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March 1, 2011

The Moral Components of the Wisconsin Labor Stalemate

The political stalemate in Wisconsin is entering its third week. One side includes the newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker and Republicans state legislators who are seeking to pass a law that would reduce the wages and benefits of public employees and cut back on their collective bargaining rights. The other side includes public unions who are rallying in Madison and Democrats in the state Senate, who fled the capital, a strategy that keeps the Senate one vote short of a quorum.

With little movement by either side, the political fight has been mostly rhetorical volleys wrapped in religious and moral language.

In an interview with CBN's David Brody, House Speaker John Boehner compared public sector unions in the states to hostage takers.

“In some of these states you’ve got collective bargaining laws that are so weighted in favor of the public employees that there’s almost no bargaining. We’ve given them a machine gun and put it right at the heads of the local officials and they really have their hands tied,” said Boehner.   

But one person's hostage taker is another's faithful crusader. Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry told Faith in Public Life, "Faith is the lifeline that gives me courage to act.” Henry also praised faith leaders who are supporting the labor unions. Some of these religious leaders went so far as to offer Senate Democrats “sanctuary” within their houses of worship as they avoid the quorum vote.

But while the left invokes the ancient right of “sanctuary,” the right sees the relationship between the government and public unions as sinister pact. American Family Radio's Crane Durham said, “State governments are facing budget crises because they have made this Faustian bargain with unions (i.e. votes for job protection) which inevitably leads to the incumbent’s political ouster, failing institutions and broken contracts.”

Sojourners president Jim Wallis questioned the sincerity of the claim that the union bill was driven by a need to balance the state budget.

“[Walker] says he only really cares about his budget deficit; however, it now appears that he proudly sees himself as the first domino in a new strategy for Republican governors to break their public employee unions,” Wallis said. “Governor Walker’s proposed bill is really more about his ideological commitments and conservative politics — which favor business over labor — than about his concern for Wisconsin’s financial health.”

Diane Singer of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview criticized the tactics labor unions are using in Wisconsin. Citing a list of sins hated by God (Proverbs 6:16-19), Singer chastised teachers for choosing “cowardly, narcissistic and dishonest actions” that placed the costs of their protests on the backs of children.

“What's happening in Wisconsin is just the beginning of such laws and such protests, as Americans must face the 'butcher's bill' for decades of deficit spending. The solutions are not going to be painless, and we are all going to need far more wisdom and compassion, and far less selfishness, if we are to survive as a nation,” Singer said. “We won't have the wisdom we need from God if we have put ourselves outside His will by committing the sins He most despises, the sins that will only lead this nation to anarchy.”

Evangelical activists are not new to fights over public sector unions. A coalition of conservative groups lobbied against the “Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act.” Wendy Wright (Concerned Women for America), Gary Bauer (American Values), and Mathew Staver (Liberty Counsel) were some of the conservative leaders who signed a memo opposing the "Labor Union Power Grab Legislation." In 2007, this bill was passed by a wide bipartisan coalition in the House of Representatives, but stalled in the Senate due to procedural maneuvers by some Republicans. In 2009, the bill was reintroduced, but it did not make it out of committee. 


Of course. That would explain why clergymen from all denominations and faiths assembled Sunday in support of the Wisconsin protesters. They must all be sinners. Your article has nothing to do with religion, but power. What would Jesus do? Well, you don't care because you do not believe.

Unions used to be called "guilds." They are tools of cooperation by a group of people to be able to negotiate fair practices. The existence of unions was largely supported by Evangelicals in the 19th and early 20th centuries because they were tools that allowed workers with little power to combine their voices to abolish child labor, reduce unfair and unsafe work environments, and demand fair wages. It is possible for a union to be too powerful. It's important for the union and the employers to have a balance of power.

