"This is what religion looks like."
It's a slogan that dons every page of IWJ's website (right up there on the top right corner), and it's the first thing I thought of when I heard the news. Yesterday, I learned that Duquesne University, a Catholic university in Pittsburg, approved a university-wide minimum wage raise to $16 an hour for employees including maintenance workers, office staffers and groundskeepers.
The university is making a decision based on moral convictions to pay all workers a wage off which one can live with dignity and afford the basic needs for oneself and family. At a time when more and more businesses and institutions are making cuts when it comes to payroll and benefits, it's news that makes me feel proud as a Catholic, a union staffer at IWJ and an unapologetic worker advocate. It's that kind of leadership I wish more religious institutions would embrace; I have faith that with the right kind of organizing rooted in our faith traditions, they will.
The Duquesne wage raises will go into effect on July 1, and impact 168 employees, according to the university. I'd be remiss to mention that the scheduled raised will lift the wage floor to $16 an hour from $15, already double the Pennsylvania and federal minimum wage of $7.25. While underpaid workers at some of America's most profitable companies continue to push their employers to do right by them, Duquesne University administration is taking the lead.
Now more than ever religious institutions must be advocates for workers and speak up for living wages, dignity at work and ensure that life is honored when it comes to health and safety standards in the workplace. Religious institutions need to do this in practice (like Duquesne), but also through justice programming and in the pulpit. Churches and religious institutions need to echo and amplify the calls of America's working families: it's time for a living wage, now.
There is no greater issue facing our families and communities today than the rampant economic inequality and the lack of access to good jobs. Today Duquesne University deserves some recognition, tomorrow maybe the entire Catholic Church, someday maybe even giant corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s.
Honestly, I love fast food. I specifically love Wendy’s. As a teenager, I discovered their spicy chicken sandwich (add cheese for 30 cents), and that was it for me. It’s still a fixture in my diet, and I really appreciate the fast-food workers who make that happen for me on a regular basis.
During Lent, I joined nearly 1,500 people of all faiths and embarked on the Fast from Fast Food. Throughout the fast, we honored the great sacrifices workers are making in the struggle to end injustice and inequality in the fast-food industry. In the spirit of the Lenten season — when Catholics (and others who worship in the Christian tradition) intentionally incorporate fasting, prayer and almsgiving into their daily lives — we dedicated ourselves to lifting up the concerns of some of the most undervalued and underpaid of God’s children.
Speaking of children, fast-food workers are not just high school teenagers and college students looking to score extra cash; the Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that 40% are 25 or older. More than a quarter are providing for their children. And among fast-food workers over the age of 20, nearly 80% earn less than $10.10 an hour. That’s hardly a living wage. Working moms shouldn’t have to juggle multiple jobs just to keep food on the table. Working dads shouldn’t be forced to choose between rent and heat. Children shouldn’t have to grow up in poverty, yet that’s exactly what’s happening. According to a report from the University of California at Berkley, 52% of the families of front-line fast-food workers are enrolled in one or more public assistance programs. The report estimates that public assistance to families of workers in the fast-food industry costs nearly $7 billion per year.
Supporters who pledged to join the Fast from Fast Food chose to focus on the workers they encounter at fast-food chains by refraining from eating there during this period. We prayed daily for the workers and an end to income inequality.
It’s not that there isn’t enough to pay working families a living wage. In 2012, McDonald’s corporation made $5.5 billion in profits. According to a report by the public policy organization, Demos, CEOs of fast-food companies take home nearly 1,200 times what an average fast-food worker earns. Fast-food CEOs are some of the highest paid industry executives in the world.
Supporters who pledged to join the Fast from Fast Food chose to focus on the workers they encounter at fast-food chains by refraining from eating there during this period. We prayed daily for the workers and an end to income inequality. We reflected on the harmful impact of the low wages and unsafe working conditions in the industry.
Hopefully, through our prayerful solidarity, we’ve helped the faith community connect a little more to the ”Fight for 15″ movement, which advocates a minimum wage of $15 an hour for fast-food workers and other undervalued and underpaid workers, such as retail workers, adjunct college professors and home health care workers.
