They foster extreme inequality — inequality that can only lead to extreme disparities and extreme division. 

In the book of Isaiah, the prophet proclaims, “Woe to those who make unjust laws.” Indeed, woe to those in the Michigan state legislature who voted in favor of these laws. Woe to Governor Snyder whose pen is at the ready to sign these bills. 

Just as Catholic bishops united in 1986 to speak against organized efforts to break unions, it is now time for Michigan citizens of all faiths to unite against an unjust law, passed in great haste, which will do great damage to our state.  Each of us must take responsibility for speaking out and taking action to prevent a terrible injustice from occurring in our state. 

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton is a retired auxillary bishop from the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. 

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