But the public workers' union in Wisconsin AGREED TO ALL OF THE GOVERNOR'S CUTS in their contracts. The union members did what they were supposed to do: balance the interests of the members with the health of the company (government) for which they work. THERE WAS NO "POWER GRAB." Wisconsin governor Walker simply does not believe in unions, period. I will agree to disagree with him and stand with the union members who did the right thing and are now being punished for it.

Singer is WRONG when she equates union rights with sin. I'm astonished that anyone would countenance such a conflation. The union members were not being selfish. Where are the "wisdom" and "compassion" she speaks of? And bashing teachers? She lost me there.

Diane Singer is about my age, making her older, and she is a Christian. Ironically, Chuck Colson addressed the topic of older judgmental Christians in an article titled “Doctrinal Boot Camp” published by Christianity Today on February 21, 2011:

“Over the years I've grown concerned about Christians—especially younger ones—who express little interest in the basic doctrines of the faith. They don't want to appear to be dogmatic or judgmental. I can understand why; after all, as Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman pointed out in unChristian, we older evangelicals have often come across that way. But our failures [my emphasis] do not alter the fact that understanding and living by these doctrines are essential to, well, being Christians.”

What happened to the abysmal editorial that appeared yesterday on the CT web site?

The majority of Wisconsin voters made their decision in peaceful ballots last fall. The governor and legislature are doing the will of the majority. Clearly, the left has lost patience with democracy and wants a return to mob rule.

Politics is the art of compromise, and young Governor Walker needs to learn from President Reagan:

“When I began entering into the give and take of legislative bargaining in Sacramento, a lot of the most radical conservatives who had supported me during the election didn’t like it. Compromise was a dirty word to them and they wouldn’t face the fact that we couldn’t get all of what we wanted today. They wanted all or nothing and they wanted it all at once. If you don’t get it all, some said, don’t take anything. I’d learned while negotiating union contracts that you seldom got everything you asked for. And I agreed with FDR, who said in 1933: ‘I have no expectations of making a hit every time I come to bat. What I seek is the highest possible batting average.’” – An American Life

Pretty one-sided moral evaluation. What about the blatant unethical and Constitutional-rights-violating behavior of the governor? What about his favoratism toward non-tax paying large corporations in Wisconsin at the expense of the working people of the state with families? Wisconsinites, however, are not without blame. Many of them stayed home on election day when this travesty of a "public servant" ran for office.

P.S. I'm from Wisconsin

The key issue is not the public workers beig asked to 'sacrifice'; but that the governor wishes to kill collective bargaining, which gave the unions power to challenge the unjust practices of owners and big business. Public workers cannot expect total job security and ever rising wages; but what about the administrators and the wealthy? Where is the 'shared sacrifice?' With no collective bargaining, teachers and others (in an employers' job market) will have no choice but to accept whatever they are offered.

I have blogged about this regularly and I am glad that at least CT finally has an article on the issue on their blog, but I just can't get over the line saying that "the political fight has been mostly rhetorical volleys wrapped in religious and moral language." What is that analysis based on? Couldn't that be said about any statement? It is a nice way for the blogger to avoid having to take a side on this vital issue.

@ LNF, that is an inacurate concept of what Democracy is in the United States. We are a constotuational Democratic Republic. We are ruled by cosntotuted Law and principles that override and mandate certian lines of action, not by majority rule. Federal and State constitutional Law is written and set into place so long as its legally compato9ible with the constitution, not what a majority that could be wring wants. if we were a pure Democracy as you conceive, Civil Rights never would have been possible since the majority of Southern Whites would have voted against it, it was written into law because it was acknowledged that it is assumed in the Legal Principles of the Land and NOT subject to the whims of the majority. So with Economic Justice for workers and teachers, it is not a matter of what the majority wants, the law precludes that they have that right and the 'majority' has no say in that.

@Roger, you claim that Walker and the Republican legislature are simply doing what people voted for them to do. However, as has been shown over and over again, neither Walker nor any member of the State Leg ran on a platform of union busting. That is why 60% of Wisconsin voters are opposed to this, why if the election were held today, less than six months after the "real thing," Walker would loose, and why 48% of the electorate in Wisconsin are in favor of a recall election on Gov. Walker.

