Interfaith Worker Justice

This is what religion looks like.


Kim Bobo

IWJ applauds the DOL's new home care rule

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Today, the U.S. Department of Labor announced it would extend some basic worker protections to 2 million caregivers through the country. Interfaith Worker Justice applauds the DOL for issuing the final home care rule, and is praying in thanksgiving to all the workers, advocates and organizations supporting the rule. This rule is good public policy, good for workers and good for the economy.

The home care rule is good public policy. The DOL deliberately sought out feedback on the rule and received 26,000 comments, of which 80 percent supported the proposed rule. The department thoughtfully addressed the concerns raised, including the need to provide adequate implementation time for the new rule.

The home care rule is good for workers. Two million workers who provide home care services will be protected by minimum wage and overtime rules. Given the increasing numbers of homebound elderly in the nation, home care services are big businesses. Workers deserve to be paid fairly and protected by the nation’s labor laws.

The home care rule is good for the economy. Home care workers are providers for their own families. The extra income generated will be spent on their own families in their own communities in ways that are good for a consumer-based economy.

“People of faith know that paying workers fairly is the right and moral thing to do,” said the Rev. Paul Sherry, President of Interfaith Worker Justice's Board of Directors. “This rule puts our values in the public arena."

Learn more about the new home care worker rule from the Department of Labor.

IWJ supports AFL-CIO's community partnership initiatives

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Kim at AFLCIOAll religions believe in justice. Interfaith Worker Justice strongly supports the community partnership initiatives of the AFL-CIO. 

Faith and labor share core values. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Shared values.

Faith and labor want deep relationships. We don’t want “dial-a-priest,” “rent-a-collar” or perfunctory opening-prayer relationships. We want long-term, deep and honest connections. We want to jointly create strategies, outreach to workers, and challenge unethical employers. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we want to go into the fire together as true friends and colleagues.

Faith and Labor must tell the truth. We need shared prosperity. The economy is not working. “Thou shalt not steal, wages.” Walmart: “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Oh yes, we must be the prophets of this nation.

Workers need faith and labor partnerships. Workers don’t organize just for money. Workers feel God’s spirit and presence, which supports their courage, resolve and leadership. Workers need us to work together.

Like a tree that’s planted by the water, faith and labor together:

  • Sharing core values
  • Building deep relationships
  • Speaking the truth
  • Supporting and standing with workers

 Amen. Together doing God’s Work. 

IWJ's Kim Bobo joined labor leaders this week at the AFL-CIO's national convention. The AFL-CIO proposed an initiative to strengthen relationships with community allies like Interfaith Worker Justice. At the convention, Kim spoke to support the proposal which was resolved on Tuesday.   

Choosing Your Seat on Labor Day

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Kim at Holy FamilyThe Luke text tells us that Jesus was invited to a prominent Pharisee’s home, like being invited to the home of Rahm Emmanuel’s (the Mayor of Chicago) or Bill Gates, or perhaps even the Cardinal’s mansion. He watched people jockeying for position, trying to get near the places of honor. He urged them to take the lowest place. “Humble yourself,” Jesus said.

He then turned to the host and urged him not to invite the powerful, but invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind–those who can’t repay you. “For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Or as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate measure of a person (man) is not where one (he) stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one (he) stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  

Clearly, there’s a message for us here this Labor Day. And, we’ve got some choices about where we choose to sit or stand. With the rich and mighty, or at the far end of the table with the poor, the vulnerable.   

This Labor Day weekend, let me suggest three seats to choose:

  • Choose a seat listening to workers. One of my mentors was Monsignor George Higgins, the long-time Catholic Conference labor priest, originally from Chicago. In his latter years, I had the privilege of pushing him in his wheelchair around at various labor meetings. He would ask the maid on the hotel floor how she liked her job, how was she paid. He asked the waiter about his job. Did he earn enough to support his family? Service workers, secretaries, those in the low-wage economy were people he wanted to meet and talk with. I’m sure he talked with some in the rich and powerful camp, but he didn’t seek them out. If you want to know what’s really going on – choose a seat with workers. Talk with Walmart workers.   Talk with the secretaries at your firms. Talk with cashiers. Talk with landscapers. Decide how you believe the economy and society is doing based on talking with workers. I suspect you’ll want some changes in society.
  • Choose a seat supporting workers who organize. When workers are unhappy about working conditions, sometimes they will organize. Not always.  It’s tough, scary and people risk their jobs. In my experience, no one organizes, either a union or another form of organization, just for money.  They organize for respect and dignity. They want to be safe on the job. They want a fair process. They want a voice. Given how tough it is to organize in this country, it is surprising that people organize at all. And when they do, we must stand with them. Choose a seat with them. Sit with the Hyatt workers, who finally got a contract. Sit with Walmart associates who’ve organized into OUR Walmart – plan to be with them and IWJ on Black Friday, Nov. 29. 
  • Choose a seat helping workers get paid. We have a crisis of wage theft in our nation. Workers are not getting paid for all their wages. Wage theft is happening all around us and all of us participate in it if we are not diligent in choosing our seats. If you are hiring a repair person at your home, a landscape service, a janitorial service or any other contractor, you must ask how workers are paid. Taking a seat means asking questions. 

