The Common Good

A Fairness Issue

Sojomail - March 12, 2009


I believed as sincerely as American officers do now that we were fighting there to help make our country safer. After the war, as a politician, I could see this war had been pointless.

- Retired Russian Gen. Pavel Grachev, who later became defense minister, recently interviewed about the parallels he sees betweent the Soviet war in Afghanistan and current U.S. and NATO involvement there. Grachev also advised: Post soldiers to guard road projects and irrigation systems, and send in an army of engineers, doctors, mining experts, and construction advisers. According to him, pouring billions of dollars into infrastructure would be a lot more productive than firefights in far-flung villages. (Source: McClatchy)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

A Fairness Issue

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“Without justice, what are kingdoms but bands of robbers?”
– St. Augustine

I was surprised when Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) opened up his remarks before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee with those words from the great fourth century Christian theologian. Senator Casey is a committed Catholic and spoke during the hearing from a deep commitment to the “common good” in support of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

The bill is contentious to say the least. Earlier this week, a Politico headline ran “Union Bill Creates Jobs -- for GOP Ops.” Big business and unions have already spent and will continue to spend tens of millions of dollars in opposition to and support of the bill. The details of the bill will be debated, revised, and compromised over the course of this battle. I testified before the Senate HELP Committee this week in support of the bill, but my remarks did not focus on the technical policy aspects of the legislation, but rather on the underlying moral precepts that the bill attempts to address.

The relationship between employer and employee is broken:

In 1965, U.S. CEOs at major companies made 24 times a worker's pay -- by 2004, CEOs earned 431 times the pay of an average worker. From 1995 to 2005, average CEO pay increased five times faster than that of average workers. While CEO pay continues to increase at rates far exceeding inflation, wages for the vast majority of American workers have failed to keep up with rising prices. In fact, real wages for the 90% of Americans who earn under $92,000 a year have actually fallen since 2001.

This is a fairness issue. The system of employee-employer relations is fundamentally lopsided. There’s a need to level the playing field, to redress a great imbalance. When a system is in such fundamental imbalance, it is our obligation on both sides of the aisle to remedy that. While the details of the legislation are worked and reworked, these fundamental questions of relationships between employer and employee, management and labor, must be addressed.

Twenty years ago, in their pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All,” the U.S. Catholic Bishops wrote:

The way power is distributed in a free market economy frequently gives employers greater bargaining power than employees in the negotiation of labor contracts. ... The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions. ... In the words of Pope John Paul II, ‘The experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrial societies.’ ... No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself.

My dad worked for Detroit Edison when I was growing up and was often involved with the labor negotiations at the company, not on the labor side, but on the management side. He was often preferred by both sides to be at the table of those tough contract and workplace issues negotiations. Why? Because he recognized the value of unions even if he didn’t agree with their every demand. And he believed a cooperative relationship between labor and management was better than a constantly contentious one. He knew that a good relationship between management and labor was essential to a stable and productive workforce and economy, and that union organizing and leadership helped contribute to that. Things have changed since then, but the principles of cooperation that I learned from my dad's work with unions, that management and labor can be partners and not just antagonists, needs to be restored. And the great chasm that has now grown between CEO salaries and that of average workers, I know, would have appalled and offended my father.

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List of the Best Resources for Social Change

Have you been wanting to brush up on your reading? Looking to add some new movies to your must-see list? Then check out this list of the best resources for social change, compiled by the editors of Sojourners. Though this is not conclusive, it is a very comprehensive compilation of some of the best books, films, and training materials for making social change happen.

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Introduction of bill restoring the right to organize signals beggining of end of economic downturn
Jim Wallis, president and executive director of Sojourners, said the growth of economic inequality, employer abuses and the erosion of the dignity of work are serious moral issues. He pointed to the Employee Free Choice Act and the freedom to bargain as a way to build the common good in this country, a critical issue to the faith community. +Click to continue

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