Also, I wonder how quick you were to defend the passage of Obama's healthcare reform package, which was exactly what he promised in the election that he won. Or how about his decision to get rid of DADT or DOMA, both policy changes that he ran on. If this mythical "left" that you think has no patience for democracy and want a return to "mob rule" can the same be said for the Tea Party?

At the end of the day, asking someone who makes $50,000 a year to take a 20% pay cut to close a deficit gap that is the result of the passage of a tax cut package that targeted corporations and the super-wealthy, while at the same time absolutely refusing to consider raising taxes on top earners by as small a percentage as 3-4% is wrong and immoral. It is time to get past a "left-right" game of political showmanship and realize that there are still moral imperatives, and that among these are how we treat the "least of these" in our society.

I live in Wisconsin and despise the polarization that has come with this issue. That's not to say that one can't have strong opinions, but the rhetoric I see and hear even in this thread moves from arguments of fact to wrangling for position and power play. Can I see why someone supporting the unions in this case might truly believe that they are supporting essential rights of workers against oppression? and that they can rightly point to necessary and heroic rights won by union sacrifice in the past that benefit all of us? Yes -- though, unfortunately, I've not seen much conservative acknowledgement of these things. Can a union supporter understand why I'm concerned about the financial conflict of interest inherent in a system where a group of citizens, hired for the benefit of all and paid out of the pockets of all, with direct recourse to constitutional political means to address concerns with their employer that others do not have, also have the ability to influence policy through collective bargaining tactics in addition to a highly effective and lucrative political machine that directly benefits those politicians who act in their interest? or my perception that noble actions in the past (or even sincerity now) don't automatically hallow current positions and efforts? I don't know -- to tell you the truth, I've seen blessed little that would indicate they do.

There are serious and legitimate concerns on both sides. But maybe the "Christian" position is more in how we approach the debate and reach out in humility and understanding to those brothers and sisters IN CHRIST (which should trump all other allegiances) rather than demonizing those who see things differently.

It would be far better for theo-political leftists to remain silent on issues they're unable or unwilling to understand.

Here are the facts. Wisconsin is facing a potential $3.6 billion shortfall for its next two-year budget cycle. Legislation introduced by Republican Scott Walker, who has been mercilessly demonized by angry leftists displaying incivility of the worst kind, is needed to close a $137 million budget gap in the current fiscal year.

While one can reasonably argue that there is an inherent conflict of interest in government workers' unions, the bill would allow most state workers to keep their bargaining rights on salaries. NONE of what Governor Walker has proposed has anything to do whatsoever with private sector unions.

Wisconsin Democrats are undermining the democratic process by cowardly fleeing to another state in order to avoid debating and voting on the bill. Demonstrators at the state capital are behaving like spoiled children who’ve had one of their many toys taken away. Were Republicans behaving in the same fashion they would have been vilified on the front pages of the New York Times for the last 3 weeks.

Public sector unions are anything but oppressed in Wisconsin. For example, the average benefits package for a Milwaukee teacher exceeds $100,000.00, significantly higher than teachers could dream of making in the private sector.

The public sector unions are operating in an environment where there is a clear conflict of interest: they’re negotiating with people to whom they’ve historically given huge amounts of money in order to get elected. That's why they have their current sweetheart deals. The taxpayers of Wisconsin, who make less than union teachers, cannot pay for these budget-busting deals.

As the light of day is increasingly shown on this situation intelligent, fair-minded people are going to oppose what these public sector unions and cowardly Wisconsin Democrats are doing.

The day I heard a "Minister" complaining, bellyaching and whining about Unions; that was the day I stopped giving to sustain his easygoing salary and the white elephant of the church building.

I'm sure he didn't mind, since my previous gifts were from a Union negociated salary. Needless to say we left that "church" a few weeks after.

