WASHINGTON — The fact that the U.S. bishops wrote an amicus brief in January supporting labor unions in their battle to avoid a “right-to-work” environment in the public sector was the talk at the Feb. 3 annual meeting of the Catholic Labor Network. The friend-of-the-court brief, filed by Anthony Picarello, general counsel and associate general secretary at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, draws on more than 70 years of documented support for labor. “The bishops have been against the policy of right-to-work since Taft-Hartley in the 1940s,” Michael O’Rourke, a USCCB domestic policy adviser, said during the meeting, held Feb. 3 in conjunction with the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. In tallying individual bishops’ stances over three generations, they found “the overwhelming (majority) being negative, a small minority being neutral, and not one statement by a bishop favoring right-to-work policies,” O’Rourke said. “It’s important to know where the bishops have been for the past 70 years,” he added, noting that all bishops, regardless of the specific policy at issue, “come out in support of labor.” Right-to-work is shorthand for a worker not paying union dues as a condition of employment, even though the union is obligated to represent workers at the bargaining table and for grievances and other labor-management disputes. In the private sector, right-to-work is the law of the land in a majority of states. In the public sector, though, membership is compelled; in the absence of that, workers must pay an “agency fee” to cover the cost of union representation. A new Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME, could permit right-to-work in the public sector. The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case Feb. 26. The union — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31 — is being challenged by the state of Illinois over its right to collect money from nonmembers for collective bargaining. The lead plaintiff is Mark Janus, an employee of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.