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Bishops weigh in on SCOTUS union case and workers' rights

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Jun 29, 2018 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A US Supreme Court decision striking down mandatory fees paid to public-sector unions undermines workers’ collective rights and can’t be squared with Catholic teaching, including Benedict XVI’s encyclicals, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has said.

“It is disappointing that today’s Supreme Court ruling renders the long-held view of so many bishops constitutionally out-of-bounds, and threatens to ‘limit the freedom or negotiating capacity of labor unions’,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said June 27.

Bishop Dewane drew on the 25th paragraph of Benedict’s 2009 encyclical on integral human development in charity and truth, Caritas in veritate, to object to limits on labor unions’ freedom.

“By reading the First Amendment to invalidate agency fee provisions in public-sector collective bargaining agreements, the Court has determined – nationwide, and almost irrevocably – that all government work places shall be ‘right-to-work’,” said the bishop.

The outlawing of these agency fee agreements means that state and federal legislatures should explore alternative means “for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights,” Bishop DeWayne said, again citing Caritas in veritate.

However, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois took a different view, saying he finds it “encouraging” that the Supreme Court “upholds the right to be free from coercion in speech.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">It is encouraging that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFCSME upholds the right to be free from coercion in speech. No longer will public sector employees be required pay dues to support unions that promote abortion and other political issues with which they disagree.</p>&mdash; Bishop Paprocki (@BishopPaprocki) <a href="">June 28, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Commenting in a June 28 post on Twitter, Paprocki, depicting the agency fees as dues, said that “no longer will public sector employees be required pay dues to support unions that promote abortion and other political issues with which they disagree.”

The 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME struck down a 1997 Illinois law that required non-union workers to pay fees for collective bargaining.

The plaintiff in the case, Mark Janus, is an Illinois state employee who sued the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). He contended that mandatory “agency fees” paid to the union for contract negotiations violate his free speech because the union takes actions with which he does not agree, the Washington Post reports.

These fees are not used for political purposes, but his lawyers argue that the unions’ lobbying efforts are political acts.

In a Feb. 26 essay in USA Today, Janus said the union uses his monthly fees “to promote an agenda I don’t support.” He objected to the legislation supported by the union’s lobbying arm and to politicians supported by its political arm.

The court considered the constitutionality of “fair share” or “agency” fees, SCOTUSblog reporter Amy Howe said in a June 27 opinion analysis. The decision overturned the 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

The majority opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, ruled that the mandatory agency fees violate the First Amendment. The fees mean public employees who are not union members pay for “unspecified” lobbying expenses and other services that may benefit them. This purpose is “broad enough to encompass just about anything that the union might choose to do” and if a non-member wanted to challenge a fee it would be a “laborious and difficult task” given that it is hard to distinguish what expenses non-members are required to pay and which they are not.

Alito said that the legal and economic environment has changed, with public spending, including public employee wages, benefits and pensions, showing “mounting costs.” These changes give collective bargaining a political significance that might not have been present when such fees were upheld by the Supreme Court.

Despite burdens on unions, Alito said, there have been “many billions of dollars” taken from non-members and transferred to public sector unions “in violation of the First Amendment.”

Justice Elena Kagan, who authored the main dissent, said previous legal precedent “struck a stable balance between public employees’ First Amendment rights and government entities’ interests in running their workforces as they thought proper.” Over 20 states have statutory schemes based on the precedent, she said, charging that the majority of justices acted “with no real clue of what will happen next – of how its action will alter public-sector labor relations.”

“It does so even though the government services affected – policing, firefighting, teaching, transportation, sanitation (and more) – affect the quality of life of tens of millions of Americans,” Kagan said.

Janus was represented by the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

His case also had the support of the Becket Fund, whose own amicus brief argued that allowing government workers to opt-out of mandatory union payments protects their freedom of speech and religious freedom.

The legal group, which focuses on religious liberty concerns, argued that giving power to unions to force employees to support speech with which they disagree was a form of “coercion laundering” in which the law uses non-government organizations to coerce.

In a case summary on its website, Becket said the case could have ramifications for religious colleges and universities under private accrediting agencies that could use delegated government authority to infringe on their religious speech and practices.