Fasting in the spirit of Lent
My committing to this Fast from Fast Food was a real challenge, as noted by my coworkers and friends. For Lent, we fast from or “give up” something important to us. For me, going without a Wendy’s chicken sandwich with cheese was really a sacrifice. I highlighted the sacrifice as an important reminder to others: that I am doing this fast, and that it’s not easy.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” — Micah 6:8
Folks in the faith-rooted justice world love this verse. In Chapter 6, Micah rebukes the Israelites. He tells them they’re doing it wrong. As followers of Christ, we’re often doing it wrong too. In fact, the above paragraph is an excellent example of me doing it wrong. It’s actually not the “giving up” that demonstrates my commitment to God. The Israelites thought all sorts of sacrifices would be pleasing to God: cows, rams, oil, their children. Micah says, “No guys, in all things, build a more just world and be merciful and loving to others … all others. Oh, and be humble when you’re doing it, because it’s not about you, it’s about God.”
So, while participating in the Fast from Fast Food was a gesture that I found deeply challenging, it is not the sacrifice of tasty chicken sandwiches that God asks of me. The Fast from Fast Food isn’t actually about me individually; it is about God and building God’s Kingdom the way we’ve been instructed. It’s about bringing justice to a morally corrupt fast-food industry. It’s about loving workers and echoing their voices so they’re heard. It’s about humbly calling for an economic system that values the contributions of all those who participate.
“The world tells us to seek success, power and money; God tells us to seek humility, service and love,” Pope Francis says to us, echoing Micah’s rebukes to the Israelites.
If we could keep that at the heart of our fasts and throughout our journey supporting fast-food workers, other underpaid workers and people whose human dignity the economy refuses to acknowledge, we can confront these new idols head on.
April 15, many fasters plan to do just that. Nourished in spirit by community, solidarity and prophetic witness we’ve encountered during the Fast from Fast Food, we plan to join workers, community groups and faith institutions at rallies supporting a moral economy, and wages and working conditions that reflect the human dignity inherent in all of God’s children. I invite you to join us in your own community.
Yesterday, a district court judge in Brownsville, Texas, issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily blocks the implementation process of the new immigrant deferred action programs, announced by President Obama back in November.
The programs were designed to offer relief for many hard-working immigrant families from the threat of deportation. Immigrants and advocates pushed hard for a comprehensive solution to this country’s broken immigrant system. Congress ignored their cries for reform. The president answered with relief for nearly 5 of the 11 million undocumented people in our country.
But back in December, governors and attorneys general from 26 states (led by the state of Texas) sued the government to block the directives. This immoral attempt to stop or slow this application of justice was motivated by GOP lawmakers aggressively pursuing an anti-immigrant agenda.
Since then, 12 states, D.C. and 33 cities (including the largest cities in the nation like Houston) cited a myriad of benefits to the programs.
We at Interfaith Worker Justice will continue to work towards and pray for a legislative fix to our broken immigration system that provides the country's 11 million immigrants with an opportunity to live and work in the U.S. as active and full members of their communities.
We’re hopeful that the U.S. Fifth Court of Appeals will reject this lawsuit.
The millennials on staff here at IWJ have encouraged the team to use more "sensory verbs" and imagery in our work. So, to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his inspiring wisdom and brilliant (but rarely celebrated) sense of humor, we gathered some of his most inspiring quotes on poverty, justice, workers and the economy...and added a little twist.
As we celebrate Dr. King's legacy and radical vision for a better and more inclusive world, let us draw strength from his words and continue in the struggle for worker, economic and racial justice.
1. "So it is obvious that if a man is to redeem his spiritual and moral ‘lag,’ he must go all out to bridge the social and economic gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ of the world."
2. "I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few."
3. "The Curse of poverty has no justification in our age…The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty."
4. "God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and he has left in the universe enough to spare for that purpose."
5. "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
6. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
7. "As I have said many times, and believe with all my heart, the coalition that can have the greatest impact in the struggle for human dignity here in America is that of the Negro and the forces of labor, because their fortunes are so closely intertwined."
8. "The Labor Movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress."
9. "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."
10. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
More? what Dr. King quotes inspire you to continue in the movement?
As the tragic events continue to unfold in Ferguson, Mo, we have struggled in anger and frustration and lamented with a family and community broken by a system of oppression, economic injustice and racism.
Today the Guardian reminded those of us who work to bring about economic justice for all workers that our struggle is deeply connected to the nation's legacy of racism. Ferguson, like many Black communities, has existed for years through a system of economic inequality. The economic marginalization of entire communities is directly related to the continued creation of economic policies that uphold white privilege and benefit white communities.
