On February 26, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that will in all likelihood impose a “right-to-work” legal regime on the entire U.S. public sector. Such a ruling would have a devastating impact to public-sector unions and the employees they represent. Unions will be forced to represent members who do not contribute union dues, which will drain the financial resources needed to advocate for better working conditions. This shortfall will in turn lead many union members to forego their membership altogether.
The Catholic Church has been a loud and consistent advocate for labor unions since even before the the 20th century. It has long extolled the importance of living wages and worker rights, emphasizing unions’ ability to achieve them through collective bargaining. This past summer, Pope Francis described labor as a “prophetic” movement that “gives a voice to those who have none, denounces those who would ‘sell the needy for a pair of sandals’ (cf. Amos 2: 6), unmasks the powerful who trample the rights of the most vulnerable workers, [and] defends the cause of the foreigner, the least, the discarded.”
In keeping with this tradition, the Catholic Bishops filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court not to suppress the right of workers to organize by imposing “right-to-work” rule in the public sector. It further warns against a ruling that could similarly impact workers in the private sector.
SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT
The Catholic bishops of the United States have long and consistently supported the right of workers to organize for purposes of collective bargaining. Because this right is substantially weakened by so-called “right-to-work” laws, many bishops—in their dioceses, through their state conferences, and through their national conference—have opposed or cast doubt on such laws, and no U.S. bishop has expressed support for them.
No one other than amicus and its counsel authored any part of this brief or made a monetary contribution to fund its preparation or submission. All parties have consented to its filing in communications on file with the Clerk. Petitioner invites this Court to constitutionalize the “right-to-work” position—instantly, without exception, for all fifty states, almost irreversibly—in the public sector. Petitioner’s proposed rationale for this dramatic move appears designed to lay the foundation for a still more dramatic one: constitutionalizing, in a subsequent case, the “right-to-work” rule in the private sector as well.
The Court should decline this invitation. It should leave constitutional space for the public policy position supported for so long by so many bishops and bishop-led institutions, rather than declare still another such position outside the bounds of what policymakers are permitted to implement by law. See, e.g., Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015) (definition of marriage); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) (prohibition of abortion). By its decision in this case, the Court should not only preserve that room for debate as to the public-sector context now, but avoid any threats to it in the private-sector context in the future.
We encourage you to read the amicus brief in its entirety. It is a testament to the essential role of labor unions in advancing the common good and nurturing an ethic of solidarity in our society.