The Right to Unionize

A Basic Catholic Principle

There are few economic issues on which Catholic social teaching is clearer than it is on the value of organized labor. In the church’s view, unions are both an expression of workers’ associative rights and an indispensable counterbalance to employer power. Strong unions increase the likelihood that employees will get their fair share of the economic pie, reducing the need for state intervention in the economy. For the past thirty years, the ability of the American labor movement to serve that protective role has diminished, as private-sector unionization has steadily eroded. Democrats in Congress are seeking a way to make it easier for workers to join unions and thereby, perhaps, help resuscitate this vital force for economic justice.

Employers use all sorts of coercive tactics to prevent private-sector unionization. The new Democratic majority has wasted no time introducing legislation to change the way unions are certified. Called the “card check” bill, the legislation has already passed in the House of Representatives and must now overcome Republican opposition in the Senate and a threatened presidential veto. If it were to become law, it would permit the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to certify a union as soon as a majority of workers at a plant signed cards authorizing it.

As the law now stands, faced with such a signature-card majority, employers can demand that the NLRB hold...

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About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.