The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

“Union busting is a mortal sin”

So say some Catholic scholars who have issued a document on the subject, according to CNS:

A group of Catholic scholars contends that management efforts to break labor unions are a grave breech of the church’s social doctrine and tantamount to committing mortal sin. A statement from Weymouth, Mass.-based Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice, released May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, offers a detailed argument that actions to thwart union organizing campaigns, stifle contract talks, unilaterally roll back wages and benefits, and break existing labor agreements are a “grave violation of Catholic social doctrine on labor unions. This violation of Catholic doctrine constitutes material grounds for mortal sin because it stands in grave violation of both the letter and spirit of Catholic social doctrine,” said the document, titled “Union Busting Is a Mortal Sin.” In laying out their argument, the scholars said efforts to deny workers the right to organize violate the First, Fifth and Seventh commandments regarding idolatry, scandal and theft, respectively. Joseph Fahey, professor of religious studies at Manhattan College in New York City and chairman of the scholars group, told Catholic News Service May 14 that the statement analyzes the criteria for mortal sin much like a priest would during the sacrament of reconciliation. “We said, ‘What commandments does (breaking a union) violate? What specific 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. 

UPDATE: A reader found the document on line.  You can read it for yourself right here.

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Marc Dillon

posted May 17, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Mortal sin? Really? As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”
How many of these so-called labor unions are exploiting their members for their own selfish political and monetary gains? How many of these labor unions are providing money to support political candidates that support the intrinsic evil of abortion? Or supporting Planned Parenthood directly? In many cases, breaking up some of these labor unions would constitute a moral good.

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posted May 17, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Mass.-based Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice were the ones to issue this statement, so of course they claim that busting a union is a mortal sin! I hope that these individuals aren’t pimping the faith to further their own personal agendas, because that would truly be a grave matter indeed…

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posted May 17, 2010 at 1:56 pm

The U.S. catholic church has been a “fellow traveler” with the Democratic party (and the unions) for several decades. Why is anyone surprised that catholic scholars are saying such things? They are merely advancing the party’s “narrative”.

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posted May 17, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I wonder what is the position of the scholars on President Obama’s support for abortion. Is it mortal sin?

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posted May 17, 2010 at 3:10 pm

No one should make the mistake of thinking this statement is a moral teaching of the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. If flatly is not–any more than “Catholics For a Free Choice” make official moral teachings on the sanctity of life. This is an opinion statement from a group using the word “Catholic” but who have a financial stake in furthering union activity. Shame on them.

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Civitas Occiduus

posted May 17, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Not so fast, Marc…
The document didn’t address whether union leaders commit mortal sins, but rather it specifically examined the actions of those that choose to break them up. I’m a pretty anti-union fellow myself for pretty much all the reasons you stated, but as to your reasoning, the scholars explain that they are using the very standard you expound from the Catechism as applied to the action of union “busting”.
You’re effectively saying that a moral actor’s sinful action taken against a second actor is not sinful because of the second actor’s own sins. Permit me to restate: you’re saying that two wrongs make a right. By that logic, capital punishment is justified; or put differently, revenge is justified. Or, to use the present example, union busting is justified because union leaders are corrupt.
All the authors of this study are contending is that the action of union busting is sinful. And having read their thinking, I’m going to have to stew a little longer before I decide if I fully agree or not, but my first read says yes. When unions act as they should, they are real forces for good — we have the standard 8 hour workday, minimum wages, meal breaks, weekends, benefit packages, 401(k) plans… the list goes on to thank them for. Do they all act as they should? No, sadly. But all Catholic parishes don’t live up to the call of a Christian community, either, and we don’t break them up for it. The union itself, as an organization for the rights of labor, is within the teachings of the Church with regard to subsidiarity and social justice. “Busting” them would certainly seem to constitute grave matter.

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posted May 17, 2010 at 3:15 pm

When Union busting involves illegal activity ie. violence, then obviously it is a mortal sin I believe. When it involves a business leaving a community for a more competitive workforce in a volatile world economy in order to survive, it is not even a sin it is just responsible management. Unions have to display solidarity with the world just as business owners must. A union can’t allow itself or it’s members to become the parasites of a labor agreement that no longer reflects economic reality. It’s a tough global economy we live in, really tough. Unfortunately only the strong and agile may succeed. There are no guarantees; and never have been, of affluence for the weak and the poor and the uncompetitive, only the mercy and compassion of the strong, the skilled and the wealthy.

