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.
You might have heard it in the news or on social media, but lately low-wage workers are finding new creative ways to call out their employers for immorally low wages. Workers have been standing up and walking out of fast food joints and retail shops this week drawing attention to their paychecks in our troubling economy. Their wages have left some to choose between food and rent. Others are forced to pick up a second job, working much more than 40 hours a week.
Earlier this week, New York Times reporter Stephen Greenhouse reported A Day’s Strike Seeks to Raise Fast-Food Pay. The strikes began in New York City and Chicago and other Midwestern cities across the country: Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit and Flint, Mich. Strikers held protests outside shops where workers were striking, causing plenty of public attention and notice from the press.
Earlier this summer, workers in government buildings, like Union Station and the Reagan building in Washington D.C., participated in similar strikes and called on the President to sign an executive order making sure employers who receive government contracts pay a decent wage and don't steal wages from workers. Last week, low-wage workers and allies reminded Congress that it's been four years since the minimum wage has been increased (21 years since an increase in the minimum wage for tipped workers).
Greenhouse reports that workers calling attention to the immoral wages their employers are paying and their affects on low-income communities:
“These companies aren’t magically going to make our lives better,” said Terrance Wise, who earns $9.30 an hour after working for eight years at a Burger King in Kansas City, plus $7.40 an hour at his second job at Pizza Hut. “We can sit back and stay silent and continue to live in poverty or, on the other hand, we can step out and say something and let it be known that we need help.”
This week, in a special way, we're calling on our brothers and sisters to lift up the concerns of these low-wage workers who are bravely standing up for dignity in the workplace. Our faith reminds us to affirm the dignity of ALL work.
Interfaith Worker Justice and our affiliates are supporting these workers in both body and spirit. Some affiliates have even joined workers at actions and protests outside shops and restaurants in their local communities. We're going to continue to support their calls for a $15 dollar minimum wage, especially in these sectors and urban areas. We're going to continue to call on lawmakers to listen to the cries of their people and support raising the federal minimum wage—an important first step in creating a moral economy.
Learn more about IWJ's work to raise the wage to see how you can get involved. Send us a note if you'd like to get involved in this important work in the communities listed above!
On Friday, I joined local labor friends from the Chicago Federation of Labor and students from University of Illinois at Chicago for a screening of American Made Movie and panel discussion on manufacturing and labor.
The film examined a number of obstacles in the American manufacturing industry and the decline of manufacturing jobs (highlighting specifically the additional 2-3 supporting jobs created by every manufacturing job.) The film featured American companies that have still thrived without sending jobs overseas or cutting back the quality of their products. The film also features the positive impact of domestic manufacturing jobs on national and local economies in the face of great challenges.
So, can more manufacturing in America help in our struggling economy?
The filmmakers, Vincent Vittorio and Nathaniel Thomas McGill, think so. They argue that American consumers demanding American-made products in stores can help recreate healthy and vibrant communities all across the country. The film urged consumers to “flip the tag over” and investigate where American products are really made and to support Made in America products, even if they cost extra.
Along the premise of the “slow food movement,” they argue consumer demand created shelf space for those products and type of dining; and consumer demand can put more American made products back on the shelves at stores across the country.
So what does this mean for worker rights?
Vittorio and McGill specifically created a non-partisan and non-political film, and featured a number of factories in Right-to-Work (for less) states. The film’s aim was to spur local job growth in American communities, but as worker advocates it’s our responsibility to continue to lift up the needs for good jobs in our communities.
So if consumer demands for American manufactured products increase (as the filmmakers hope) and more manufacturing jobs are created in our communities, workers and advocates for fair wages and benefits, healthcare and safe working conditions will need to continue to push job creators to make those jobs reflect our values and contribute to the health of our community.
The filmmakers visited UIC as part of a 32 day tour in 32 cities across the U.S. Click here to see if there is a film screening in your community. Check out a trailer of the film below.
Occasionally at the Interfaith Worker Justice office, we’re blessed with visits from board members, allies and workers. We gather together for roundtable discussions about our work, renewing our commitments to the struggle for worker justice.
Our staff and interns gather with guests over coffee and treats, and we talk about our work and where it intersects and how we can share in struggles and successes and the opportunities to further the movement together.
Today, we were blessed to sit down with Saru Jayaraman, executive director of Restaurant Opportunity Centers United and author of Behind the Kitchen Door. In preparation for our conversation with Saru, we all read Behind the Kitchen Door, which I’d say is a must read for anyone who eats out. Saru’s comprehensive breakdown of the struggles of restaurant workers is both eye-opening and has practical implications for you, the diner.
