When religious faith and unions come together

Even though unions represent a relatively small percent of today’s American workers, they tend to draw a lot of attention. A story from the Chicago Tribune adds another dimension to the discussion: what happens when unions and faith mix?

Faith and work are inextricably linked for most of the working class, said Bob Bruno, director of the Labor Education Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“For a lot of these folks, if a business doesn’t provide health care, it could be characterized as not taking care of the stranger on the road. It’s a sin,” said Bruno, who interviewed hundreds of low-wage workers in Chicago for his 2008 book, “Justified by Work: Identity and the Meaning of Faith in Chicago’s Working-Class Churches.”

About 91 percent of union members believe in God, and 25 percent pray several times a day, Bruno found in a survey of union members he conducted from 2005 to 2006. Eighty percent believe God performs miracles in the world today…

Organizations like Interfaith Worker Justice work to close the gap between low-wage workers, who tend to have a more emotional connection to their faith, and corporate executives, who, he said, have been found to see religion more intellectually.

“They try to bring the argument to the modern-day pharaohs,” he said. “‘Hey, you claim to be Christian, you claim to be a Jew, you claim to be Muslim, why are you treating your people this way? You can’t hide behind your glass office.'”

This immediately brings several questions to mind:

1. What percentage of union actions or labor strikes are motivated by religious values? In other words, how often are unions motivated by religion versus other motivations?

2. What happens when a union makes a religious argument to corporate executives? Do the corporations just ignore this part of the argument? What happens when the executive or the company is also religious – does this lead to a different corporate response?

3. How would a typical evangelical, one that lives in the suburbs, works in a non-blue collar job, and is conservative, respond to these arguments? Can corporations sin? Should or can unions be making these arguments?

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