Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich blasted laws Thursday which allow workers to choice whether they want to pay union dues — arguing weaker unions hurt the poor.
Cupich spoke to members of the Chicago Journeyman Plumbers Local 130. He argued reining in union power will hurt the working poor. Though not mentioning him by name, Cupich directed his scorn towards policies pursued by Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Primarily his attempts to ban mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The policy, known as right-to-work, has already passed in 25 states.
“History has shown that a society with a healthy, effective and responsible labor movement is a better place than one where other powerful economic interests have their way,” Cupich said according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “And the voices and rights of workers are diminished.”
Rauner has been in a tough spot when it comes to implementing right-to-work. In May, Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan gave Rauner a week to submit a bill if he wants a vote on the policy. Rauner, though, failed to meet the deadline.
“The church is duty-bound to challenge such efforts, by raising questions based on long-standing principles,” Cupich also noted. “Do such laws protect the weak and the vulnerable? Do they promote the dignity of work, the rights of workers? Do they promote a more just society?”
Right-to-work laws, however, do not ban unions or prevent workers from freely joining them. It simply means workers have the choice not to pay dues. Nevertheless, union supporters often claim diminishing their power hurts wages, benefits and safety standards.
The problem is, not all economists are in agreement that such claims are true. The disagreement has recently played out in a policy dispute between the Heritage Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). While EPI claims workers in right-to-work states get paid less on average, Heritage argues the assertion is misleading. According to Heritage, EPI needs to adjust for cost of living. Once that is factored in, the difference in wages disappears. Essentially, right-to-work states may have lower wages but it costs less to live in them.
It is also not completely true that unions keep safety standards up. The labor movement did indeed help historically to bring fundamental workplace protections. Nowadays, though, such protections are provided or required by the government.
Rauner has also advocated for a localized version of right-to-work. Though it is normally seen as a states’ rights issue, the idea of cities or counties deciding whether to implement it on their own has grown in popularity recently. Warren County in Kentucky led the way back in December. In May, Rauner even pitched the idea to the city council in Chicago.
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