Ferguson is no Gothamesque slum of crumbling tenements and crack dens. It is a working class suburb of single-family homes and low-rise apartment blocks which used to be a gateway to the middle class. Manufacturing jobs offered decent wages and there was a decent public school system.
Something went wrong. You see it in the physical landscape of potholes and pawn brokers. And in the desperation. Some of it quiet: a mother counting out pennies, dimes and quarters to buy ice cream for her two children in McDonald’s. Some of it more dramatic: the owner of a burger bar bolting out onto the street after a skinny, grubby young man with shattered teeth. “You took from the tip jar! I saw you! Give it back.”
A major culprit is de-industrialisation. Missouri is part of the rustbelt of shuttered factories which arcs across the midwest.
Every community deserves access to good jobs, but, as our Black brothers and sisters know, we have failed to create policies that provide economic conditions for everyone to thrive. As we reflect on the shooting and the larger connections between race and class struggle, we are reminded that our fight uplift the dignity of all work is important now as ever.
Some 47% of African American men aged 16-24 in St Louis county are unemployed. Even that understates the economic crisis since many of those who do have jobs, men and women, earn a pittance in service jobs. “It used to be McDonnell Douglas was considered a good job. Now it’s McDonald’s,” said Teresa Mithen Danieley, rector of an episcopal church.
What is happening in Ferguson, Mo is tragic, and the system of economic and racial injustice will remain if we don't work tirelessly with our brothers and sisters to build an economy and society rooted in love. Our faith traditions share a vision where workers have access to good jobs that provides the means for a strong family life and full participation in society; where our families are entitled to vibrant and thriving communities; and where our streets and neighborhoods are safe from violence and from oppression by the state.
Together we pray with words but also with actions that we can build that society. We're called to advocate for an economy that invests in our communities, and those in roles of authority respect the humanity of the people they serve.
Photo courtsey: Sipa USA/Rex
Tomorrow, fast food workers are set to walk off their jobs in more than 100 cities in the U.S. and in more than two-dozen cities globally. This is the biggest day of action fast food workers have planned to date--amplifying the call for fair wages and working conditions and the right to organize!
People of faith are joining the chorus. As advocates who believe firmly in the dignity of work, faith leaders and interfaith groups are getting ready to join workers at rallies, supporting their demand for a $15 per hour wage, an end to rampant wage theft in the industry and the right to form a union to speak out against injustice.
Honest pay for honest work
In today’s economy, half the workers in America earn wages at or near the poverty level, Huffington Post Business reported in 2012. The same year, McDonald's Corporation saw $5.5 billion in profits, and it isn’t alone in such extraordinary profit margins since the great recession. Low wages, wage theft and poor access to benefits are great for corporate execs and a few top earners, but at the expense of the millions of workers and their families.
The median hourly wage for fast-food workers nationwide: $8.94 per hour. No one who works full time should have to live in poverty or pray they'll have enough to cover the rent, bills and groceries. It's simply immoral and unjust that many fast food workers are forced to rely on charity and government assistance programs just to get by. People of faith are standing by their side echoing workers' prophetic call for a fair economy.
Fast-food employees began organizing and calling one-day strikes in 2012 to bring attention to the injustice, and (much like McDonald’s soaring profits) they have only grown in size and impact. Tomorrow, we’ll join tens of thousands of workers on the street demanding a just, living wage.
Worker advocates, people of faith and Interfaith Worker Justice supporters can support local actions in their community or support the strikes online by telling McDonald's that low pay and wage theft are simply immoral!
Follow @IWJnational on Twitter or follow all the action using the #FastFoodGlobal hashtag.
Last weekend, worker justice advocates were able to honor the life and legacy of the late César Chávez, who lead farm workers in the struggle for dignity and justice on the field, on the big screen. With anticipation, my colleague, Janel Bailey, another friend and I joined hundreds of others excited to screen the film in Chávez's name at my local cinema on opening day.
We even participated in the National Farm Worker Ministry's "selfie" contest, but we didn't take home the prize (to be fair, we're not #selfie experts, but were thrilled to give it a try). As films commonly do, Luna's César Chávez highlighted the broad movement and the organizer's life through the lens of a narrative (not always reflecting a solid historical truth, but many patrons—including the three of us—left feeling inspired by the work of the United Farm Workers). Rightly so, Chávez inspired millions to commit themselves to seeking justice for workers.
And the struggle for that justice continues today. So this week, we lift up the 20 million food workers who make up one-sixth of the workforce in the country. Workers in the American food system are still some of the lowest paid workers in our economy. In fact, two of the three largest low-wage employers in the U.S. are fast food companies, Yum! Brands (the company that runs Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC) and McDonald's. More than a third of their workers make less than $10.10 an hour, hardly enough to cover the basics, much less raise a family. Just like the farm workers in the grape fields, today's food workers are rising up, ready for the long struggle for fair wages and better working conditions. And interfaith groups, people of faith, worker centers and worker advocates are ready to continue to stand with workers fighting for better pay and working conditions.
On Monday, food workers and allied organizations delivered a petition calling House Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote on the Fair Minimum Wage Act (H.R. 1010), but we're not stopping there. We'll continue to get out on the streets and work to raise state and local minimum wages so that even a deadlocked Congress cannot impede justice. But we're up against some large lobbying groups, such as the National Restaurant Association, that are working hard to keep workers (especially tipped workers...) at the bottom of the pay scale, robbing them of both a fair and moral wage and also the dignity of their work.
The "Other NRA"
The "other NRA" is the lobby of choice for companies like McDonald’s, YUM!, and for the large full-service restaurant companies like Darden Restaurants, which runs places like Red Lobster, Capital Grille and Olive Garden (Learn more about the Restaurant Opportunity Centers United's Dignity at Darden campaign). Not surprisingly, they’re heavily involved in anti-worker campaigns: they are one of the leading forces in keeping the federal tipped minimum wage at $2.13 an hour (where it’s been stuck since 1991) and blocking minimum wage increases across the country.
César Chávez and the United Farm Workers reminded the nation that the struggles of farm workers and their families mattered. He inspired those to walk in solidarity with farm workers in their struggle for justice. And with a strong moral conviction, Chávez declared that all work has value and all workers must be treated with dignity and respect. Let us carry that conviction into all food-service jobs across sectors today!
Learn more about IWJ's work to raise the federal minimum wage, and learn how you can get involved with state and local minimum wage and worker justice campaigns in your community!
This week, Interfaith Worker Justice and our interfaith affiliates are celebrating International Women’s Day (this Saturday) by lifting up the struggles of all the hardworking women who make up nearly two-thirds of our nation's minimum wage earners.
Today in D.C., we joined U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), women religious leaders from across faith traditions and working women to remind Congress that the federal minimum wage is woefully low and creating an immoral reality for women across all 50 states. We’re calling on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, which would lift the wages of millions of American women!
“No one in America should have to live in poverty after putting in a full day’s work, and yet that is the case today,” Senator Boxer said. “The good news is that when we raise the minimum wage, it will lift the wages of 15 million women nationwide. When we lift the salaries of these workers, it helps their children and their families.”
Sr. Simone Campbell from NETWORK, a Catholic Social Justice Lobby joined Kathy Salie, IWJ board member; Nancy Duff Campbell, National Women’s Law Center co-president; Nyah Potts, a tipped wage worker at the Aria restaurant in the Ronald Reagan federal building; and the Rev. Jen Butler, Faith in Public Life executive director, .
Sr. Simone reminded lawmakers that people of faith are united in supporting the push for a moral minimum wage, and $7.25 per hour simply doesn’t lift up the dignity of work. It’s time our elected officials fix it:
“Pope Francis said that a society that “does not pay a just wage, that does not give work” to people and that “only looks to its balanced books, that only seeks profit” is unjust. He says the role of government is to respond to people’s needs and ensure the common good.
"In our nation, it is unjust that highly profitable companies pay poverty level wages to workers who create the wealth for those at the top yet cannot afford even the basic necessities of life. Therefore, our Christian faith demands that government protect workers, raise the minimum wage thus allowing workers to live in dignity, and promote the common good.”
Today President Barack Obama took the message of a fair minimum wage to Connecticut where he once again urged Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
Minimum Wage is Definitely a Women’s Issue
The facts don’t lie. One in five working women would see a raise if Congress acted to pass legislation, and more than 17 million children would have a parent get a raise under the proposed bill. Working families deserve a fair and just wage with which they can provide for their children and loved ones.
“The minimum wage is a critical women's issue. Women are two-thirds of workers earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Senator Harkin's proposed legislation to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 would give over 15 million women a raise, including almost five million working moms,” said Nancy Duff Campbell.
