Being fiscally responsible and fair
By The Rev. Bryan N. Massingale
Feb. 28, 2011 | http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/117107323.html
Gov. Scott Walker is a preacher’s son. I’m hoping that he appreciates a good sermon.
As a Catholic priest and theologian, I believe it’s time for a moral lesson about why Walker’s efforts to eviscerate workers’ rights clashes with centuries of teaching from diverse faith traditions and why religious leaders are standing in solidarity with the teachers, nurses and first responders rallying in Madison.
Catholic social teaching and Judeo-Christian values insist that workers must have an effective voice in ensuring safe working conditions, just wages and reasonable benefits. These basic principles honor the dignity of work and promote economic fairness. These gains were not easily won and must be protected today.
History is stained with the sweat and blood of those who struggled to win labor rights many of us now take for granted. Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – to name just a few – all were inspired by their faith to stand with workers demanding living wages and working conditions consistent with human dignity.
Today, Pope Benedict XVI, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Protestant clergy and prominent Jewish leaders consistently remind us that unions and collective bargaining are vital to ensuring that our economy serves the common good, not simply a privileged few.
We need to move beyond false choices. Fiscal responsibility and basic fairness are not competing values. Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said it well in a recent statement: “Hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.” Yes, these are difficult times that call for shared sacrifice. It’s unacceptable to ignore deficits, and prudent stewardship of public resources is simple common sense. But when the governor offers huge corporate tax breaks to some, yet refuses to even negotiate with tax-paying workers, this violates the principles of shared sacrifice and fiscal common sense. It’s both immoral and fiscally irresponsible to ask those who teach our children, protect our communities and care for our sick loved ones to bear the greatest burden and give up basic rights that have provided economic opportunity for generations.
What’s at stake now transcends politics and the debate over balancing budgets. This struggle is about preserving the possibility of a decent livelihood for those who work hard and play by the rules. In fact, the unions already have agreed to concessions in wages and benefits.
So instead of investing in those who educate our kids and keep our communities strong, Walker ‘s insistence that they also surrender effective union representation does nothing to balance the budget. It will only make it more difficult for families to send children to college, pay their medical bills and save for the future. This will hurt us all for years to come.
Our nation has always been strongest when we work together to overcome challenges. I hope the values that have inspired people of faith for generations move Walker and other public officials to put the common good before special interests.
The Rev. Bryan N. Massingale is associate professor of theological ethics at Marquette University . He is past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America .
(Special Thanks to Sister Barbara Pfarr)