Over the past 200 years, the Catholic Church has consistently supported labor unions and the rights of workers to organize. Pope Leo XIII in 1891 wrote a groundbreaking encyclical, “Rerum Novarum” which argued that a worker had a right to a wage sufficient to support the worker and his or her family.
The workers’ rights also extended, said Pope Leo, to reasonable hours, rest periods, health safeguards, and a decent work environment. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical on labor, “Laborem Exercens” (1981) asserted that: “There is a need for ever new movements of solidarity of the workers and with the workers…The Church is firmly committed to this cause, for it considers it to be its mission, its service, a proof of its fidelity to Christ…”
This unique relationship between the labor movement and the Catholic Church has decreased over the years because of the public support some union leaders have given to promoting divisive social issues. That is the case here in Rhode Island where the Rhode Island Chapter of the AFL-CIO recently lent its support to the proponents of same-sex marriage. In a very deliberate way, AFL-CIO President George Nee and other union leaders entered into the debate on a very divisive social issue and in this case they have chosen to support the radical social experiment commonly called same-sex marriage.
Unfortunately, Rhode Island has the fourth highest unemployment rate —11.2 percent—in the United States, according to the latest seasonally adjusted figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sadly, the state’s labor leaders are focusing their efforts on social experimentation rather than putting good men and women back to work, many of whom are struggling to provide for their families.
The campaign to redefine marriage that has dominated the State House agenda of late has little to do with the union charge of fighting for just wages, protecting workers’ benefits, ensuring safe work environments, defending workers’ rights and creating good jobs. The church has stood with labor in steadfastly supporting workers’ rights and just wages since the very beginning of the labor movement in our nation. However, this radical departure from the fundamental duty of union leadership to advocate on behalf of the working men and women of Rhode Island is a slap in the face not only to the Catholic Church but to the many Catholics and other people of conscience who oppose same-sex marriage who make up the vast membership of the RI AFL-CIO.
The dues paying members of the RI AFL-CIO would be wise to question the actions of a few union leaders who seem more interested in steering union dues to promote a radical gay agenda than in creating jobs, protecting pensions, and fixing the failing economy of our state. We are left only to say, shame on George Nee and the RI AFL-CIO leadership for corrupting the labor movement with their unabashedly radical social agenda that does little for the ordinary RI worker but more for their reputation in the liberal salons of the statehouse.