Ian Pajer-Rogers

Social Christianity

Posted |

United Methodist News Service/Flickr

From Patheos:

by William Droel

A religion-labor coalition appeared during the first decade of the 20th century, reversing the prior hostile suspicion that many Church leaders (upper case C) had toward unions. The change was led by the laity, not primarily by theologians, bishops and other pastors. Heath Carter, using Chicago as his case study, exhaustively combs old newspapers, letters, organizational statements and more to prove this thesis. The result is Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Workers, it turns out, are the church (lower case c) just as much as Church employees. Working people are “not systematic theologians,” writes Carter. But Carter uncovers evidence that many took their faith seriously, talked about it, and attempted to influence the Churchy types. Evangelization, he shows, goes in the opposite direction of the usual presumption. Workaday Christians actually evangelize the Church.

Protestant ministers, dependent on the collection basket and other private donations, had “long-standing ties [to] industrial elites,” Carter explains. Consequently, late 19th century working families criticized the clergy for their lifestyle and for the ornate furnishings in many churches. Catholic clergy, though less connected to the wealthy, sometimes adopted the same posture. Chicago Catholic Bishop Anthony O’Regan (1809-1866), for example, was taken to task over his “palatial estate.”

Protestant theology developed a social analysis that can still be found in public policy debates and in street corner conversations. “Poverty sprang from individual—not systematic—defects,” common Protestant opinion said. Jesus’ saving grace was for sinful individuals, not for an unjust society. The corollary said that “prosperity was available to anyone willing to work for it.”
Though Carter does not dwell on the point, this individualistic theology was (and is) a companion to anti-Catholicism. Its signature campaign in days gone by was anti-drinking; today it is probably anti-immigration.

Protestant pastors scolded the laity for their interest in labor movements. Such involvement was divisive, a distraction from individual salvation and a violation of a contract, albeit a verbal one between and individual employer and individual employee. Catholic clergy tended to emphasize another supposed evil. The labor movements were susceptible to godless socialism.

There were exceptions among the clergy. But in Carter’s case study many clergy saidno to labor campaigns, including the eight-hour day, wage increase for women, and racial justice in the workplace. In general the no was louder when a strike or boycott was involved.

The persistent effort of lay leaders paid off. Through letters to the editor, presentations inside some churches, speeches at rallies, and more ordinary workers gradually influenced Church employees to reconsider the cause of labor. Also, as Carter details, working families (more among Protestants than Catholics) began to stay home on Sunday mornings. This became a wake-up call for Church leaders.

The New World is our Chicago Catholic newspaper. Carter makes extensive use of its archive. Until the mid-1890s the newspaper was cautiously reserved regarding labor movements. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) promulgated a great encyclical, On the Condition of Labor. Though not in direct cause and effect, “a decisive shift” occurred shortly thereafter in New World reporting and editorials.

Read more from Patheos.

Francis: Employers not offering health insurance are 'true leeches'

Posted |

Flickr/Republic of Korea

From the National Catholic Reporter:

by Joshua J. McElwee

Pope Francis has condemned employers who exploit their workers by offering only temporary contracts or not providing health insurance, calling them "true leeches [that] live on the bloodletting of the people they make slaves to work."

Reflecting Thursday on the day's Mass readings during his homily at Casa Santa Marta, the pontiff also said that Christians err when they think there is a "theology of prosperity" in which God "sees that you are just and gives you much wealth."

"You cannot serve God and wealth," the pope said, reflecting on a passage from the letter of James in which the early disciple warns that the wealthy will one day "weep and wail" and that their riches will rot away.

While wealth can be a good thing if it is used for good ends, it can also become like a "chain" that pulls us away from being free to follow Jesus, said Francis.

The pope imagined a scenario in which an employer offers work to someone from September to June, without the possibility of a pension or health insurance. For July and August that person "must eat air," said the pontiff.

Rephrasing James' warning, Francis said: "The blood of all the people that you have sucked dry ... is a cry to the Lord, a cry of justice. Exploitation of people today is a true slavery."

