The Slope, It Is So Slippery

[Content Note: Union-busting; war on agency.]

See, the thing is, some closely held corporations claim religious beliefs against unionization:
A little-known religious exemption to United States labor law may have just become extremely important, thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling in Hobby Lobby.

By declaring that "closely held" corporations may hold religious beliefs, the court may have provided businesses with a new tool for crushing workplace unionization drives. In addition to declaring themselves exempt from contraception mandates and non-discrimination laws, religious employers may soon be able to argue for an exemption from collective bargaining laws.

"All you need is one employer saying, 'My religious beliefs tell me I shouldn't collectively bargain,'" said Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. If an employer takes the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to court and uses that argument, it could set the table for a major court battle over the future of union rights in nominally religious workplaces.

Religious primary and secondary schools are already exempt from collective bargaining rules, thanks to the 1979 Supreme Court case NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago. In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that the NLRB does not have jurisdiction over schools "operated by a church to teach both religious and secular subjects." As a result, schools operated by the Catholic Bishop of Chicago were under no obligation to recognize employee unions, no matter the circumstances. Putting religious schools under the jurisdiction of the NLRB, the court reasoned, would present "a significant risk of infringement of Religion Clauses of the First Amendment."
At the link, there are further examples of religious educational institutions which have rejected collective bargaining on the basis of religious beliefs.

And, to be abundantly clear, in the precedent establishing case NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, the Catholic Church did not have to establish a religious belief against unionization. To the contrary:
The Catholic Church first addressed the rights of workers during the Industrial Revolution. Pope Leo XIII wrote the first great labor encyclical in 1891, Rerum Novarum, On the Condition of the Working Class. This landmark encyclical recognized the primacy of human labor as ends over the means of capital. Pope Leo demanded that the human, civil, and labor rights of workers and their families be protected, including the right to unionize, and the right to just wages and safe working conditions. Virtually every Pope since Leo XIII has reiterated and reaffirmed these rights, perhaps most eloquently Pope John Paul II. In 1981, he commemorated the ninetieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum with his encyclical Laborem Exercens, On Human Work. He insisted on the fundamental dignity and rights of workers, and the subordination of the means of capital to the proper ends of human needs. Pope John Paul also acknowledged the importance of unions and the effectiveness of the strike mechanism in labor disputes. In the pastoral letter on Catholic social teaching and the American economy in 1986, Economic Justice for All, the U.S. Conference of Bishops demanded that all church institutions fully recognize the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively. Thus, the labor rights for all workers were advocated with specificity by the bishops to protect those working in Church-related institutions.

In light of the Church's unequivocal and powerful pro-labor social teaching, the Chicago Bishop case is particularly pernicious for the cause of human, civil, and labor rights. The Church hierarchy in Chicago took advantage of First Amendment constitutional law in order to avoid collective bargaining with its lay faculty school teachers, blatantly contrary to the Church's century of social and labor teachings.
The Church asserted instead that it had a religious belief against the National Labor Relations Board having jurisdiction over its labor practices.

The combination of these two decisions essentially means there has been precedent set for closely held corporations to mount a legal challenge to any federal law with which they don't want to comply.


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