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posted May 17, 2010 at 4:06 pm

“Union-busting” is a very nebulous term. As such, we cannot determine whether or not it may be “sinful” because we really do not know what actions constitute “union-busting.” As a previous commenter observed, if it involves violence, then it probably is morally unjustifiable. If it involves actions that are legal and not in and of themselves immoral, actions taken merely to strengthen one’s own business position as opposed to that of another organization, then it probably is not sinful.
All this is bypassing the real intent of the missive. The underlying assumption and the implied conclusion is not that “union-busting’ is wrong. The underlying assumption and implied conclusion are that Business Management is wrong, Business itself is wrong, Capitalism is wrong.
How and when did the teachings of atheist Karl Marx usurp the top spot from Jesus and the Saints in the Catholic Church?
I am a person of religious conviction who believes that every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle (to paraphrase Jefferson). As such, I object to a group of Christians accusing others with whom they disagree of mortal sin on a point that is a simple and unprovable difference of opinion.
I am also troubled that political opinions seem to be more important to this group of ‘Catholics’ than scripture or tradition or the positions of the Church.
I do not accuse these of immorality. However, since God has endowed me with reason, I must question the piety of these political activists in Catholic garb.

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posted May 17, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Bishop: Your comment is a mortal sin.

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posted May 17, 2010 at 5:02 pm

A good example on how Satan spreads confusion in the church.

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Chris Sullivan

posted May 17, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Thanks Dcn Greg for posting this. The authors have made a solid case well grounded in papal teaching for the objective sinfulness of union busting.
God Bless

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Todd Shaffer

posted May 17, 2010 at 6:12 pm

I’m an employer who has around 60 union electricians working for me. Unions are a healthy part of a free market economy and do much good in protecting workers rights. However, when unions have a monopoly or have no free market competition it is bad for all private sector workers. These workers have their money taken in the form of taxes to support the exorbitant union wages and benefits as we see in almost all public sector unions. The “Catholic scholars” who came up with this document need to clarify what they mean. One wonders what their politics are. I submit that public sector unions are totally immoral because they steal from the hard working, low wage, private sector. They should be busted.

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posted May 17, 2010 at 7:34 pm

@Chris…tell that to Bishop Martino who used Rerum Novarum to eliminate and dismantle the teacher’s union in Scranton. Then tell that to the dicastery in the Vatican who likewise used papal teaching and Church tradition to support the bishop’s move. Objectively speaking, by backing Martino, the Vatican has established an actual Magesterial precedent that “union-busting” is not sinful, and is indeed within Catholic social teaching. I call this move because such an official move by Vatican clearly illustrates what those with Magesterial authority (i.e. bishops in union with the pope) hold as Catholic teaching.
This one example, done by a bishop (who is so very clearly in union with the pope) and supported by series of bishops (who represent the pope’s authority) single-handedly show this “document” to be politically motivated.

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posted May 17, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Catholic teaching teaches in all clarity that fetus busting is a mortal sin. Too bad the unions are in bed with Planned Parenthood and the like. We had a gentleman try to run as a pro-life Democrat in my neck of the woods, and none of the union print shops would print his materials because the pro-abortion activists in the area forbade them. As the son of a Teamster, it pains me to write such things.

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posted May 17, 2010 at 10:41 pm

This is a novel theory totally removed from the catechetical tradition, and it encourages people to “affirm their support for this statement”, as if mortal sins were defined by majority vote.
If a proposed union would operate contrary to the public good, it has no right to exist. Since the right of every proposed union to exist is not absolute, the absolute statements contained in this document are false. Since they are false, they should not be propagated. Since they are propagated, they should be opposed. The duty to oppose falsehood with truth falls first on ministers of the Gospel.

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Bill Nalepka

posted May 17, 2010 at 11:07 pm

The headline got my attention and I come to this question both from my past as a union president and currently consulting for employers to help them with their union relationships.
The document defines “union busting” as: “…the action of any person who seeks to prevent employees from forming a labor union, or who attempts to undermine or destroy an existing union.” (I’ll ignore the misspelling of “laboUr” :)
If an employer is simply stating a position that employees don’t need a union and laying out arguments for that position, it is silly to conclude that this is a mortal sin. Profoundly silly.
The catechism addresses unions at paragraphs 2430 and 2435. If simply arguing against a union was a mortal sin, the catechism would nicely connect the dots. It doesn’t. However, in the above paragraphs, the Church recognizes there are “…different interests, often opposed to one another.” and counsels that “Efforts should be made to reduce these conflicts by negotiation…”
Paragraph 2435 states a strike “…becomes morally unacceptable when accompanied by violence, or when objectives are included that are not directly linked to working conditions or are contrary to the common good.” It would follow that “union busting” could be given the same test. In the fascinating book “Confessions of a Union Buster” Martin Levitt outlines some of the tactics from his experiences in a career of union busting. Now, if we’re talking about this type of “union busting”, since it involves violence, deceit and coercion, it may be that it would be a mortal sin.
The document in the article is written from a slant not so much pro-union as anti-employer. I’ve tried to find some of the quotes it claims are from the Compendium of the Catechism but they’re not there. This letter actually seems to be more of a comment on American labour relations than mortal sin.