Where we sit and with whom we sit influence (perhaps determine) what we understand and what we do. So be thoughtful about your seats. Choose a seat listening to workers. Choose a seat supporting workers who organize. And Choose a seat helping workers get paid.

Happy Labor Day!

Kim Bobo is the Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice, and on Sunday Sept. 1, she spoke about worker and economic justice at Holy Family Parish in Chicago, joining hundreds of congregations and faith communities celebrating Labor Day weekend for Worker Justice as part of IWJ's Labor in the Pulpits program. Learn more here.

Worker Centers support is imperative for Worker Justice

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Rep. John Kline (R-MN) and Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) wrote Labor Secretary Thomas Perez this week, as reported in the Wall Street Journal on July 24, asking for an “official determination” on the question of whether workers centers should be subject to the same filing requirements as labor unions.

Their letter should be rejected as a baldly partisan attempt to restrict the valuable work performed by these non-profit organizations. Indeed, treating worker centers like labor unions would constrain the rights of both vulnerable workers and community members to assemble and demand accountability from corporations that violate labor laws, mistreat workers or pay poverty wages.

Reps. Kline and Roe, citing an argument in an article published in the Federalist Society’s Engage, argue worker centers should be subject to increased scrutiny because they “deal with” employers in a manner covered by the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). Namely, since at least part of their work involves advocating for improved wages and benefits in their interactions with employers, they must be acting, or intending to act, as labor unions according to the LMRDA.

This interpretation of the LMRDA, along with the interpretation found in original article on which they base their case, would make the definition of a “labor organization” so broad as to be absurd.

The United Methodist Church, for instance, calls upon its members to “bring about the creation of conditions that encompass fundamental workers’ rights, fair wages, a safe and healthy workplace, reasonable hours of work, [and] decent living standards.” And indeed, our organization, Interfaith Worker Justice, regularly engages Methodist clergy in doing just that – often by speaking to employers on behalf of their congregants and other community members. 

Would Reps. Kline and Roe suggest that the United Methodist Church (of which they are both members) be classified as a labor union because it intends, and indeed appears to exist in part, to improve the wages and conditions of working people?

I would urge Reps. Kline and Roe to reconsider their partisan attack on workers centers.  These centers, like the United Methodist Church, seek to empower and protect vulnerable workers in low-wage jobs. And they remind all of us that we have a moral responsibility to respect the dignity of working people, who after all, are created in the image of God.

IWJ's Jacob Swenson contributed to this article.

Inside Walmart's shareholders' meeting

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I spent Friday morning – a very long morning – at the Walmart shareholders' meeting in Fayetteville, Ark.  I purchased a few shares about six months ago, thinking it would be helpful to witness the company's annual meeting given the work IWJ does on supporting Walmart store and supply chain workers. 

For four hours, I felt like I was on another planet. I quickly regretted sitting in the middle of a group of Sam's Club associates as they began cheering and screaming louder than everyone else in the arena. Between the pumped-up crowd, celebrity line-up and overly produced performances, the whole event felt more like the Olympics opening ceremony or a sold-out rock concert than a shareholders' meeting.

Throughout the "event" - it really shouldn't be called a shareholders' meeting - it was clear the Walmart leadership had two main themes: value for workers and integrity. To me it was a clear reminder that scripted messages do not always equal truth.

Walmart began the day by professing how much it "loves" its associates.  How “the company has always been about our associates.”   "We celebrate our associates.”   “Thank you associates.”   “Dad (Sam Walton) spent more time with associates than managers.”  “Dad really listened.” “Walmart associates are ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things.”   Then they shifted to a clear script that was repeated numerous times: “If you have talent and work hard, you will have opportunity at Walmart.”   This was a direct response to OUR Walmart members' call for decent wages and benefits.  Basically, Walmart's is saying: jobs may start low, but if you work hard you’ll move up in the systems.  If you don’t move up, it is your own fault.  Walmart offers opportunities, you just didn’t work hard enough or have enough talent.

