Interfaith Worker Justice

This is what religion looks like.


Aina Gutierrez

Mid-Lenten Wake Up Call

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This blog post was adapted from a Lenten reflection by IWJ's Deputy Director Aina Gutierrez: 

It was easy to sign up for the Fast from Fast Food, because I don’t really eat fast food. Sometimes when I travel or when the kids get a smoothie treat, but otherwise it’s not high on my menu options.

So the fast was a symbol of my support of fast food workers, but didn’t mean much for me personally. I haven’t sacrificed anything, and while I’ve been mindful to think of workers and their families, the fast didn’t have much to do with God and his call for why the fast—this fast—is so important.

That all changed when I realized I had to sacrifice one of my favorite treats of the year – the Shamrock Shake. Once a year, my family hits the drive-through at McDonald’s and each of us gets a shake. I love this tradition. I also love the minty cold goodness of the shake.

This year I had to explain to my kids and husband (who was almost more bummed than the kids) that we couldn’t get our traditional shamrock shakes. This year, we talked about why I had signed up for the fast, how companies can do better to their workers, and how this all ties back to God and how we fast as a part of our worship. The passage from Isaiah reminds us that a proper fast requires mindfulness, yes, but also sacrifice and good works to fight injustice and care for others.

"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?"   —Isaiah 58:6-7

God is calling my family to worship him. The Fast from Fast Food is a call to action, an action that requires sacrifice of things that we love, and that we have to work to make our world a better place. Fast food workers, and millions of other workers, are suffering. Right now. But I, and my family, are with them and will support them in every way we can.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. —Isaiah 58:6-7

So, sorry Shamrock Shake. Not this year. Our substitute is to crush Thin Mints into vanilla ice cream, but no one is convinced it will be the same. Our hearts are light knowing that we are fasting for something that is right, and that God will answer our call. What have you sacrificed in the Fast from Fast Food? What else can you do during the fast to help fast food workers?

This year, we're passing on the shakes. Instead of spending $10 on four Shamrock Shakes (those tasty little concoctions cost about $2.50 plus tax!) for me and my family, we've decided to donate that money to IWJ in support of the Fast Food Fast. I invite you to join me in this small contribution of solidarity and support.

The GTS8 and Worker Justice at Seminary

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On Sept. 30, eight professors at General Theological Seminary were fired for exercising their basic (and legal!) rights as faculty members and as workers: the right to form a union. They demanded to meet to address issues that created a “hostile work environment."

Their firing doesn’t just impact the professors, but the students and future leaders of the Church. As custodians and overseers of an institution charged with nurturing the next generation of Episcopalian leaders, it is the Board of Trustees’ responsibility to lead by example and practice worker relations that align with the values of the Church and honor workers’ legal and moral rights.

At the 2102 General Convention, the Episcopal Church resolved to build networks in the labor movement and work with those in the labor movement to strengthen for a more just society, pledged to oppose legislative attempts that eliminate or reduce collective bargaining rights and consider union rights when making purchasing and contracting decisions. Given the Episcopal Church’s explicate opposition to retaliation and support of workers’ right to organize.

By refusing to fully reinstate the GTS8 (all the updates are here), GTS has failed to live out its religious values. Worker advocates are turning to the Presiding Bishop and Episcopal Church for leadership and accountability. What the Board of Trustees has done wrong, the Church can make right. We say to Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori: It's time to step in; push for full reinstatement of the GTS8!

As the Deputy Director of IWJ, I’ve encountered my fair share of unscrupulous corporate bosses who strip workers of their rights and dignity on the job. As a faithful Episcopalian and divinity school graduate, whose experience of church and seminary led me to my vocation, I never imagined the day when I’d find myself rallying against leaders of the Church’s oldest seminary.

On Oct. 17, the GTS Board of Trustees ruled against pleas — from students, clergy, worker advocates and concerned people of faith — to fully reinstate the GTS8.

What the board of trustees has done is wrong. The Presiding Bishop can make this right. Episcopalians, seminarians, clergy, people of faith and worker rights advocates all over the country are waiting for her to act. The GTS8 deserve nothing less than full reinstatement.

Sign the petition telling Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori: It's time to step in; push for full reinstatement of the GTS8!

Labor in the Pulpit at my church

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I never get up too early on a Sunday. But I asked my pastor for the opportunity to speak in front of the congregation on Labor Day weekend as part of IWJ's Labor in the Pulpits program, and that meant attending the early service on Sunday.

So, with my coffee in hand and my sermon carefully numbered and printed in hard copy, I walked to church.

Aina in the PulpitI was nervous about giving the message I had prepared. My family was new to the parish - we had been there almost a year, which is not much in church time, and I don’t think most folks knew about my job. I’m guessing they saw me as a mother chasing around after my three small children; or the person that occasionally brings mini donuts for the coffee hour. This was a different kind of introduction to my life—my work, my personal story of being from a working class family, my faith, and how all of those things connect to worker justice.

Click here to read my Labor in the Pulpit sermon.

I wasn’t sure how some folks would take it. I’ve done Labor in the Pulpits several times, and someone argues with me every year about the relevance of and value of unions. I knew that our church had business owners and managers in the pews, and the local school district superintendent, who had just negotiated a difficult contract with our teachers was also a member. I wasn’t sure if my message would ruffle feathers.

But after each service, I found myself surrounded by well wishers and union members from AFSCME, AFGE, the writers union and others. I even heard a few “Amens” called out during my message, not common practice for the reserved and often stoic worship of Episcopalians.  

My goal was to put the “Labor” back in Labor Day at my Church. But there were other benefits too.  I built a relationship with my pastor (who is a smart, hard working, lovely woman) and made personal and strong connections with several new people in the church. Sharing my story and work helped deepen my faith, affirm my passion for justice, and strengthen my community. It felt great.

Which is good, because I think I’m already booked for next Labor Day weekend!

It's not too late to honor a worker for Labor Day. Join people of faith all month and honor a worker with a gift to IWJ. 

Remembering Rev. Emmett Jarrett

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Father Emmett was an Episcopal priest who lived at St. Francis House in New London, Connecticut, an intentional Christian community.

One of the joys of working at Interfaith Worker Justice is seeing the nurturing and development of new religious leaders who will go out and do God's work. Another joy is remembering those who spend their lives advocating for the fair treatment and respect of others.

One of those tireless champions was Rev. Emmett Jarrett, whodied in October at the age of 71. Father Emmett was an Episcopal priest who lived at St. Francis House in New London, Connecticut, an intentional Christian community. He had a long history of activism for the homeless and the anti-war movement, and lived a life of service to those around him.

I met Father Emmett several times through the Episcopal Urban Caucus, a group of Episcopal leaders that promotes progressive causes through the national church. I learned a lot in our short meetings - how to be kind and sincere to everyone around you; how to maintain a gentle spirit in often difficult times; and how to engage people in the Church in the work of justice.

I am grateful for his legacy and life, and the opportunity to learn from him. His fundamental belief that we should care for our neighbors is one that I, and all of us in the worker justice movement, will carry on with his memory.