The Office of General Counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed its own amicus brief in the case. It said that “right-to-work” laws eliminate the clauses that prevent “free riders” who benefit from union contracts without paying for union membership. Eliminating these clauses “dramatically weakens” unions and their bargaining power on workers’ behalf, the brief objected.

The brief cited the Church’s strong commitments to protect both the poor and vulnerable from exploitation, and to protect the right of association from governmental infringement. It invoked the Church's historic, consistent support for workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. The brief cited repeated papal calls since Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical on capital and labor, Rerum novarum, to promote “workers’ associations that can defend their rights.”

The USCCB's brief advocated that the court 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.”

At the time, Bishop Paprocki objected to some news coverage of the case that depicted the legal brief as a position adopted by the U.S. bishops.

“In fact, no vote was taken on whether to file such a brief,” he said Feb. 13. “While church teaching clearly supports freedom of association and the right to form and join a union, it does not mandate coercing people to join a union or pay dues against their will.”

For Paprocki, the question of whether rights of association and free speech are helped or hurt by mandatory dues is “a matter of prudential judgment on which reasonable people can disagree as to whether the rights of association and free speech are helped or hindered by mandatory union dues.”  

A May study from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute predicted that a decision in favor of Janus would mean a loss of over 700,000 members from public-sector unions and a wage decline of several percentage points for public sector employees.

Teachers’ unions could be “permanently crippled” by the decision, the journal Education Next reported, though the decision could provide an impetus for other changes.

A loss in teachers’ unions membership could result in a decline in revenues and ability to affect policy. The National Education Association has planned a 13 percent cut for its two-year budget, totaling about $50 million, with its estimated membership losses of 300,000 people, about 10 percent.

Reversing Roe should be the beginning – not the end – for pro-lifers

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 15:42

Washington D.C., Jun 29, 2018 / 01:42 pm (CNA).- The announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement has prompted elation from pro-life groups, who are hopeful that the addition of a pro-life justice to the nation’s high court will be enough to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide.

But if Roe is overturned, and individual states then outlaw abortion, as pro-life advocates hope, then what?

Making abortion illegal is an important goal, and a critical first step for building a culture of life. But it’s a first step. We must also address a culture that accepts a lie about the connection between human sexuality and pregnancy, and then fails to support women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant. For the millions of women who have been offered the false promise of contraception their whole lives, more is needed.

For a half-century, the false promise of contraception has been embraced by American women. It is unfathomable to them that they would not be in total control over their reproductive lives.

Even many advocates against abortion have embraced the idea that contraception gives women control over conception.

The problem is, it’s not true. Contraception does not guarantee sex without the possibility of conception. The reality is, sex always brings with it the possibility of new life.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, half of all U.S. abortions are performed on women who were using contraception during the month that they became pregnant. Many of these women believed that they were acting responsibly. Many were even married. They had been told all their lives that faithfully popping a pill or inserting a device would “protect” them from an unintended pregnancy.

But they were wrong, and when they became pregnant – something that had not even been a possibility in their minds – they were left alone, panicked and vulnerable. Abortion is not the solution for these women. What is?

What is the solution for a woman whose health insurance doesn’t cover prenatal care, labor and delivery – as was the case for more than 80 percent of individual health care plans just a few years ago?

What is the solution for a woman trying to finish school, unsure whether her academic schedule will be able to accommodate a baby, and whether her budget will allow for babysitting, formula, and diapers?

What is the solution for a financially struggling woman whose employer does not offer a single day of maternity leave? U.S. employers are not required to offer paid parental leave. And in 2012, the majority of American workers did not qualify even for the unpaid leave offered under the Family Medical Leave Act.

These questions point to a serious cultural problem that the pro-life movement needs to remember: A worldview which assumes that women have total control over reproduction does not realize the necessity of supporting unplanned pregnancies.

Women say they choose abortion because they lack support. One recent study found that “the vast majority of women who have chosen abortion would not have done so if just one person would have supported them.”

How do we support an entire generation of women who have been told that they have a right to total control over their reproductive lives, and nothing should stand in the way of their reproductive choices?

They need to be told the truth about human sexuality. And they need to know that if they ever face an unplanned pregnancy, they will not be alone.