One important highlight from the book is the way Saru vividly describes the restaurant workers she’s profiling. These vivid descriptions and lengthy backgrounds bring an extra layer of humanism to their struggles. It’s a stark contrast to how diners often don't see wait staff and restaurant workers (something she mentions in the beginning of the book). We remember the special occasion, the food and the atmosphere, but not the waiter taking orders, food runner bringing out the dessert or the busser clearing our table.
Behind the Kitchen Door identifies several injustices in the restaurant industry: little access to sick time, the tipped minimum wage, race and gender discrimination—all issues that IWJ supports advocating to change. Saru also identifies ways every advocate for worker justice can dine ethically and support policy work to improve the industry as a whole. Behind the Kitchen Door connects the diners to how these injustices affect their interests (if a worker has no access to paid sick time, we may be eating contaminated food; if an experience food runner is overlooked for a promotion because of race, we might not get the best waiter or waitress). Diners can help change the norm in the industry. YOU can help change the norm in the industry!
We’re joining countless other immigrant, faith and community organizations working for comprehensive immigration reform in rejoicing the passage of S. 744— a bill that offers a path to citizenship to a majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country today and includes protections for America’s most vulnerable workers.
"The Senate passed a complicated immigration reform bill that has the potential to create a pathway to citizenship for some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our nation. It's a start. We must continue to push for real reform,” said IWJ’s National Policy Director the Rev. Michael Livingston (right).
While young people and agricultural workers have the shortest and straightest pathway to citizenship, other low-wage workers face many more arduous obstacles to obtain citizenship.
“There are several provisions of the bill that will prove difficult for low-wage workers to meet if they are to travel the complete distance to citizenship,” Livingston said.
Interfaith Worker Justice supporters and affiliates, along with allies across the country, worked tirelessly to push for a compassionate immigration bill that reflected our shared values and recognized the contributions made by our immigrant brothers and sisters.
Like many organizations, we at Interfaith Worker Justice are relieved the Senate approved the bill and sent it over the House of Representatives, a much more difficult body of lawmakers for immigrant reform advocates. We’re saddened by the addition of the “boarder surge” amendment, which distracts from the issues and detracts from the values we hoped and urged our Senators to uphold, but IWJ and supporters will pressure the House to approve the reform.
Livingston said a fundamental question each of us has to answer is: Pass even a flawed bill now and work to improve it in the future, or pass nothing now, helping no one?
“What is required is continued engagement in aggressive and principled advocacy as the legislative process shifts to the House and this essential work continues," he said.
I joined nearly 200 members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), a worker organization of current and former associates, in Bentonville, Ark. for an intense week before Walmart’s shareholder meeting, earlier this month.
These workers walked off their jobs on an unfair labor practice strike and were there to tell executives they demanded an end to the retaliation against workers who speak out for respect at work, better pay and safer working conditions.
Now, the dust has settled, and I had the chance to reflect on the week this afternoon.
On Sunday, June 2, many of us went to worship. They had all arrived in Walmart’s famous hometown earlier that weekend (although, one group of tired sojourners arrived at 4 a.m. on Sunday). These OUR Walmart members had just spent the week traveling in caravans across the country, and some were seriously seeking a little nourishment from the Spirit. We led groups to various worship services in the area. IWJ’s Director of Organizing, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, and I accompanied three workers to the Bentonville Church of Christ (my first Church of Christ experience, I might add).
After encountering Christ in a whole new way, we returned and prepared for the week of action. Read about one highlight of the week of action here.
Workers organized store visits and talked to residents. They planned and led a prayer vigil outside Sam Walton’s original store. They prayed for both the Walton family and the families of struggling Walmart workers across the country. They visited the Crystal Bridges Museum, which is funded by Alice Walton and the wealthiest privately-funded museum, and reflected solemnly on the contrast between the extravagant treasures inside and the poverty many associates face each day.
OUR Walmart members and organizers from the Making Change at Walmart campaign anticipated the week of action would draw attention to Walmart’s labor practices before their annual shareholder meeting. IWJ’s Executive Director, Kim Bobo, bought five Walmart shares so she could attend that meeting.
Read an account of the event here.
All across the country, people of faith joined them at local Walmart stores at solidarity actions, prayer vigils and letter deliveries to store managers. Nearly 50 supporters committed to action!
On the ground, I spent hours and hours talking with workers and planning ways to connect people of faith to their powerful work. Many workers told me distinctly their God, their Creator, their Spirit called them to their inspiring leadership in a movement that is truly worker-led. I felt blessed to join them for the week and will continue to pray with and work with OUR Walmart members and leaders to remind Walmart execs and store managers of the dignity of work that all faith traditions affirm.
We’ll need supporters like YOU to join us in prayer and action this year, especially on Black Friday in November. Click here to join IWJ’s Walmart action team.