Labor and Conscience

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly



Labor and Conscience


            Every now and then a parishioner comes to me with a moral question that arises in their workplace. Recently a young man in my parish came to me with such a problem.

He works for the international headquarters of a large labor union which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

            He had received a memo from the women's department of his union asking him to join an organization called The Coalition of Labor Union Women.  Its stated purpose is the promotion of the rights of working women through the political process.  The Coalition supports many laudable things; including such things as more liberal parental and family leave, child care, universal health care, the organization of unrepresented women, an end to sweatshops, and a higher minimum wage.  All of these issues are strongly supported by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

But on the list of Coalition activities is the support of what they call "reproductive freedom", a euphemism for abortion. 

Basically the Coalition is like many other Washington-based pressure groups.  Their strength depends upon having a large membership roster, which they can point to when claiming support for their agenda.  They also benefit from the dues that each of their members must pay.

My parishioner did not want to lend his name or his money, in any way to the promotion of abortion.  He did not want to allow himself to be a statistic in their membership roster.  It is a matter of religious conscience.  He rightly regards abortion as a grave moral evil.  Moreover, he also does not see why the promotion of abortion should be any part of the goals of an organization of labor union women. 

 He decided to stuff the memo in a drawer and forget about it figuring that his bosses  would forget about him.  He was wrong.

            A follow up memo was sent out. It urged everyone to join, saying that issue had the "full support" of the international head of the union.   The memo also said that the union had endorsed the Coalition and expected 100% employee participation.

            The issue was raised at a meeting of union management at which my parishioner was present.   The head of the union asked for the names of the employees who had not yet joined and said he would follow up.

            My parishioner went to see the head of the women's department.  He told her of his objections.    He came away thinking that she had agreed with him and that he would not be expected to join.  He was wrong.   Not long after he got another memo.  Everyone was expected to join.

            He came to see me in a quandary.  It seemed that he was being forced to choose --- his religious conscience or his job.

            This kind of pressure is an outrage. 

It violates his right to religious liberty.  It also violates his right to freedom of association.

Both rights are fundamental human rights.  They are guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution and the U. N. Declaration on Human Rights.  They are also an important part of the social teaching of the Catholic Church.  No one should be asked to violate his religious conscience as a condition of employment.  No one should be forced to join an organization against his will, especially when that organization will claim that  its members endorse their views.

Any organization that has to coerce membership to pump up its numbers cannot really be representative or very influential anyway. 

No employer, especially a labor union that stands for the protection of workers rights, should force employees to join political organizations as a condition of employment.

It amazes me that a labor union would have so little regard for the religious opinion of Catholics. 

Over the years the Catholic Church has generally been a friend to the labor movement in the United States.   Catholics have a right to expect that labor unions will return the favor and respect their religious rights.