The second theme was integrity, a somewhat surprising theme given the company’s bribery investigation in Mexico and the lack of enforcement of sourcing standards that clearly played a role in the deaths of Bangladeshi factory workers.  Throughout the meeting, the company leadership never acknowledged any problems, but rather just kept reiterating that the company is built on integrity. They gave out the “Integrity in Action” award.  Rob Walton assured us all that integrity and transparency were the primary values for the board of directors. Again, scripted messages don't always equal truth.

Tom Cruise, among the stars who trotted across the stage, assured us that Walmart is focused on opportunity for women (this is the same company that had the largest ever gender discrimination case filed against it), environmental sustainability (it does make good financial sense for the company), healthy food choices (you wouldn’t know it by the donuts, chips and cookies offered for breakfast at the meeting) and fighting hunger (except among its own associates with poverty wages). Does Walmart leadership really believe that if they say it multiple times and have movie stars say it, we will believe it?

In past years, the management opened up the floor to questions from shareholders. Last year, OUR Walmart associates peppered the management with questions about wages, benefits, hours and treatment. This year, Walmart avoided the public questioning.  They had four small conference rooms each with six to eight management staff who would meet with people individually to discuss topics.  The OUR Walmart folks delivered their petitions and decided not to go in one-by-one.

Since I’d gone all the way to Arkansas for the spectacle, I got myself at the front of the line.  Once admitted, I faced seven tall managers standing in a semi-circle facing me. I asked one basic question: Why couldn’t Walmart, the richest company in the world, raise wages and improve health care benefits for its workers?  No one ever answered the question.  They told me they do pay great wages and benefits, gave me the mantra on working hard and moving up the ladder of opportunity, and insisted they pay the best wages in the industry.  A Vice-President of Human Resources agreed to meet and show me the facts.   I told them that I had talked with hundreds of Walmart associates who did not experience good wages or adequate benefits and that they clearly could do better. 

I wasn’t expecting to “persuade” anyone, but I did hope to understand how they justify such gross disparities of income and wealth between average associates (earning $8.81 per hour) and the top six Walton family members (with the same wealth as 42 percent of the American public) and why they won’t consider raising wages and benefits.  I still don’t understand.  They could raise wages.  They could provide quality, affordable health care.  They just don’t.   But, they love their associates?

Let's hold Walmart accountable for their claims of having a culture of integrity and respect for workers. Join us in supporting Walmart store and supply chain workers who are standing up for better wages and working conditions! Click here to support the campaign for change at Walmart.


Justice for mine workers is worth an arrest

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kim bobo in st. louisYesterday, I was arrested. My teenage son asked, "Why’d you get arrested mom?" Technically, I was refusing to move out of the street in front of the St. Louis federal court house.

But the "real" reason I was arrested was to publicly demonstrate support for the United Mine Workers struggle against Peabody Energy’s stealing of retired miners’ health care and pensions.

The United Mine Workers are locked in a David and Goliath struggle to protect 22,000 miners and their families. In 2007, Peabody Energy, the Goliath of the coal world, set up another company. Patriot Coal, the new company, took on some of Peabody's operations east of the Mississippi River and nearly all of Peabody's retiree health and pension obligations. The company was structured to function in the good times, but not to survive the bad times and coal has historically had good years and bad.  As predicted by the UMWA, in 2012 Patriot Coal filed for bankruptcy. In the bankruptcy reorganization, Patriot is seeking to offload all these so-called "legacy costs" (the health and pensions for retirees, widowers and kids).

Yesterday, I sat through several hours of a hearing in bankruptcy court. Patriot Coal wants to offer $6.9 million in retention and incentive pay to approximately 225 staffers, despite seeking to cut all its health care and pensions for retirees.

Retirees are confused. They worked all their lives for Peabody Energy. Today, Peabody is making record profits. But they are being told that Patriot is now their employer and it is going bankrupt. This is a plotting of evil if I’ve ever seen it. In Psalm 64, David lamented similar practices. He wrote:

"They encourage each other in evil plans, they talk about hiding their snares; they say, ‘Who will see them?’ The plot injustice and say, ‘We have devised a perfect plan!’ Surely the mind and heart of man are cunning."

