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Ohio bishops defend collective bargaining

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As the Ohio General Assembly debated legislation calling for major changes in collective bargaining laws, the state's Catholic bishops urged government, labor and business leaders "to pursue changes that promote the common good without the elimination of collective bargaining."

"We urge continued good faith in ongoing negotiations. Civility, open communication, mutual cooperation and peaceful witness should characterize legislative actions and public discourse," the bishops said in the statement, released by the Ohio Catholic Conference in Columbus.

The Feb. 28 statement was signed by the bishops of the state's 10 Catholic dioceses, including the Romanian Diocese of St. George in Canton and Ukrainian Diocese of St. Josaphat in Parma, which currently has an apostolic administrator.

Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr is chairman of the state conference, which represents the Catholic Church on public policy issues.

"In our faith tradition, defending the human dignity of every person, born and unborn, includes promoting economic justice," the bishops said in their statement.

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"This justice places the good of the person at the center of all economic activities. It stresses that the economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy," they said. "It challenges society to measure the moral effectiveness of our economic practices by how well they strengthen families and provide for the poor and vulnerable."

Republicans in Ohio's state Senate March 1 introduced a bill regarding public employee unions that keeps workers' right to collective bargaining, but Democrats said they can't support the measure, in part because it prohibits public employee unions from going on strike.

Indiana lawmakers are considering a similar measure. Protests continued in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker's budget-balancing proposal that would make public employees pay more for health care and pension contributions but would strip nearly all collective bargaining power from most government workers at the state, county and local levels, including teachers.

The Catholic Church's social doctrine "has long recognized that all people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions, to organize and join unions or other associations, and to engage in collective bargaining," the Ohio bishops said in their statement.

"At the same time, this doctrine promotes mutual partnerships where both the needs of labor and the needs of management are freely and openly acknowledged and addressed," they added. "It challenges both unions and management to work for the common good, to make sacrifices when required, and to adjust to new economic realities."

"May God's wisdom and prudence guide all of us on this important justice issue," they concluded.

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