The potential reversal of Roe v. Wade presents opportunities – and obligations – to address these cultural deficits. The Church should make a renewed effort to promote its teaching on human sexuality in Humanae Vitae – the prophetic Church document on contraception that marks its 50th anniversary this year – and Theology of the Body.

Serious efforts should also be made to provide practical support for women in need. Groups like Students for Life already work to accompany women who find themselves scared and vulnerable in unexpected pregnancies – arranging babysitting, offering diapers and other necessities, and helping talk with professors about scheduling options. This work would be even more critical in a post-Roe era.

Adoption awareness and funding would also be key in offering women real alternatives to abortion. Pro-life groups should be on guard against initiatives that would create barriers to adoption – such as last year’s GOP tax proposal, which would have removed the adoption tax credit, making adoption impossible for many families.

Presenting a renewed understanding of human sexuality, and supporting pregnant women in need: This is the big picture that the pro-life movement must keep in mind. Overturning Roe v. Wade is not the end – it’s just the beginning.


Local leaders offer prayers after shooting at Annapolis newspaper

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 17:22

Baltimore, Md., Jun 28, 2018 / 03:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Baltimore offered their prayers for the victims and first responders of a shooting at an Annapolis newspaper on Thursday afternoon.

A suspect is in custody after an active shooter was reported at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland around 2:30 p.m. Eastern time. At least five people are dead and multiple others have serious injuries, according to police reports.

“We offer our prayers for the victims of today's shooting at the offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis and for the first responders on the scene,” the Archdiocese of Baltimore said on Twitter.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan also offered his prayers for the community and urged people to stay away from the area.

“Absolutely devastated to learn of this tragedy in Annapolis. I am in contact with County Executive Steve Schuh, and @MDSP [Maryland State Police] is on the scene assisting @AACOPD [Anne Arundel County Police Department]. Please, heed all warnings and stay away from the area. Praying for those at the scene and for our community,” Hogan said in a tweet.

“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you're under your desk and then hear the gunman reload,” Phil Davis, a reporter at the newspaper, said on Twitter.

The Capital Gazette is a local, daily newspaper and website owned by the Baltimore Sun Media Group.

Minn. archbishop: No plans for parish appeals to fund abuse settlement

Thu, 06/28/2018 - 15:01

St. Paul, Minn., Jun 28, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis said Wednesday there are no plans for additional parish appeals to fund a proposed $210 million settlement for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

In a June 27 radio interview with MPR News, Hedba told host Kerri Miller that most of the settlement money - $170 million - would come from the archdiocese’s insurance and from money already collected from parish appeals.

Parishes will likely not be responsible for the remainder of the money, he said, though some have voluntarily given donations.

"It's not like we're going to be making an additional appeal – at least at this point, that's not part of the plan," he told MPR News. "Certainly, we've already been hearing from people that desire to be part of this, who recognize the responsibility of the church at large for the situation."

After more than two years’ deliberation, the $210 million settlement was announced by the archdiocese in May, and includes a plan for abuse compensation as well as for bringing the archdiocese out of bankruptcy. The amount is an increase of more than $50 million from the proposal that the archdiocese had originally submitted.

In January 2015, the archdiocese had filed for bankruptcy, saying many abuse claims had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

The initial plan proposed by the archdiocese included $156 million for survivors who filed claims. That plan would have drawn about $120 million in insurance settlements and $30 million from the archdiocese and some of its parishes. Victims’ attorneys said it was inadequate and did not include insurers and parishes sufficiently.

In January 2018, a federal bankruptcy judge ordered a return to mediation for all the parties involved.

Under the final plan, the majority of the money – about $170 million – comes from insurance carriers for the archdiocese and individual parishes. The other $40 million will come from diocesan and parish sources, such as cash-on-hand and the sale of interests in land.

Hebda told MPR News that while some Catholics are angry about the settlement, there are many “wonderful Catholic lay people” who are supportive of the archdiocese and are committed to helping the Church do better in the future when it comes to sexual abuse.

He also noted that the archdiocese has improved the way in which it addresses allegations, including the establishment of a review board that includes members who have survived past clergy abuse.

"Any time that there's any allegation that would come into the archdiocese, not only do we involve law enforcement, but we would also involve that review board," he told MPR. "The opportunities for anything other than transparency are minimal."