"We thought that slaves do not exist anymore," said the pontiff. "They exist. It's true, people don't go to Africa to take them and then sell them in America, no. But it's in our cities."

"Living off the blood of the people: This is a mortal sin," said the pope. "It is a mortal sin. And it takes much patience, much restitution to convert ourselves from this sin."

Francis recalled that funeral of a man that he said "was ruined" because "they could not close the casket."

"He wanted to take with him all that he had, and he couldn't," said the pope. "No one can bring their wealth with them."

"Let's think of this drama of today," said the pontiff. "The exploitation of people, the blood of this people that becomes slaves, the traffickers of people and not only those that traffic prostitutes and children for child labor, but trafficking that's more, let's say, 'civilized.'"

The pope then mimicked an employer who says: "I will pay you this much, without vacation time, without health insurance, all under the table -- but I will become rich!'"

Read more from the National Catholic Reporter.

Dems to Obama: 'Stop the deportations'

Posted |

Associated Press


From The Hill:

by Mike Lillis

House liberals intensified their criticisms of President Obama's deportation policies on Wednesday, urging the administration to scrap enforcement guidelines that target new arrivals and focus solely on criminals. 

Appearing on Capitol Hill with several dozen Central American asylum seekers, the Democrats hammered the Department of Homeland Security's ongoing operations targeting women and children, saying even those who've been denied refugee status should be allowed to remain in the country.

The lawmakers warned that sending those families back to the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — among the most violent regions in the world — would put them in harm’s way. 

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) called the deportations "cruel and misguided."

"The removal operations … do not live up to our American values or our time-honored tradition of offering refuge to those fleeing violence and brutality in their own country," she said.

"We agree that the administration must continue to enforce our immigration laws and deport felons and those who will do our country harm. But not women and children like you see here today."

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee's immigration subpanel, delivered a similar message.

"Years ago, the president said we were going to focus on felons, not families," Lofgren said. "To put resources into children and their mothers instead of felons as a priority — I don't understand that. When we're through removing all the felons, then we can talk about the [mothers] and the kids."

Homeland Security launched its enforcement operations in January, rounding up 121 undocumented immigrants who'd been denied asylum status and putting them in line for deportation. Most of those affected were Central American women and children who'd arrived with the southern border surge of 2014.

The administration is working to prevent a similar surge this summer, and the deportation of even a small fraction of the new arrivals is thought to send a message of deterrence to Central America.

Reinforcing that strategy, the DHS released new figures this month revealing that, while the number of families and unaccompanied children apprehended at the southern border skyrocketed in the early months of fiscal 2016, they dropped sharply after the enforcement operations were announced in December.

The White House and DHS officials maintain they're simply enforcing immigration law based on guidelines they adopted in November 2014, which aim to focus limited resources on deporting criminals and new arrivals. 

"No one is removed if they have an ongoing, pending claim or appeal for asylum or some other form of humanitarian relief," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Friday. "People are given access to due process, and that is a foundational principle for all of this."

The debate has lingered since the initial arrests in January, but it's heated up recently with the news that the DHS intends to continue the operations in upcoming months — news broken by Reuters last week. 

"We would anticipate that the deportation numbers would continue to go up," Earnest said.

The news has infuriated congressional Democrats, who say the better solution for preventing a new migrant wave is to coordinate with regional governments, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations to adopt a hemispheric strategy for absorbing refugees and stabilizing the Northern Triangle.  

"We're asking the administration to do something smarter than they're doing now," Lofgren said. 

Democrats say the asylum seekers are not always notified when they're expected to appear in court and are too-often denied access to legal counsel.

"When they have a lawyer, they win," Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said Wednesday. 

Gutiérrez boiled down the Democrats' message to five words: "Obama should stop the deportations." 

Read more from The Hill.


Whether Corporations, Too, Can Be Saved

Posted |

From Lutheran Confessions:

by Pastor Clint Schnekloth

I'm going to attempt a meditation on Christian ethics and corporations, and I think perhaps it is best to start with a story. I grew up on a family farm. I can still remember the day our family farm incorporated, and eventually we replaced the sign on the barn that read "Sunny View Farms" with "Schnekloth Farms Inc." At the time, I don't think I understood all the implications of the change, but it had something to do with taxes and the size of the farm and the fact that "Sunny View Farms" was already an incorporated name, so we had to choose another one.