The bank, the Utilities, the phone Co., the Supermarket, the local Mall etc. They are all very happy with what I'm able to buy and pay for with my Union negocitate Salary.


I write as a Wisconsin resident, an evangelical Christian, and a state employee. I represent a category of Wisconsin state employees that only recently was granted the right to organize and collectively bargain. That right has been essentially removed before our first contract was even negotiated. On Wednesday, March 9th, our Republican governor, an evangelical Christian, openly supported the use of questionably legal tactics (the charge of a violation of the state Open Meetings Law has already been made) to do what he has been denying he is trying to do: he and Republican lawmakers unbundled union-busting details from appropriations details in one bill to create a revised bill that vastly limits collective bargaining rights for public workers. The union-busting-laid-bare bill has passed.

Where are the Jeremiahs who point out the situational ethics of our Christian Wisconsin governor? Where are the Christian Republicans who will say, "The end, good fiscal stewardship, does not justify the means of dissembling and end-runs around laws designed to maintain openness in governance"? We Christian citizens must hold our Christian politicians to Biblical ethical standards, not be silent when they exercise the standard of "The other politicians are doing it so we can do it, too." Just because we "can" doesn't mean we "should."

The world does not need the witness of "clever Christians" who know how to manipulate the system and the rules to bring about the ends they want. The world needs Spirit-led Christians who understand the need to exhibit the Biblical ethics of honesty and servanthood, who resist the urge to stoop to shady manipulation, who recognize that it is better to lose a political fight because of Christ-like behavior than to win the fight on a questionably legal technicality.

Is it really fundamentally about money? Or is it fundamentally about honest stewardship, wise statesmanship, and Biblical standards? I would argue that for us Christians it is the latter. And I would argue that our Christian Wisconsin governor's recent behavior in office gives the appearance that he would disagree.

Excellent points, Cheryl B. Integrety SHOULD be at the heart of all that we Christians do, whether in politics or our daily lives.

We require those testifying in a court of law to pledge to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Sadly, in in our non-Justice System, that principal is violated the moment pledge is uttered, with the sanction of the court itself, allowing lawyers, for and against to cherry-pick "truth" that either suits their case or damages that of their opponent. We have no Justice System in this land, only a legal system built on competitive lying and half-truth-telling.

And sadly, we've made those practices a staple in our political arena too. Christian organizations and Christian candidates are as guilty as those who make no profession of faith, supporting, even paying for, political ads that manipulate the polulation with half-truth, innuendo, slander, and forgeries. Even more sadly, the most egregious of these, because of the moral standards they profess to believe in, are Evangelical Comservative Christians.

I've spent my 75 years in an Evangelical Church but am feeling more and more that it is not a place where one who upholds the morality expressed in the Sermon on the Mount can remain without tarnishing his/her soul. "Evangelical," after all, does not equal "Body of Christ."

The Badger State is my home--by choice. My line of work demands that I closely track what is going on in the so-called "political" world here. I am a Christian, believing salvation is solely by faith in Christ. My office is two blocks off the capitol square in Madison and I am in the capitol frequently. I've been an eyewitness to much of what has happened there since February 15, 2011, the day of the public hearing on the Budget Repair Bill.

As I have read the comments on this thread, I, quite frankly, am alarmed that Christians see collective bargaining as a "right." If a duly passed law by a duly elective legislature creates a "right," then ok; but I would vociferously argue that we are using words at best loosely and at worst improperly. Legislatures do not produce "rights." They legalize/standardize "privileges" that a given legislative body chooses to enact. Those "privileges" can be just as legally undone by a duly elected legislature that enacts a duly passed law. Legislatures can recognize and preserve true "rights"--those "natural law" rights that exist universally but are sometimes thwarted by human governments--rights such as life, personal freedom, and so on.

Of all people, Christians need to understand the difference between "rights" and "privileges"/"benefits." It's not an inconsequential matter.