In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued the Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum, endorsing the right of workers to organize in unions to secure just wages under modern economic conditions. Citing the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, he noted that “Two are better than one: They get a good wage for their toil…. Where one alone may be overcome, two together can resist. A three-ply cord is not easily broken.” Indeed, Leo did not simply endorse the right to form unions, but “desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient [49-50].” This teaching has remained consistent to the present day, as reaffirmed by Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate when he said that “The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must be honoured today even more than in the past .”
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Sadly, in the United States we have witnessed the opposite. In the 1950s, more than one third of American workers enjoyed the protections and opportunities of union members: protection from arbitrary treatment in the workplace, and the opportunity to negotiate their wages and working conditions through collective bargaining. What union workers won helped lift the dignity and standards of all workers, reducing inequality and promoting a more humane economy.
Today only about one in ten workers belong to labor unions, and when workers try to organize and bargain collectively they often face retaliation or stonewalling by hostile employers. The erosion of union representation in the face of this opposition has in turn lowered standards for all workers, contributing to surging inequality.
The PRO Act proposes to deter – and where necessary, punish – employers that violate workers’ rights to prevent them from organizing. It provides for arbitration when a union and an employer are unable to agree on a first contract. It would permit unions to negotiate “fair share” fees when they incur costs for representing workers who do not belong to the union.
The Catholic Labor Network believes that the PRO Act is consistent with “The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights.” These reforms promise to make labor unions “more numerous and more efficient.” Consequently, the Catholic Labor Network endorses passage of the PRO Act.