In my adult life, now away from the farm and living in the city, I always hear conversations about corporate farming and agri-business with an ear tuned differently. I'm sympathetic to multiple perspectives. I know that even though my family farm is large, and a corporation, it is still also a family farm. I see both the personal and the corporate side of the ledger.

Also as an adult, convinced as I have become by my reading of Scripture and Christian tradition, I have adopted a confessional position that understands the prophetic tradition of our faith to stand at odds with quite a lot of capitalist corporate ethics. Inasmuch as big businesses make the bottom line the telos of corporate life, and adopt a teleological ethics (the ends justify the means), I must stand against such an ethic.

Making a profit is a "good," on one level, but it is a good that must be qualified by other ethical considerations.

I am quite aware, having lived among and listened to people working at every level of corporate life, that business professionals themselves bring an array of ethical considerations to bear on their decision-making. They move beyond the profit-motive, and take into consideration the good of their employees, care of the land, moral systems of the right (deontology), etc.

It is not true that corporate leaders think only about profit.

But it is equally true that most corporate leaders are unaware of how primary the profit-motive is to all their decision-making, and how influenced they are by their position of power and wealth.

In fact, it's probably impossible for them to see this at work in themselves, typically because part of their compensation is shares in the company, and so their own net worth is increased if the company does well.

Self-interest is always tricky.

So, if I spend time talking with executives at a large corporation, the way they think about themselves and their company is typically very distant from the way the average consumer, or the average worker, thinks about that company. I think the distance between perspectives is caused in large part by the wealth. Because executives make such vast sums of money and are regularly congratulated for their success, they come to believe that they are primarily good. And because many corporations get to be patrons in the community as a result of their wealth, they not only think they are good, they also get the impression about themselves that they are benevolent.

Patron-client structures are equally tricky.

On the consumer and worker side, consumers tend to notice (rightly) what is lacking in the quality of products produced by corporations, driven as they are by the profit-motive. On the worker side, they are very aware of how much the corporation is mostly just using them as a cog in the machine, and paying them wages that match their position as a "tool."

All of this only begins to scratch the surface. Corporate ethics is incredibly complex.

So, to return to the story itself, I happen to know executives at big corporations. I also know workers on production lines. If I weigh in on corporate ethics as a preacher, it's a rather awkward position to be in, because the workers generally feel supported and heartened to know a pastor will stand with them. They're also surprised, because the majority of clergy in our tradition pastor middle class churches whose members work primarily at the corporate office.

In the meantime, my friends and parishioners who work at the corporate offices rightly wonder what I think of them, especially if and when I call out what I consider to be ethics violations by the corporation at which they work.

In short, the answer is, I don't change my interactions with parishioners based on where they work anymore than I change interactions with parishioners based on what they share with me about their psychological diagnosis. If you learn anything as a pastor, it's that we are complex creatures. You can love a whole person even after you know very intimate things about them, like their criminal record or their annual salary.

So, consider this. Martin Luther often wrote popular essays on ethical topics. One of my favorites had the catchy title, "Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved."

Luther knew that it isn't just individuals who are looking for a word from the Lord. Social groups and nations are addressed in Scripture also, and need such a word. You can hardly read a book of the Bible without coming to the realization that when God speaks through preachers and prophets, God primarily addresses not individuals, but groups.

This put me in mind of the Jonah text quoted at the beginning of this long post. Jonah was called by the Lord to speak out against the whole city of Nineveh. He's not told to go and convert an individual person, or individuals. He's called to preach to the city (and by implication the people/nation) as a whole.

Preachers throughout history have spoken to nations and groups, not just individuals. But in a hyper-individualistic society, we may have a hard time thinking about preaching to corporations. We have perhaps gathered the wrong idea, assuming that a sermon is primarily something spoken on Sunday morning that is just for the individual believer to hear.

But how do we preach to corporations? Like Luther's question about soldiers, we might ask whether corporations, too, can be saved?

