In light of the Iowa Legislature’s debate on changes to the collective bargaining law for public employees, the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) has again released its statement on “Labor and the Common Good” issued in 2011. Created in response to previous efforts to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions, the statement recalls the Church’s teaching on the common good and the rights of workers. The statement has been sent to all legislators and the governor. This statement reflects the teachings of the Catholic Church beginning with Pope Leo in 1891 and the writings of Pope Pius XI, St. John XXIII, Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Benedict and Francis.

While the Iowa Catholic Conference has taken a neutral position on the overall 68-page legislation, the bishops are concerned about provisions which limit the items that can be bargained as well as what an arbitrator can award for a pay raise. The bill, House File 291, was signed by the governor on Feb 17.

The bishops affirm unions’ role in helping workers receive fair pay and benefits and improved working conditions. This can help set standards for workers in other situations.

“It’s important to remember that the benefits many of us enjoy today are the result of negotiations between unions and management,” said Bishop Richard Pates of the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines. “It is safe to assert, I believe, that ‘compensation’ today includes not just the money in the pay envelope but items like healthcare insurance, paid vacations, a 40 hour work week, a minimum wage, retirement considerations and disability insurance. The bills being proposed make substantial changes to what can be negotiated in terms of benefits and even additional dollar compensation. They are also selective in terms of whom the terms of the proposed legislation apply to.”

The bishops also acknowledge the challenges the government faces in balancing its budget.

“Legislators are being called to make prudential judgments about the current economic situation we face in the state,” said Bishop Pates. “Our request is that legislators carefully consider the implications of this bill and evaluate every section in terms of its impact on the common good of all and at the same time the long accepted understanding of workers’ rights.”

Bishop Pates is the chair of the Iowa Catholic Conference board. The Iowa Catholic Conference is the public policy voice of the Catholic bishops of Iowa. Its Board of Directors includes the Catholic bishops of Iowa and lay people, priests, deacons and religious sisters. The diocesan bishops of Iowa are Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City; Bishop Martin Amos of Davenport, and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines.