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.
Nearly 1.3 million people wait for Congress to return to session, hoping our elected officials promptly vote to renew the emergency unemployment benefits, which expired last week after Congress left for the holiday recess without voting on the vital protection. Today, the Washington Post's The Plum Line notes that a UI extension "hangs in the balance."
Our elected officials are called to work on behalf of those they represent. Across the country, unemployed people are struggling to get by as finding work is a difficult task in an economy only favoring the wealthiest few. Elected officials have the moral responsibility to protect the safety nets and social contracts we value as a country, and as a society. Unfortunately some in Congress continue to turn even the most basic of protections into a political battle:
(Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island) noted that a number of GOP Senators represent high unemployment states. If the 55 Dem-aligned Senators vote for an extension, which isn’t assured but is very likely, Dems need five Republicans.
The unemployment rate in Illinois (Senator Mark Kirk’s state) is 8.7 percent; in Tennessee (Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander) it’s 8.1 percent; in Arizona (John McCain and Jeff Flake) it’s 7.9 percent; in Georgia (Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson) it’s 7.7 percent; in Ohio (Rob Portman) it’s 7.4 percent; and in Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey) it’s 7.3 percent. In many of those states, tens of thousands of people have already been cut off, according to stats compiled by Ways and Means Dems.
Reed said many who have lost benefits are “desperate,” and said he thought other Senators understood this. “Many of them are middle aged, have worked for a long time, and have found that it’s difficult to find jobs,” Reed said.
We all need to stand with those struggling to get by. Call your representatives TODAY and tell them to extend emergency unemployment insurance. You can use the AFLCIO's Congressional hotline to get in touch with your representative today: 877-318-0483.
Today, fast food workers hit the streets calling on their employers like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Yum! Brands (which owns Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut and others) to pay them a living wage. People of faith have joined them on this historic day of action. Learn more about the strikes here.
For far too long, corporate profits have overshadowed the interests of working people in America. People of faith and worker justice advocates are calling attention to the immoral habit of overzealously compensating corporate executives at the expense of the millions of working people who allow our economy to exist.
In Washington, D.C. today, IWJ National Public Policy Director, The Rev. Michael Livingston, joined hundreds of workers, faith leaders and community allies in asking President Obama to sign an executive order guaranteeing a living wage for millions of low-wage workers who serve the public in federal buildings in the nation's capital and at federal sites around the nation.
When the least among us are suffering, all of us are responsible. “You shall not steal” is one of the most important tenants of many faiths, and our government should not allow it to happen in federal buildings.
Yesterday, President Obama praised Pope Francis, who has loaned his prophetic wisdom to poverty, inequality and the global economic system since he began his papacy in March, for his dedication to issues that impact millions of working families.
"Some of you may have seen just last week, the pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length,” President Obama said at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress. “How could it be, (Pope Francis) wrote, that it's not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"
As people of faith, we know that Pope Francis is amplifying a very basic element of all faith traditions to keep people at the center of values. In America today, often it appears that corporations and their executives value profits over people.
“This increasing inequality is most pronounced in our country, and it challenges the very essence of who we are as a people,” the President added.
Today we’ll hit the streets and join our brothers and sisters working at fast food joints and retail shops across the country because we know they’re standing up for justice and a people-centered economy. As we hold corporations accountable, let us also remind the President of his unique authority—and responsibility—to sign an executive order that can help improve the lives of millions of workers at fast food shops contracted by the federal government. Click here to sign this petition to the President.
If you cannot make it out to a picket line today, please keep these brave workers in your thoughts and prayers.
Tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 5, fast food workers in more than 100 cities across the country are going on a historic strike. Will you be joining an action near you?
Calls for a living wage at fast food restaurants are growing louder each day. People of faith and worker justice advocates are walking in solidarity with brave workers standing up to fast food industry giants like McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Workers are calling on them to pay at least $15 dollars an hour so all workers can provide for themselves and their families. Fast food corporations CAN afford to pay their workers more. Now it’s time to amplify that call.
Earlier this week, I received an email from Maria Trisler, a McDonalds workers in Illinois who plans to strike tomorrow:
I’m going on strike because I can’t make ends meet for me and my 12-year-old boy on the $8.35 I make at McDonald’s. It’s just 10 cents more than minimum wage here in Peoria, Illinois.
I’m striking because not only can McDonald’s afford to pay us more, but time and time again they’ve shown just how out of touch they are with what it’s like to work for them – and try scrape by on poverty wages.
People of faith are standing with fast food and retail workers like Maria in their communities because as all religions affirm fair pay for an honest day's work. Too often, big corporations like McDonalds (with inflated CEO pay and healthy profit margins) are paying their workers poverty wages, forcing them to use charity and government aid programs just to make ends meet. It’s immoral, and it’s time to call of an end to that practice.
Yesterday, IWJ supporters were joined on a call by Mary Watkines and Janet Sparks, two amazing worker-leaders from the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). Watkines and Sparks helped supporters on the call develop plans for a big day of action on Black Friday, and reminded people of faith and economic justice advocates that every action on Black Friday is remarkably important to the Walmart associates standing up to Walmart's executives and their managers for a voice.
"We’re being heard, and we’re making a lot of noise around here. Our focus is to educate the associates and the community about Walmart’s bullying," Mary Watkines said.
On Black Friday, faith leaders and community supporters all around the country will work to bring attention to the culture of intimidation and retaliation at Walmart stores. We'll come together in our neighborhoods and towns and urge Walmart to be a better employer: pay workers a fair wage, create safe working conditions and treat workers with dignity and respect they deserve.
"What the community can do is continue to support us and be there at the actions because then Walmart sees that it's not just the associates asking, but the community is in with us and sees what they’re doing is not right," Watkines said.
Janet Sparks told callers yesterday that she was praying for a leader to step up and confront Walmart's immoral practices at its stores. She said she had no idea that she would be that worker! OUR Walmart leaders are planning to keep urging Walmart to do what is right, and your support means the world to her and other workers.
"Thanks so much for supporting Walmart employees, so many are so afraid to step forward and join this great organization. They’re afraid of losing their job. They’re afraid of being retaliated against. The list is endless," Sparks said to callers. "When community goes out and supports us, they know someone else believes what they’re silently holding inside. It shows other people are caring about them. It just might be the step that helps them come forward and join this organization."
Can you show your support to Walmart workers like Janet and Mary on Black Friday? As a person of faith, you can remind Walmart managers and executives that treating workers fairly, paying living wages, providing safe work environments free of intimidation is the right thing to do.
Last week, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard reminded In These Times readers of the prophetic call of faith leaders to lift up the needs of the poor in our communities and advocate for an economy that deconstructs inequality and values the humanity in all those who work. Gerard lauded Pope Francis' commitment to living simply while disciplining the "Bishop of Bling" (German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst who recently approved spending an estimated $42 million on remodeling his diocesan center and residence, including $22,000 for a bathtub.).
Gerard connected Pope Francis' leadership to the leadership of any American corporation, save the massive compensation packages associated with that leadership:
Pope Francis is beloved for his asceticism. He lives in Spartan rooms and drives a 1984 Renault. He runs an organization as big as any American corporation. Yet he doesn’t demand millions in pay and perks.
American CEOs and boards of directors should take note. The income inequality they’ve fostered with outsized CEO pay packages and paltry wages for workers is creating an American royal class served by serfs. Instead of fixing that problem as Pope Francis is, they’re trying to conceal it.
Corporate boards should behave more like Pope Francis, banishing imperial CEOs and rejecting royal pay package demands. If they did, they wouldn’t have to fear embarrassment when those pay ratio numbers get released.
At Interfaith Worker Justice, we echo calls for corporations to honor their workers with fair pay for honest work. Corporate CEOs should be compensated fairly for their contributions to the organization, but so should all workers. Excessive compensation packages in the contrast to immorally (and often unlivable) low wages paid to the majority of workers on the front lines of day-to-day operations is an injustice directly in opposition of Catholic Social Teaching, and religious scripture in many of the world's religions.
This weekend hundreds of faith communities and congregations will support Labor Day Weekend for Worker Justice through IWJ’s Labor in the Pulpits program.
And in a special way, we honor the dignity of work and highlight the important struggles in which people of faith and worker advocates are engaged.
Income inequality is an injustice plaguing our economy and communities. Every day, we hear stories of workers earning too little to get by. These are challenging stories to hear when we compare the struggles of everyday workers to the massive profit margins of the corporations for which they work.
Workers are angry and upset because although productivity has skyrocketed since the 1970s (we are working more, making more goods) workers aren’t seeing their hard work compensated fairly.
In Exodus, Moses and the Israelites protested against Pharaoh when he expected them to be more productive and collect their own straw for making bricks.
“You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. —Exodus 5:7-8
The Economic Policy Institute released an income inequality calculator Friday, based on their inequality.is project. The calculator is a shocking tool that shows us how much we would be making if wages had kept pace with productivity. Check it out for yourself here.
What’s more unsettling is that CEOs and executives (the top one percent) now take home 20 percent of the nation’s income.
Over Labor Day weekend, it’s a good time to honor Moses, history’s first recorded labor organizer, and all workers engaged in the struggle for fair working conditions and compensation that is in line with productivity.