Oregon Coalition for Christian Voices
Policy Statement on Labor Unions and Collective Bargaining
The over-arching theme of all scripture is about how God intends for us to live together, how we, created in His image, are to be in relationship with each other. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God’s concerns are that our government and economic structures promote community by preserving the health and dignity of all, providing the opportunity for all to flourish, and assuring that the abundance He has created is shared by all. The Old Testament prophets reserved their harshest judgments for those in authority who enriched themselves at the expense of others, who neglected the poor, and who used their power to take advantage of their workers and those most at risk in society.
OCCV believes that unions can be a corrective force for assuring the God-giving dignity of employees, and giving them a voice in the workplace. We have a consumer, profit driven economic system, where even the best employers, in paying attention to their bottom line, can make decisions that disadvantage their workers, marginalizing their voices and their legitimate concerns. And, while workers are certainly concerned about pay and safe working conditions, Edward Luce in his book The Retreat of Western Liberalism, states, “In survey after survey, the biggest employee complaint is being treated with a lack of respect..they feel diminished by how they are treated.” Unions can provide a mediating function, a way for workers to be heard, and to participate in the working conditions that profoundly affect them. We believe that when unions are providing that function, they are truly doing God’s work, of restoring dignity and agency to employees.
Further, the well documented rise in income inequality over the last few decades has been shown to have a direct correlation with the decline of labor unions. (Emin Dinerslov and Jeremy Greenwood, “The Rise and Fall of Unions in the US”). Charles Gutenson, in his book, Christians and the Common Good writes this: “God intends for human economies to be structured so that there will be no poor. God intends for everyone to have ‘enough’ (ready access to life’s necessities) and for no one to have an overabundance.” Gutenson clarifies that this does not mean God expects everyone to have exactly the same, but does expect that systems are in place to assure everyone has enough. We believe unions can be a necessary corrective to preventing further erosion in worker rights and pay.
Most of the major Christian denominations in the U.S. strongly support the right of workers to organize, and to participate in collective bargaining on their own behalf. To quote a few, the Church of the Brethren states: “Laborers are always to be regarded as persons and never as a commodity. Industry was made for man, and not man for industry. Employees as well as employers have the right to organize themselves into a union for wage negotiations and collective bargaining.” A statement by the U.S. Bishops of the Catholic Church says, “All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions, as well as to organize and join unions or other associations.” In their Principles of Vocation and Work, the Presbyterian Church (USA) writes, “Justice demands that social institutions guarantee all persons the opportunity to participate actively in economic decision-making that affects them.”
As people of faith, we are acutely aware of our own fallen nature and the allure to accumulate more, which often comes at the expense of those without. We believe unions are crucial to standing up for those who have a God-ordained right to a living wage, safe working conditions, and the dignity of having a voice in the workplace. We acknowledge that unions are not perfect, and we may disagree with some of their strategies, but without the formal structure established by unions and the collective bargaining process, employees are at the mercy of the employer, who may or may not be attuned to their legitimate concerns. As people of faith we stand in support of labor unions, believing that we share the common goals of bringing justice, dignity and healing to a broken world.
For more information about the partnership between people of faith and labor unions go to the Interfaith Worker Justice website, www.jwj.org.