Kentucky Bishop on Right to Work: “This cannot be seen as contributing to the common good”

Last month in this space I wrote about anti-union “right-to-work” legislation circulating in three states — Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire. As the legislation hit the floor in Kentucky, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington issued a remarkable appeal to state legislators defending Catholic social teaching on labor and worker justice, and indicating how that teaching illuminated the issue before them. Although legislators in the Bluegrass State pushed the bill through anyway, this issue is still under debate in MO and NH, and some union opponents hope to bring it to the US Congress. The message is recommended reading for Catholics, lay and clergy, who want to understand this issue:


Kentucky House Bill 1

As the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Lexington, I represent a Church community with a long tradition of social teaching.  Our social doctrine is a means of applying the principles of our Christian faith to the better ordering of society.  Social teaching is rooted in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures and the Tradition of passing on that faith and its principles through 2,000 years.  When we address the public good, and engage in the democratic process, it is with the intention of promoting common good, that is, the well-being of all people.  We speak to the moral dimension of public issues and are always mindful of the effects of laws and decisions on the most vulnerable members of the population.  When we address economic issues, it is from the perspective that economy is not an end in itself, but is to serve people and help them to flourish.  The good of the human person is at the center of all economic activities.

The dignity of work and the rights of workers are critical to our approach to economic issues and laws.  Workers cannot be treated merely as a means for corporate profit and production, but must be seen as autonomous human beings who contribute to the common good through their work.   Modern Catholic Social teaching began in 1897 with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum which emphasizes the dignity and rights of workers, and in particular affirms the rights of workers to organize for the protection of their just rights.  Among those rights are the right to decent wages and safe-working conditions.  In Catholic teaching, unions are described as an indispensable element of social life.  Unions are to promote solidarity among workers.  They are essential for economic justice and to protect the rights of workers.

It follows from the strong support of organized labor for the common good, that unions need the support of the workers they represent.  The falsely named “right to work” legislation proposed does not in fact create new rights to work, but rather strives to limit the effectiveness and power of the unions.  When all workers benefit from the negotiations of the labor unions, through better wages and conditions, it is only just that the workers should participate by paying dues to the union which represents them in the workplace.

The weakening of unions by so-called “right to work” laws, has been shown to reduce wages and benefits overall in the states where such laws have been enacted.  This cannot be seen as contributing to the common good. I implore Kentucky legislators, at this new moment in the state’s history, to consider the well-being of working men and women in the state and to realize that stronger labor unions lead to more fair negotiations which benefit all workers in the state.


Most Reverend John Stowe, OFM Conv.

Catholic Bishop of Lexington

4 January 2017


Thank you, Bishop Stowe, for your thoughtful testimony!

13 replies
  1. Father Brian Jordan, OFM
    Father Brian Jordan, OFM says:

    I am inspired and edified by Bishop Stowe’s prophetic words!
    This courageous Franciscan bishop has set the example for all US bishops who are battling the false label of “right to work.” It is really anti-union propaganda!

    • Joris Heise
      Joris Heise says:

      so am I. It is good to hear the voice of Jesus rising against the tide of Pharisaical religioosity that oveershadows our real world these days. Jesus was about caring, about working together, about workiing folks, and the defenders of the common folks that we are today’s voice of St. Francis, Jesus and goodness.

  2. James Blum
    James Blum says:

    Very good article. We need to make sure the whole fight is about the battle for the family against secular individualism. The Family is our immediate family, our Parish family, our Labor Family, our School family and our Organizational Family. We can do this by starting with God and focusing on the Family so we can re-establish a priority for Christian living in our Country which would include just wages and eliminate drug addictions with structure. It is something so simple but it is overlooked due to immediate gratification and self promotion of the stock market, which is the driving force behind “Right to Work for Less” legislation, which includes trying to eliminate Labor Unions to boost stock prices. Once the stock price is boosted, it is only a temporary boost due to the 1/3, 1/3 and 1/3 theory of stock valuation. Stock value is 1/3 speculation, 1/3 company driven and 1/3 acts of war and nature. It is really a shame that the evidence of the instant temporal gratification of a boosted stock price is not evident in the past communities that are destroyed by the “desire for more”. We will do our part to promote the Catholic Faith which includes promoting Labor Unions and fighting against secular individualism.

  3. jim sinyai
    jim sinyai says:

    It is so easy to see the point. Watch out and support your brothers and sisters.
    Do your job and carry your part. Don’t look for a free ride.
    Questions ? I didn’t think so

  4. Ray Richter, OFS
    Ray Richter, OFS says:

    America was really great when businesses were created to provide goods or a services that benefited the public good and provided the employees of those businesses with living wages, medical benefits, vacation, holidays and a pension at retirement. Today’s unbridled capitalism benefits too few at the cost of the many.

  5. joe Hahn
    joe Hahn says:

    My faith in our church is buoyed and gratitude to Bishop John for speaking gospel values amidst the chaos.

  6. Allan
    Allan says:

    To offer up a piece this piece of legislation is mean spirited, vindictive and serves not purpose other than destroy the wages, hours and working conditions for those who built the middle class. It serves to push the middle to the bottom and hampers to a severe degree, the ability of workers to continue supporting their families and contribute to faith community.
    Allan B. Darrr
    45 Year Member and Officer of the IUOE Local 302

  7. Gerald R. Gioglio, OFS
    Gerald R. Gioglio, OFS says:

    Thank you Bishop Stowe. Automation, globalization and corporate greed have all negatively impacted American workers. Often ignored is the ever-increasing attacks on organized labor and the decline in the numbers of unionized workers. Labor needs to do more to organize workers in the private and public sectors; laws must be changed to make it easier to do this. Faith traditions can be a strong voice for social justice by continuing to link these teachings to the struggle for decent wages and benefits.

  8. jim sinyai
    jim sinyai says:

    You also have the right to make your own deal with your employer. You don’t need the wages ,the benefits or a safe work place like the dues paying union folks .Use your right to deal .Feel alone ? getting less work ? no benefits no ,holidays? working alone in a dangerous area ?It is your right .

  9. Rev. Edward Schleter
    Rev. Edward Schleter says:

    Bishop Stowe
    Way to go!
    I had a man tell me that he did not think that the Common Good is an important goal of government.
    Thanks for your focus on the Common Good. If government is anything less an attempt to promote it, then it is not for all the people, but only an elite group.
    Peace to you and thanks. Fr. Ed Schleter

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