Celebrate International Women’s Day this year by contacting your legislator and urging them to stand with working families and support the Fair Minimum Wage Act! Click here to take action.
This month, West Virginia state lawmakers in the House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly (89-5) to increase the state's minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $8.00 an hour beginning Jan. 1, 2015 and then to $8.75 the following year. If the legislation becomes state law, more than 100,000 workers in West Virginia would see their paychecks increase and have more money in their pockets to spend on goods and services for them and their families. Now the measure is sitting in the State Senate waiting on a vote, according to the Charleston Gazette.
"We're going to help about 100,000 West Virginia families who are going to have more expendable income," said Delegate Mike Caputo, (D-Marion). "There are so many families who live paycheck to paycheck on the minimum wage."
(He) added that he regrets it takes an act of legislation to make sure employers are paying their employees a fair wage. The bill will affect more than 100,000 West Virginians who are currently earning minimum wage, he said to the Washington Times.
Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, noted that minimum wage workers represent a diverse demographic. “We have to stop qualifying or classifying who minimum wage workers are based on age or education. People are on minimum wage and should be paid a fair wage,” she said to the Washington Times. The West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy reports that actually a majority of the beneficiaries of a minimum wage increase are adult, full-time workers who are supporting their families in moderate- to low-income households in West Virginia. Organizers with IWJ are working with the Center and the West Virginia Council of Churches to pressure the Senate to follow the lead of the House of Delegates and send the bill to the governor's desk.
The legislative session is set to end on March 8.
State senators must stand with working people and raise the minimum wage in West Virginia and index it to inflation. Lobbyists from fast-food corporations like McDonald's and state hospitality industry groups are working hard to convince lawmakers that they cannot afford an increase and that a raise would be bad for families and the economy. We know—and studies show— that these "bad for the economy" assertions are just not true. It's the workers who cannot afford NOT to get a raise.
As people of faith from diverse traditions, we share a common conviction that the dignity of work and the security of the family are intrinsic moral values. In response to our Scripture’s repeated admonitions against exploiting and oppressing workers, we believe that every job must enable those who work to support a family.
We respect the dignity of our neighbors who toil under the yoke of today's unjust minimum wage, and we call on state senators to help ease their burden by making the minimum wage a family wage and passing SB 411 raising it to $8.25 per hour and indexing it to inflation so it won't be eroded by the rising cost of living.
Can you tell state senators in West Virginia that as a person of faith you support raising the state minimum wage, and urge them to quickly remedy an injustice to minimum wage workers in West Virginia?
This week, the Catholic Bishops of Maryland released a statement supporting increasing Maryland's minimum wage and called on elected officials in the state to support legislation that upholds just employment policies such as access to paid sick leave to care for oneself or one's family when ill.
The Maryland Catholic Conference, which represents all three dioceses with territory in the state—the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington, strongly urged state lawmakers to take justice for Maryland workers into their own hands. Workers in the state cannot wait for legislation at the federal level:
Here in Maryland, measures to support working families through just compensation and a healthy work environment will be prevalent issues during the 2014 session of the Maryland General Assembly. Legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage and to allow workers to earn paid sick leave for time worked deserve the serious consideration of our legislature. We urge our lawmakers to support final measures that will treat Maryland's workers fairly while sustaining local businesses and the jobs they provide…
As the state's largest private social service provider, we witness in our Catholic ministries the painful reality of those who struggle to keep up with the basic costs of food, rent, utilities and transportation. This desperate cycle cannot end unless we as a society find a way to give all capable men and women the chance to work at a job through which they can live with true independence and dignity. While we hope one day the issue of raising the minimum wage will be addressed at the federal level, we cannot afford to wait in Maryland.
The Bishops in Maryland are the latest Catholic leaders to join the call for legislative action making our economy better reflect the same set values people of faith believe. Earlier this month, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops released a joint statement with the Catholic Charities USA supporting an increase to the federal minimum wage: "We urge you to consider closely any legislation that begins to heal our broken economy by promoting decent work and ensuring fair and just compensation for all workers," the statement said.
As people of faith, we're believe in a just economy, an economy that includes jobs that pay workers a fair wage and provides the time and space to heal and be well. At Interfaith Worker Justice, we applaud the Maryland Catholic Conference for their leadership on worker rights in the state, and we continue to pressure elected officials all across the country to do the right thing for workers.