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posted May 18, 2010 at 1:44 am

What about the situation, such as in California, where all state employees are members of various unions, and “negotiate” with politicians whom they have elected to determine their salaries, pensions and benefits? Most of them can now retire at ninety percent (90%) of their final year’s pay after 30 years of employment, as early as age 52! The load of paying for these pensions – exorbitant when compared with employees in private employment – are squeezing all other activities (schools, highway maintenance, etc.) out of the state budget. These employees are ALSO protected by civil service.
IMHO Destroying these “civil service unions” would be a positive good for the state in which I live.

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posted May 18, 2010 at 1:04 pm

A very basic fact of economics contrasts who competes and who cooperates in economic activity:
— buyers cooperate with sellers; sellers compete against sellers; and buyers compete against buyers.
— consumers cooperate with producers; producers compete against producers; and consumers compete against consumers.
— employers cooperate with employees; employees compete against employees; and employers compete against employers.
A union is an organization formed so that some employees (those with seniority mostly) gain advantage over the other employees that they are competing against. They form and sustain the union by some combination of propaganda (blather about “solidarity” and trying to convince the other employees that it is the employer who is their adversary), force of law (which varies from place to place) and often violence. Employees damage other employees via unions from both sides, by disrupting the naturally cooperative relationship between employee and employer, and by hoodwinking the competing employees into not understanding that their “allies” are actually adversaries.
A classic union tactic is to have schedules strictly based upon seniority. (I have a friend whose husband works for the railroad. He’s been there 33 years and he finally has Fridays and Saturdays as his days off.) In non-union shops with 24-hour coverage, the natural arrangement is that the pay for crappy shifts is more than the pay for better shifts, and workers rotate through good shifts and bad shifts and have some reasonably fair way to divide up holidays. In a union shop, the new people with no seniority are the ones who work the crappy shifts. Whether union or not, people who work the crappy shifts get paid whatever the market rate is for the crappy shifts (because the employer has to compete with other employers to get new employees to come to work there and not to quit once they get there.) In a non-union shop, the people who work the non-crappy shifts get paid less for those shifts, because the competing employees bid down the price (wage) of the good shifts and bid up the price of the bad shifts. In the union shop, the high-seniority employees use their power of seniority to take all of the nice shifts, AND to force the employers to pay them MORE than the value of the low-seniority crappy schedules.
The basic mechanism is this: a union closes off all but the highest-value work to new employees, and then forces the employer to pay them as much or more than what they pay those new employees, and it’s for work which is actually worth less. The new employees are the only ones where the competition is allowed to happen, so the highest-valued work is the only work that gets paid at its value, with all lower-valued work getting paid significantly more than its value.
The foundational basis of labor unions are fraud and force, which are violations of the seventh and eighth commandments.

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posted May 18, 2010 at 1:48 pm

I came from a union family, but I found the greed of the union officials, for the most part, the reason the country is so messed up now. Their unreasonable demands went past the basics of a fair wages, decent working conditions, medical benefits and no favoritism when it came to promotions.
Union greed cost millions of US jobs going overseas, their stupidity have made it more reasonable to work for non union places that offer free baby sitting, gyms, better vacation, medical benefits and workers are never led by the nose voting to strike!
If Catholic scholars believe busting these greedy organizations a sin they need to look a little harder who really is really at fault.
Taking from the poor what little they make in wages for dues and no choice; lining the pockets of union officials is the mortal sin and never justified, never!
(don’t even get me started on the Teachers Union!)

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Joseph J. Pippet

posted May 18, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Many Unions are a Mortal Sin.

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Rocky Vaughan

posted May 18, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Corruption is a sin. Be it corporate or union corruption. True “social justice” is a gift of the Holy Spirit and doesn’t wear a label (i.e union vs. labor or conservative vs. liberal) Healing division should be the focus not plastering labels on amorphous groups of people.

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Mack Hall

posted May 18, 2010 at 4:10 pm

1. The right of workers to fair wages and safe working conditions in inalienable. Modern unions do not protect workers, and are alienable.
2. BTW, does any diocese allows its own lay workers to unionize?
3. Public employees should never be permitted to unionize. I understand that was a vote-for-me promise of the sainted John Kennedy.
4. Only fifteen states permit public-school teachers to bargain collectively. Certain radio mouths fail to understant this.

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posted May 19, 2010 at 12:42 am

Rather interesting to note that in most of these comments the employer is always right and the unions always bad. Most of the commenters talk of economics and competition as if they were a fact of nature, and not arbitrary constructions of human beings. So whether union busting is a mortal sin can remain in debate, but then so should the economic assumptions being made in this blog. Jesus never claimed to be a capitalist or a Marxist, and being a good Catholic can mean finding a new way, and not just following the crowd.

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posted May 19, 2010 at 9:39 am

Unions were “good” in the 1950’s when Catholics were mostly working class. The Jesuits ran labor schools.
Irish and Italians in New York benefited from them. When Catholics made it into the middle class in the 1980’s, unions became ‘bad’.

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posted May 20, 2010 at 8:15 am

I wonder, would forcing workers to be part of a union, be a mortal sin?

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