It's not really that strange of a question.  Corporations are in our legal fiction "persons". As persons, our political or economic theology may need to figure out how to address them. Thanks to Adam Smith and the rise of classic liberal economic theory, which moved beyond mercantilistic theory, corporations in the 18th century became untethered from government or guild affiliation and became public or private entities in their own right.

Corporations are part of the "powers and principalities" (Ephesians 6:12).  They need sermons in order to be called to repentance that they might serve the common good more fully. All Christians at some level or another recognize that part of preaching is challenge. The preacher is supposed to name sin, identify where we have fallen short, and then offer a word of forgiveness in the name of Christ so that the sinner may then, set free from sin, live in Christ.

It may be that corporations also need to hear the gospel. Although I don't know anyone who thinks that corporations will as corporations enter the kingdom of heaven, we do believe that every power and principality, from a government to a corporation to a cultural system, can move either into greater alignment with the will of God, or further from it.

The relationship between individuals working for a corporation and the entity of a corporation itself is complex. Just like there are no people who are totally good or totally bad, the same may be said of corps. If a preacher says to a person, "Turn from your sin, and live," the preacher is not saying that person is bad or should be buried in guilt because of their sin. The preacher is naming the sin so they can change and live differently, and then hopes they will live more fully in the gospel.

So too with corporations. Preachers need to figure out how to speak to corporations in their communities and challenge them. Would that many more preachers would preach to the corporations! Corporations are "actors" in some ways comparable to human beings, and they need moral checks and balances in place to keep them doing better. Corporations are somewhat unique compared to people in that they have much more power and influence than individuals.

Corporations, especially large corporations, can have tremendous influence in a community. Although oftentimes the main positive influence they put forward is their charity (scholarships, foundations, grants, etc.) the actual positive influence from large corporations is the quality of the product they produce, and the way they pay and care for their workers. No amount of charity in a community can make up for a company paying poverty level wages to thousands of people. No amount of scholarships to schools can make up for tax avoidance.

Corporations can create fear, they can direct everything around them. Like sinners, they can then become blind to their own systems of power and dominance. As a preacher who ends up listening to people at all levels of corporate life, I have learned that typically those at the top are completely tone-deaf to the impact of their power and wealth. They often can't even see the impact of the systems they create, even while they create them in order to purposely stay immune and mostly blind.

Then, because they have great wealth, they are able to do beautiful things that are supposed to provide cover for the harm.

Let me give one example. We have this amazing museum now in Northwest Arkansas, Crystal Bridges. I love to go there. They've got Mark Rothko paintings, among other great works of art. The only reason they are able to have such a large collection of art is because a member of the Walton family is so wealthy (in the top five wealthiest people in the world) she was able to personally collect great American art and build the museum.

Every time I go visit the museum, I love it. I also remember that the entire museum was built from wealth accumulated by sending small communities all over the world into spirals of poverty as big box Walmart stores were built on the outskirts of towns. My opportunity to view Rothko was funded on the backs of the poor. This is a truth.

I'm not even sure what to do with that level of complexity. Should I not go visit the art? What should I do to change that reality. How should I extricate myself from those kinds of systems? Can I?

I imagine this is what it also feels like to work for a large corporation if it is called out for ethics violations. Employees may ponder, Am I complicit? What should I do? Am I a bad person for working here? What if I like working here, and like this company, but learn it is doing something I don't believe in? What should I do?

I think the responsibility of a Christian employee in a large corporation is probably actually very close to the responsibility of any Christian consumer. Inasmuch as possible, work for the good of your neighbor. Do not profit off your neighbor unjustly. If you learn that there are ethics violations within your company, or from a company whose products you consume, raise the issue with the company, not to create guilt, but to create change. Identify the concrete steps you think they should take, and list them. Join with others.

Because the powers and principalities know how to fight, it is guaranteed there will be blowback. None of us like to be challenged. If my friends tell me I should change something, naturally I get defensive. If they challenge me on something I'm particularly blind to, or really don't want to change because I'm quite comfortable, my pushback will be even stronger.