Indeed, surely the mind and heart of Peabody Energy is cunning. Shame on this company for abandoning its responsibilities for workers. Shame on Patriot Coal for furthering this evil.

We need people of faith across the country to support the these mine workers in their herculean struggle. If you can come out in support, join us at the rally in Charleston, W.Va. on April 1, or the rallies in St. Louis on April 28 and 29. 

Invite clergy and religious leaders you know to sign IWJ's joint statement from religious leaders.

We Honor Roz Pelles on International Women's Day

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rozOn behalf of the board and staff of Interfaith Worker Justice, I am honored to celebrate Roz Pelles, Vice President of IWJ's Board of Directors and the now retired Director of Civil Rights, Human and Women's Rights for the AFL-CIO. I first got to know Roz when she joined the IWJ Board of Directors nine years ago. My respect and admiration for her has grown steadily over time. 

On International Women's Day, we celebrate women. Lots of people in our nation talk about their faith. Roz lives her faith, and recently retired from her work at the AFL-CIO. Today we'd like to honor Roz as a strong faithful leader in our work.

Perhaps the longest passage in the bible about women comes from Proverbs 31.

The passage is a mother telling her son what he should look for in a wife.  But whether a wife, a husband, a partner, or most especially a co-worker, the values exalted in Scripture are reflected in Roz.

(Note: none of these values mention anything explicitly about church or synagogue attendance or outside trappings of religiosity.)

The passage begins:  “A woman of noble character, who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.”  Ah yes, that is Roz. On this International Women’s Day, let’s just call her Ruby Roz.

The text says, “She sets about her work vigorously.” Roz works hard and does what she says she will do.

“She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.” Roz believes in unions because she cares about people. Her commitment to people drives her work.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” Indeed, Roz is clothed with strength and dignity. She carries herself and her values so clearly. But, she can laugh at herself and situations in which we find ourselves.

“She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” Whenever I’ve sought Roz’s guidance, she has offered wise council that is honest, yet kind. Roz reminds us to stay focused on our work.

“Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” This world is full of amazing women (and men) who do fabulous noble things.  Roz is among them, a doer of justice, a speaker of the truth, and an example to us all.

The passage ends by saying, “Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise.” We are not sure what all the rewards Roz deserves, but we want them all for her, a faithful advocate for justice. She has shown us what it means to live with passion and humility. You have been a true witness of your faith.

We are all better for having known and worked with Roz. And we look forward to new ways to continue the struggle together. I just know our dear sister will continue to be blessed and be a blessing in the next phase of her journey. 

Thank you for all your good work, Ruby Roz. I salute you.

In the comment section below, share stories of other strong women of faith who are advocates for workers and women every day!

Pray in thanksgiving for Sec. Hilda Solis; Pray for another worker champion at DOL

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Sec. Hilda SolisI just learned that Hilda Solis has submitted her resignation letter to the president. She has been a tireless champion for low-wage and immigrant workers.  We thank her for her work, dedication and passion. She will be deeply missed by faith and worker advocates around the country.

Now we need the President to appoint another worker rights champion to follow in her footsteps –and quickly. There is so much work to be done and the Department of Labor needs someone with Secretary Solis’ passion and vision. We need a fighter and a prophet. We need someone who will push forward regulations designed to bring the nation’s labor laws into the current century, like the caregivers regulation that provides minimum wage and overtime coverage to professional home care workers. IWJ would also like to see the paystub transparency regulation moved forward quickly. This would require every employer to provide a paystub explaining clearly (yes, clearly) how workers are paid. This would help workers who are routinely cheated by their employers who pay in cash, offer direct deposit with no accounting for hours or take unusual (and illegal) deductions without explanations.

We need a Secretary who will fight for resources for enforcement. In the current budget-cutting frenzy, there is bound to be efforts to cut enforcement. With only one enforcement staff person for every 135,000 workers, we can’t afford any cuts.

We need a Secretary who will push for job creation. Job training is good, but it isn’t enough. We need investment in job creation. Despite the declining unemployment figures, for which we are grateful, there are still millions of workers without jobs and millions more who’ve given up looking for jobs. We can do better as a nation and the Secretary must lead us in finding ways to invest in and create new jobs.

We need a Secretary who will champion immigration reform. Every worker in the country is affected when 11 million workers do not have the protection of citizenship. Employers know they can exploit workers without documents, and too many unethical employers do so, driving down wages and standards for all workers in the nation.

