CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich defended labor unions and criticized politicians pushing for "right to work" laws in Illinois on Thursday at Plumbers Hall in the West Loop.
Unlike his conservative predecessor, the late Cardinal Francis George, the new leader of the Chicago Archdiocese has taken a decidedly progressive stance on union rights.
"I have come today to tell Chicago workers the Catholic Church is with you," Archbishop Cupich told hundreds of union members and leaders.
The responded with loud applause as the archbishop linked the labor movement to what he called the "Catholic vision."
"You put your faith into action," he said. "You are Catholic social teaching at work."
"I feel right now my church is behind me and my movement and I think that's just wonderful, said Jim Sweeney, Operating Engineers 150.
The archbishop's support comes as many Illinois trade and public sector unionists feel pressured by Governor Bruce Rauner's proposed turnaround agenda, which includes weakening organized labor. The governor would not comment on Cupich, but Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, who was in the Plumbers Hall, said the speech hardens his resolve to oppose Rauner's program.
"To the extent that people seek to weaken collective bargaining, the Archbishop's remarks stand in contradiction to that and that's where I stand," Madigan said.
"History has shown that we're better off when the rights of workers (are) protected," said Cupich.
During his speech Cupich told the audience that Pope Francis, who will visit the United States next week, also supports the labor movement as he urged Catholics and workers to remain unified against those forces that would pull them apart.
"Solidarity to them is almost a bad word but it is our word," he said.
During his remarks, the Archbishop never mentioned the governor or the budget impasse in Springfield, but the timing of his speech gave it more than subtle political overtones.