Now magnify this at the corporate level. Corporations have incredible defense systems in place. It's no wonder that its hard for workers and consumers to organize. Corporations have figured out how to game the system to make it hard to organize.

Organize anyway.

Do it always with the goal in mind, for change, for the neighbor in need.

Jesus came preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In our day, now more than ever, this preaching needs to address corporations also.

Corporations need to hear sermons. They need preachers. For the love of God and neighbor.

I would add one more thing. If you listen to workers, you find out how difficult things really are. Wages in real terms for workers have diminished year after year while the super wealthy at the top of the corporations take home sickeningly large paychecks. Many at upper levels of management also take home really large salaries.

Read more from Lutheran Confessions.

Analysis: How Obama paved the way on key labor issues

Posted |


by Amy Traub

It’s not every day that low-paid workers — cleaners mopping the floors of Washington’s Union Station, vendors selling pretzels at the National Zoo, servers dishing out hot lunch at congressional cafeterias — speak out and win a voice in setting national policy. Yet three years ago, that’s exactly what began to happen.

In May 2013, workers employed by private companies under contract with the federal government came together to form Good Jobs Nation – and walked out on strike in the nation’s capital.

Hundreds of workers flooded the streets of D.C. that day and for 17 more strikes in the years since. They stood up on behalf of nearly 2 million more workers who — as my Demos colleague Robert Hiltonsmith and I found in our research — were paid $12 an hour or less to work on behalf of the American people, employed by private companies through contracts, grants, loans, concession agreements and property leases with the federal government. At the same time, many of these same companies provided their executives with exorbitant compensation on the taxpayer dime. Even as President Obama and a growing number of economic analysts were identifying the loss of stable, middle-class jobs as a top national concern, U.S. tax dollars were effectively fueling the low-wage economy and exacerbating inequality.

Of course, workers employed on federal contracts represent just a portion of the U.S. workforce that is underpaid and overworked, working without paid sick time or a voice on the job, and often laboring under hazardous conditions. But while Congress blocked efforts to raise the minimum wage and advance workplace fairness for all Americans, Obama used his executive power to improve standards for one group of workers he could affect directly: federal contract employees. Less than a year after contract workers first walked off the job on strike, the president announced in his State of the Union address that he would raise the minimum wage for contract employees to $10.10 an hour. More executive orders followed: Obama guaranteed paid sick time to contract workers, cracked down on federal contractors who flout federal wage and safety laws, extended contract workers’  protection from discrimination, and acted to advance equal pay in the contracting workforce.

The president’s executive actions are important because they directly improve the lives of Americans working for federal contractors and establish a model for Congress to follow in improving wages and employment conditions for all working Americans. And just as Obama’s executive orders for federal contract workers built on a long history of ensuring our tax dollars provide decent jobs with fair hiring, the next president will have the opportunity to build on Obama’s efforts.

Read more from MSNBC.

Americans Don’t Miss Manufacturing — They Miss Unions

Posted |

Kheel Center/Flickr

From FiveThirtyEight:

by Ben Casselman

U.S. manufacturing jobs, I argued a few weeks ago, are never coming back. But that doesn’t stop politicians from talking about them. Donald Trump scored his knockout blow in Indiana in part by railing against the decision by Carrier, a local air-conditioning manufacturer, to shift production to Mexico. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have sparred throughout their race over who would best protect manufacturing jobs. And the man they are all trying to replace, President Obama, pledged during his reelection campaign to create a million manufacturing jobs during his second term; he’s still about 700,000 jobs short of that goal.

Candidates talk about manufacturing because of what it represents in the popular imagination: a source of stable, well-paying jobs, especially for people without a college degree. But that image is rooted more in nostalgia than in reality. Manufacturing no longer plays its former role in the economy, and not only because there are far fewer factory jobs than in the past. The jobs being created today often pay less than those of the past — sometimes far less.

A new report this week from the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley, found that a third of production workers — non-managers working on factory floors and in related occupations — earn so little that their families receive some form of public assistance such as food stamps or the Earned Income Tax Credit. Many of those workers are temps, who account for a growing share of factory employment. The median wage for a manufacturing production worker, according to separate data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $16.14 an hour in 2015, below the $17.40 an hour for all workers.

