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.