Skip to main content

Bishop of Lexington: 'right to work' is false and designed to hurt unions

Berry Craig
Social share icons


AFT Local 1360

Count the Roman Catholic bishop of Lexington among opponents of a “right to work” law for Kentucky.

“I implore Kentucky legislators, at this new moment in the state’s history, to consider the well-being of working men and women in the state and to realize that strong labor unions lead to more fair negotiations which benefit all workers in the state,” the Most Rev. John Stowe wrote in an open letter today.

The Republican-majority Kentucky General Assembly seems on the verge of passing a RTW bill. RTW and prevailing wage repeal top GOP Gov. Matt Bevin’s agenda for this session of the legislature, which convened Tuesday.

HB 1, the RTW measure, and HB-3, PW repeal, passed out committee today. The Republicans command a 64-36 majority in the legislature’s lower chamber. The Senate is 27-11 Republican.   

“The weakening of unions by so-called ‘right to work’ laws, has been shown to reduce wages and benefits overall in the states where such laws have been enacted,” Stowe added. “This cannot be seen as contributing to the common good.”

Under RTW, employees at a workplace with a union can receive union-won wages and benefits without joining the union or paying the union a service fee to represent them.

Stowe said that “right to work” is a false term and that a RTW law “does not in fact create new rights to work, but rather strives to limit the effectiveness and power of the unions. When all workers benefit from the negotiations of the labor unions, through better wages and conditions, it is only just that the workers should participate by paying dues to the union that represents them in the workplace.”

Stowe also wrote that as a bishop, he represents “a Church community with a long tradition of social teaching. Our social doctrine is a means of applying the principles of our Christian faith to the better ordering of society.”

He said that “social teaching is rooted in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures and the Tradition of passing on that faith and its principles through 2,000 years. When we address the public good, and engage in the democratic process, it is with the intention of promoting the common good, that is, the well-being of all people.”

In addition, Stowe wrote that “the dignity of work and the rights of workers are critical to our approach to economic issues and laws. Workers cannot be treated merely as a means for corporate profit and production, but must be seen as autonomous human beings who contribute to the common good through their work.”

The bishop cited Pope Leo XIII’s 1897 Rerum Novarumencyclical which stressed “the dignity and rights of workers, and in particular affirms the rights of workers to organize for the protection of their just rights.

“Among those rights are the right to decent wages and safe working conditions. In Catholic teaching, unions are described as an indispensable element of social life. Unions are to promote solidarity among workers. They are essential for economic justice and to protect the rights of workers.”

Stowe said that when the Catholic Church addresses “the moral dimension of public issues” it is “always mindful of the effects of laws and decisions on the most vulnerable members of the population. When we address economic issues, it is from the perspective that economy is not an end in itself, but is to serve people and help them to flourish. The good of the human person is at the center of all economic activities.”