On average, manufacturing jobs still pay better than most jobs available to people without a college degree. The median manufacturing worker without a bachelor’s degree earned $15 an hour in 2015, a dollar more than similarly educated workers in other industries.1 But those averages obscure a great deal of variation beneath the surface. Average manufacturing wages are inflated by high-earning veterans; newly created jobs tend to pay less. And there are substantial regional variations. The average manufacturing production worker in Michigan earns $20.80 an hour, vs.$18.86 in South Carolina, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why do factory workers make more in Michigan? In a word: unions. The Midwest was, at least until recently, a bastion of union strength. Southern states, by contrast, are mostly “right-to-work” states where unions never gained a strong foothold. Private-sector unions have been shrinking across the country for decades, but they are stronger in the Midwest than in most other parts of the country. In Michigan, 23 percent of manufacturing production workers were union members in 2015; in South Carolina, less than 2 percent were.2

Unions also help explain why the middle class is healthier in the Midwest than in the Southeast, where manufacturing jobs have been growing rapidly in recent decades. A new analysis from the Pew Research Center this week explored the state of the middle class in different parts of the country by looking at the share of households making between two-thirds and double the national median income, after controlling for the local cost of living. In many Midwestern cities, 60 percent or more of households are considered “middle-income” by this definition; in some Southern cities, even those with large manufacturing bases, middle-income households are now in the minority.

Even in the Midwest, however, unions are weakening and the middle class is shrinking. In the Indianapolis metro area, where the Carrier plant Trump talks about is located, the share of households in the middle tier of earners has shrunk to 54.8 percent in 2014 from 58.9 percent in 2000. And unlike in some parts of the country, the decline in the middle class there has been primarily driven by people falling into the lower tier of earners, not moving up. The Carrier plant, where workers make more than $20 an hour, is unionized.

Cause and effect here is complicated. Unions have been weakened by some of the same forces that are driving down wages overall, such as globalization and automation. And while unions benefit their members, economists disagree over whether they are good for the economy as a whole. Liberal economists note that overall wages tend to be higher in union-friendly states; conservative economists counter that unemployment tends to be higher in those states, too.

But this much is clear: For all of the glow that surrounds manufacturing jobs in political rhetoric, there is nothing inherently special about them. Some pay well; others don’t. They are not immune from the forces that have led to slow wage growth in other sectors of the economy. When politicians pledge to protect manufacturing jobs, they really mean a certain kind of job: well-paid, long-lasting, with opportunities for advancement. Those aren’t qualities associated with working on a factory floor; they’re qualities associated with being a member of a union.

Read more from FiveThirtyEight.

Why Child Care Should Be a Right—Not a Perk

Posted |

From Glamour:

by Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy

When Judith Warner, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, started investigating the challenges low-income parents face getting childcare, she didn’t expect to have her findings hit home in such a personal way.

“What struck me over and over again was a ‘There but for the grace of God’ feeling,” Warner says of her interviews with nearly three dozen parents, providers, advocates and policy experts. “We all know what a struggle it is to get good child care and pay for good child care. Unless you are really well off, the stress of childcare is a financial stretch for everyone in the United States.”

Warner would know—she literally wrote the book the topic; Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety tackles how hard it is for middle- and upper-class mothers to juggle everything. Her interviews with countless middle class women all led to the same conclusion: The pressure to be perfect parents to our children is literally driving us mad.

We all know professional women who left the workforce because it made more financial sense to stay home than to pay for day care. Now imagine what it would feel like if child care remained completely out of reach financially without a job—and now imagine that that job pays the minimum wage and doesn't guarantee regular hours. Now you know what life is like for the majority of working moms.

In her new report, Jumping Through Hoops and Set Up to Fail: Parents Speak Out About Child Care Assistance, Warner interviews families to reveal a vicious cycle: parents are increasingly looking for childcare to get jobs that make it possible to get public childcare assistance. On top of this, the report says that mothers are often “treated in an insulting, demeaning way"—just because they’re poor.

