Catholic Bishops push for 'common good' in collective bargaining

Prod lawmakers to balance worker rights with public budgets

Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque talks Tuesday with Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, at the state Capitol in Des Moines. (Photo by Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque talks Tuesday with Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, at the state Capitol in Des Moines. (Photo by Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — There was no divine intervention Tuesday at the Statehouse, but it came close as four Catholic bishops pressed the GOP-led Legislature and Gov. Terry Branstad to consider “the common good” in making changes to collective bargaining rules that limit some rights of public workers.

Iowa’s diocesan bishops — Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City; Bishop Martin Amos of Davenport; and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines — walked a fine political line by declaring neutrality on House File 291 and Senate File 213 but making clear that Catholic social teaching supports the rights of workers.

“We’re kind of in the middle because we can see good on both sides,” Nickless said.

The bishops made their annual sojourn to the Statehouse on the day the House and Senate began debate on like bills to revamp Iowa’s 1974 collective bargaining law. They used the occasion to push for moderation by both political parties to act in the best interests of families and communities.

“What we are really looking for is the common good that benefits everybody,” said Pates, saying that requires balancing the limitations on public finances with the rights of workers to form unions and negotiate.

Last week, the Iowa Catholic Conference issued an official statement that was sent to Branstad, a Catholic, and every legislator expressing concern about provisions of the 68-page measure that would limit the topics that can be negotiated s well as what an arbitrator can award for a pay raise.

The bishops also affirmed the role of labor unions in helping workers receive fair pay and benefits and improved working conditions.

Pates, who offered the morning prayer at the start of House proceedings by referencing the teachings of St. Thomas of Aquinas that “in the middle stands virtue,” said he did not get a lot of feedback from majority Republicans other than “they’re listening. They haven’t been too specific in their reactions.”

Jackels conceded there is “a lot of power” when both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office are held by one political party. But he noted there are “two other powers above that: God and the power of the people.”

Jackels said he understands the political “drama in this building” but added he “would hope the governor would be swayed by reason and by the common good, and, if he were, I can’t think how reason and the common good could lead you to support this bill.”

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