The Iowa Catholic Conference has issued a statement of support for organized labor. Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, says it’s a “yellow caution light” to Iowa legislators who’ve seen lawmakers in states like Ohio and Wisconsin roll back collective bargaining rights for workers.  

“For the people who pay attention to what the Catholic Church is saying, this is not going to be anything groundbreaking,” Chapman says. “But with all the discussion that’s taken place in the state about labor unions and where we should go with that, we thought this would be a good chance to reinforce what the church has been talking about.”

The title of the statement is “Labor and the Common Good” and Chapman says the document was approved 10 days ago when the state’s Catholic bishops, priests, nuns, deacons and lay people met for an Iowa Catholic Conference board meeting. 

“It’s clear that the church supports the rights of workers and labor unions,” Chapman says. “I think we always say that we need to have just wages and benefits and a living wage, good working conditions — and that there should be an opportunity to organize. At the same time, people have a free choice of whether to join a union or not.”

Chapman says those sentiments from the Iowa Catholic Conference were shared with lawmakers last spring when the Republican-led Iowa House passed a bill which would have no longer allowed public workers in Iowa to negotiatve over their health care benefits or layoff plans. The bill was never considered in the Democratically-led Iowa Senate, who said provisions in the bill which would have let individual government workers negotiate their own pay and benefits was effectively an end to the state’s collective bargaining rules. Chapman says Catholics believe there are other ways to make Iowa a better state.

“I think it’s fair to say that we’re putting up a yellow caution light when we’re talking about it taking away rights to organize,” Chapman says. 

Republican Governor Terry Branstad, who is a practicing Catholic, says if Republicans win control of the Iowa House and Senate in the 2012 elections, he will not press for changes in Iowa’s collective bargaining laws.

“No, we’re not looking at that,” Branstad says. “We’re looking at things we can do to attract more business and jobs to our state and that’s where I’m going to focus.” Branstad made his comments during a weekend appearance on Iowa Public Television. 

According to the Iowa Catholic Conference, there are nearly half a million Catholics in Iowa.