According to the Center for American Progress, families can pay an average of $1,486 each month for child care (typically an infant and a toddler). That works out to eight weeks of groceries, fourteen weeks of health insurance, and 24 weeks of student loan payments—in other words, a serious economic toll for low-income families. And the impact is especially disheartening if you know just how much some mothers do every day to keep their heads above water.

Princess Mack is a 46-year old mother of four children in Denver. She works with Denver Human Services, helping low-income mothers connect with the services they need to support their families. Mack knows first-hand what it’s like to be in her clients’ shoes: When found herself out of work after moving to Colorado in 2005, the employees at the government offices she had to turn to for child care services made her feel “demeaned"—“like it was us against them.”

The system itself prevented women like Mack from gaining access to the benefits the needed by forcing them away from their jobs—having to submit paperwork during business hours or having to wait entire workdays to see a caseworker (who might then unexpectedly be out). Often, because of administrative errors like lost paperwork, a mother would be forced to begin the entire process over again.

Low-income mothers, and single low-income mothers especially, are forced into a system where they are penalized for simply trying to do what’s best for their children. In doing so, they face horrifying levels of stress and mental health issues.

Read more from Glamour.

Health care is a right, not a privilege, pope says

Posted |

From Catholic News Services:

by Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church is not a fancy medical clinic for the rich, but a “field hospital” that — often literally — provides the only medical care some people will ever receive, Pope Francis said.

“Health is not a consumer good but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege,” the pope said May 7 during a meeting with members, volunteers and supporters of Doctors With Africa, a medical mission begun by the Diocese of Padua, Italy, 65 years ago.

In many parts of the world, especially in Africa, the pope said, basic health care “is denied — denied!” — to too many people. “It is not a right for all, but rather still a privilege for a few, for those who can afford it.”

“Access to health serves, to treatment and to pharmaceuticals is still a mirage,” Pope Francis told the group, which includes dozens of young doctors who volunteer their services in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Angola, South Sudan and Sierra Leone.

Offering medical care in sub-Saharan Africa and training Africans to take over the clinics when they are able is an important expression of “a church that is not a super-clinic for VIPs, but a field hospital,” the pope said.

Read more from Catholic News Services.

Sued, Cuomo Says He Supports New York Farmworkers’ Right to Organize

Posted |

Nathaniel Brooks/The New York Times

From The New York Times:

by Marc Santora

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Tuesday that he supported collective bargaining rights for the 60,000 New York farmworkers and that the state was renouncing a loophole in federal labor laws that had left farmworkers unprotected and marginalized for more than seven decades.

Mr. Cuomo’s statement came just hours after the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint in State Supreme Court in Albany saying that preventing farmworkers from organizing was a violation of the State Constitution. The state and the governor were named as the defendants.

In a statement, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said his administration would not fight the lawsuit.

“Because of a flaw in the state labor relations act, farmworkers are not afforded the right to organize without fear of retaliation — which is unacceptable,” he said. “We will not tolerate the abuse or exploitation of workers in any industry. This clear and undeniable injustice must be corrected.”

Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the civil liberties organization, said it was now looking forward to achieving a court-ordered settlement to establish protections allowing farmworkers to organize.

The right of workers to organize is enshrined in a federal law passed in 1935 known as the National Labor Relations Act.

As part of a compromise to get the legislation and other key parts of the New Deal approved by Congress, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a number of concessions. Specifically, he needed the support of a bloc of politicians from the South, where the economy was largely driven by agriculture — and where the work force was disproportionately black. An exemption carved into the labor act put its protections beyond the reach of farmworkers. To this day, farmworkers are not accorded the same federal protections as other workers.

In 1938, New York amended its own Constitution to expand the rights of workers to bargain collectively.

“It’s a shame for New York that in 2016, a holdover, racist policy from the Jim Crow era prevents farmworkers from organizing to improve their brutal work conditions,” Ms. Lieberman said. “Enough is enough.”

The New York Farm Bureau, an industry advocacy group, said it was reviewing the lawsuit and could not comment on it specifically, but said there were reasons farmworkers should not be allowed to bargain collectively.