And, we need a Secretary who will keep the concerns of working men and women on the front of the public dialogue. There are many advocates of corporate interests in the Cabinet and Congress. Not nearly as many advocates for workers. We need a Secretary who recognizes the power of and is not afraid to use the bully pulpit.  

Today, we give thanks for all Secretary Hilda Solis has done. Tomorrow, we pray for a new leader who will champion the nation’s workers.

What characteristics are you looking for in the new Secretary of Labor? What policy should the new Secretary of Labor push? Who should fill the position? What advances made by Sec. Solis are you most thankful?

Why I'll be at Walmart on Black Friday

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Most Black Fridays, I avoid retail stores like the plague. I prefer to enjoy the day with family and friends. This year, I’m venturing out – not in search of that “good deal,” but in support of justice for Walmart workers.

JubileeBlack Friday, the highest profit day of the year for many retailers, is a day that helps stores get “in the black.” Black Friday kicks off the holiday season that makes or breaks companies.

We Americans love our deals. I do my share of bargain shopping and coupon clipping. But we also want workers to be paid fairly and treated decently. Companies can make large profits, but we expect them to share their prosperity with workers.

Walmart is the world’s largest retailer. As the nation’s largest private employer with 1.4 million workers, Walmart is the largest employer of women, African Americans and Latinos. Because of its size, Walmart sets the standard for retail work in the nation. Walmart’s standard is bargain basement. In our faith communities, we believe that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”  We expect more from Walmart.

Walmart pays low wages ($8.81 starting rate). They also schedule workers who want and need full time work and benefits part time hours. Thousands of workers can’t work the hours they need to support their families, and they aren’t eligible for company-provided (although expensive) health care benefits. Walmart claims to serve low-income people by setting cheap prices, but it often pushes workers to poverty with its erratic, insufficient scheduling and low wages.

Walmart workers have formed an organization call OUR Walmart pushing the company to be better. The OUR Walmart leaders I’ve met enjoy working in retail and want Walmart to prosper, but also they want to share in the prosperity. They want better wages, full-time hours and family affordable benefits. They want to be treated with respect and dignity. They want to know that those who work in Walmart’s warehouses, and produce products for Walmart are also treated fairly.

This Black Friday, people of faith around the country are standing with Walmart workers. Some of us will be offering prayers outside the stores. Some of us will be talking with managers inside the stores.  Others will be organizing flash mobs inside and outside the stores.

Click here to learn more about actions at Walmart stores across the country. 

We won’t stop anyone from shopping, but we do want to get Walmart’s attention. And based on Walmart’s filing charges at the National Labor Relations Board attempting to stop the actions, it appears that we’ve already gotten Walmart’s attention.

Walmart could be a more successful company and raise the standards in the retail industry if it embraces workers and pay middle-class wages and benefits, create and implement ethical sourcing and community benefit policies.

So this Black Friday, I’ll be outside Walmart. Perhaps next year, I can be inside shopping.

The Day After...

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The following is a reflection by IWJ's executive director, Kim Bobo, on the Wisconsin recall election and IWJ's annual staff retreat.

2012 staff retreat

I woke up this morning to the news about Governor Scott Walker “surviving” the recall vote in Wisconsin.  Although IWJ could not legally (and did not) work on the recall, the organization stands firmly against his policy attacks against workers and thus I was troubled by the outcome and horrified by the amount of money spent in the race.
Nonetheless, I remain optimistic that the American people fundamentally believe in fairness and that we can work together to raise standards for workers and restore workers' rights to organize and engage in collective bargaining.
This morning was not only the day after the Wisconsin election, it was also the day after the IWJ annual staff retreat where we review our priority directions—analyzing what’s working and what isn’t—and collectively think about how we might be more effective.  Despite the challenges IWJ faces in fulfilling our mission, I’m basking in the glow of the retreat, reflecting on all the talented and deeply committed IWJ staff who are drawn to the work.
Like many nonprofits in this economy, we are grappling with how to get the resources to do the job, how to use more technology more efficiently, and how to handle workloads that are bigger than most of us can do.  And as an organization with a founding director (me), we are trying to make sure that the relationships with and identity of IWJ is broader and deeper than just me.  But the IWJ staff has solid plans, great vision and a spirit of camaraderie about the work.  I am blessed to work with such a great group of folks.

So the day after the Wisconsin election, I think I’ll focus on the IWJ staff retreat!