“The right to organize is a labor union tactic that may work in a factory setting,” the group said. “But not on a farm where the planting and harvesting of crops and the milking of cows are extremely time-sensitive and weather-dependent.”

After Mr. Cuomo said he wanted to raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 gradually, Dean Norton, the president of the group, said that the “decision to not defend the state’s labor law is an affront to agriculture and good farmers across the state.”

The fight to expand worker protections to farmworkers in New York stretches back decades. Former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, the current governor’s father, even formed a task force to study the issue and found that farmworkers were largely left to fend for themselves.

“Relatively defenseless and powerless, they benefit from few protective programs,” the task force reported in 1991. “They typically work only part of the year and earn low annual incomes for arduous physical labor. All too many live in deplorable housing and have little recourse against those employers who are unscrupulous.”

The civil liberties group argues that many of those conditions still apply.

With $6.36 billion in sales in 2014, New York is one of nation’s leaders in a variety of dairy and farm products. Yet the farming industry’s workers are among the lowest paid in the state. The average yearly wages for farmworkers in 2015 was $28,430, according to data from the State Labor Department, about one-third less than the overall state average of $41,650.

Farmworkers tend to be less likely to challenge unfair conditions, according to their advocates, because many do not speak English and fear deportation. A study by the Community and Regional Development Institute at Cornell University estimates that roughly 75 percent of farmworkers in New York are undocumented.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Crispin Hernandez, who until last year worked 12-hour days, six days a week, as a milker on Marks Farms, near Lowville, in the Adirondacks. Marks is one of the largest dairy producers in the state, with nearly 5,000 cows and 55 workers.

In a statement, the owners of Marks Farms said that the complaint was inaccurate and that they would be working to set the record straight.

Read more from The New York Times.

Upcoming Events in the IWJ Network

Posted |

ITHACA, NEW YORK (October 24th) -- The Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Mark Pearce, will be speaking at Cornell University starting at 4:30 p.m. in Room 184 of Myron Taylor Hall on Monday, October 24th 2016.This event will feature an extended Q&A with the public, and may be of particular interest to residents in and surrounding Tompkins County given their expressed interest in organizing unions in many workplaces. More information from Cornell Law School about this event.

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK (October 29) -- DAMAYAN Workers Cooperative (DWC) is hosting an open house in order to inform and empower surrounding communities. Attendees will get to hear from DWC founders about the organization's vision as well as potential opportunities for Filipino nannies, babysitters, housekeepers and more. They will also have the opportunity to mingle with and learn from NYC coops, NYC council members & DAMAYAN allies about topics such as financial stability. The event will happen on Saturday, October 29th from 12:30-3:30pm at the Nature Conservancy (322 8th Ave New York, NY 10011 Fl. 12).There will be a light lunch from 12:00-12:30pm. Please bring a government-issued ID to this event. More information from DAMAYAN Workers Cooperative about this event.

LATHAM, NEW YORK (November 16) -- Once a year, the Labor Religion Coalition of New York State gathers to celebrate their leaders at an annual Faith at Work Awards Breakfast. The Coalition be honoring four inspiring individuals who are leading labor and faith communities in the struggle for a better New York. Tickets are $50 per person or free for members who contribute $5/month or more to Labor-Religion Coalition. If you’d like to become a member and receive a complimentary ticket, click here: http://bit.ly/LRCMember. More information from the Labor Religion Coalition of New York State about this event.

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI (December 14-16) -- The 2016 annual EARN Conference will be held this year in recognition of the critical role that St. Louis has played in national discussions of economic and racial justice over the past two years. This event will continue EARN's multi-year campaign to support state and local efforts to raise wages and strengthen labor standards, with a focus on the unique challenges faced by communities of color, historically disadvantaged communities, and states/regions where progressive policy victories are harder to come by. The 2016 EARN Conference will occur between December 14-16 at the St. Louis Marriott Grand Hotel in St. Louis, MO. Various workshops will be available on topics such as The Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter.  More information about the 2016 annual EARN Conference.

Don't see your event listed? Contact Ian at ipajer-rogers[at]iwj[dot]org to add your event.