The government is open after 16 days of democracy on the run. Analysts and economists are already at work calculating the cost and damage done to our economy. People of faith need to remember that cost begins with the workers who didn't receive paychecks for that two-week period and won't receive checks for at least another two weeks.
These are good people who don't have a comfortable margin of error in the calculations that define their day-to-day existence. Without regular income the rent can't be paid and it becomes harder and harder to keep the refrigerator filled with food. For these workers, a missed paycheck could mean no gas in the car, if there is a car.
Hardest hit in Washington, D.C. are the workers in federal buildings who are employed by government-contracted corporations and concessionaires. Unlike direct employees of the federal government, these workers won't receive back pay for days lost during the shutdown. As one worker put it, "I've gone from low-wage to no wage."
Members of Congress get paid lucrative salaries, corporate executives with government contracts get hefty bonuses, and what do the workers get? Worry. Anxiety. Despair. Where is the justice in that? "What gain have the workers from their toil?"
On the day before Congress finally passed legislation that put the government back to work, I walked the halls of the offices of members of the House of Representatives with 70 other religious leaders and at least a dozen of the workers most affected by the shutdown. We sang hymns and talked with House staffers who were both surprised to see us and just a little bit uncomfortable with our presence. We told them to tell their bosses to open the government now and the workers described in detail the hardships they were experiencing. We prayed for courage on the part of the moderates in the Republican Party who have not stood up to the small, loud, clique of members who have held the government captive to their irrational demands and will go down in history as having caused the unnecessary suffering of hundreds of thousands of people for no good reason at all. May their names never be forgotten.
While we may celebrate this moment when our democracy has exhaled, we must remain sober at the real prospect that this sad drama will be repeated in a few short months beyond the short shelf life of the legislation just passed. So we prayed then and we pray now for the workers whose lives are not insignificant factors in toxic political battles, they are rather, children of God, brothers and sisters in our national community. Their well-being is God's desire. Our solidarity with them is the test of our faithfulness to the highest values of our various religious traditions and to the principles of our founding as a nation.
Click here to support government-contracted workers beyond the shutdown.
On days like Saturday, the whole nation feels alive with energy for justice. From Boston to Birmingham, Los Angeles to Atlanta, in 40 states and more than 150 cities and towns people rallied with a passion for common sense and comprehensive immigration reform for millions among us who labor in shadows of our own making.
Saturday’s demonstrations began an autumn that follows a summer of events all across the nation calling attention to the urgent need for a fundamental change in our relationship to people who are a life-giving part of our national fabric.
And if Saturday was a broad expression of the fervor for change, than yesterday's action was a concentrated and intense eruption of support for comprehensive immigration reform as tens of thousands of supporters descended upon D.C. to say:
“¡Se se Puede!” “Yes we can!”
Now is the time, this is the moment to do what is right and just, what the God of all people requires of us a nation and as people of faith. At this very moment the work is waking up and shaking up Congress to act, to vote, to legislate. Yet a small cadre of selfish and reactionary party activists and John Boehner, the House Majority leader, are standing in the way of what a majority of the nation wants: a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people who are our neighbors and our brothers and sisters.
Congress needs to follow the lead of California and pass legislation that gives rights to immigrants and protects them from unethical employers and law enforcement personnel following policies rooted in racism that do not address any needs in the community at large. We need an immigration policy that allows our immigrant brothers and sisters to live, with their families, in the sunshine of our democracy, not the shadow of our injustice.
People of faith, workers and civil and economic rights activists filled the streets this week to honor the dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the great momentum for justice built by the civil rights leaders and advocates in the 1960s.
As people of faith, it is intrinsically our responsibility to work to build the Beloved Community as described by Dr. King. This Beloved Community must be rooted in an economic system that values the dignity of ALL workers, regardless of the color of their skin or immigration status.
Yesterday, thousands of fast food and retail workers went on strike in 60 cities across the U.S. Their demand was simple and one that people of faith can stand behind: a $15/hour wage, a wage off of which one can live, one that respects the dignity of their work and honors their contributions to massive corporate profits. (Click on the image to read a report about who is behind the counter at fast food restaurants by the Economic Policy Institute.)
Marvin Jones is 45 years old and lives in Milwaukee. He works at McDonalds as a maintenance man. Marvin says, “When my grandbabies come over on the weekend I spend on them making sure they eat and are comfortable. I eat McDonalds the last two weeks of the month because I have no food left."
Ashley Sanders is 20 and lives in St. Louis. She works at Hardee’s and says, “I have bills to pay and I need to provide necessities for my son, he’s six months old. I get food stamps. They help feed the other five adults in my household too. I want to move out of my Mom’s house but it’s difficult to put pennies aside. I plan to return to cosmetology school but I need to find a better job."
Roxanne Mimms lives in Washington D.C. and works “…for a food service contractor at the National Zoo. I work full time but make barely minimum wage ($7.25 an hour). I’m here because I don’t want my two children to grow up on public assistance. I’m here because I have dreams. My American Dream is a good job with fair wages to provide for my children, being able to pay my bills on time and save for the future.”
The important witness of these workers who are standing up for a fair wage and risking everything (including their job) to go on strike and bring the important needs of a dignified workplace and moral compensation for work to the attention of people of faith all across the U.S.
“The first question the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” That’s the question before you tonight . . .. If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them? That’s the question,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the sanitation strike mass meeting in Memphis, on April 3, 1968
Every year over Labor Day weekend, people of all faiths join together and celebrate the importance of work in our lives, to highlight the struggles of working people and to join together and create new possibilities for an economic system rooted in which the justice all our different faiths emphasize.
I invite you to join people of faith this year and celebrate Labor in the Pulpits. Click here for a listing of scheduled prayer services or programs near you.
If you cannot find a Labor in the Pulpits program or service near you, please keep workers and worker struggles in your prayers this weekend as we prepare for the national holiday to honor work!
Without the march, there would have been no speech. We remember the speech, but we forget why the crowd marched from the Washington Monument to gather at the Lincoln Memorial. The march was a symbolic journey from the founding father that presided over a nation whose constitution defined the enslaved African as 3/5 of a person to the martyred president who led the nation into a war made inevitable by that very constitution. “Our massive March from the Washington Monument to [the] Lincoln Memorial, our enormous rally at the Memorial, will speak out to Congress and the nation with a single voice-for jobs and freedom, now.” The official title of the event that was the occasion for The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Four of the six demands of the march were:
- A massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers—Negro and white—on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.
- A national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living. (Government surveys show that anything less than $2.00 an hour fails to do this.)
- A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of employment which are presently excluded.
- A federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination by federal, state and municipal governments, and by employers, contractors, employment agencies, and trade unions.
We cannot fully appreciate the beauty and power of Dr. King’s speech if we do not remember the critical context in which it was delivered. To divorce the speech from the demands of its historical moment is to memorialize a wonderful speech cut off from the dreadful material conditions of the people Dr. King loved so much and for whose freedom he would later give his life. We should also remember that while the concerns of the march were surely centered on African Americans, the organizers had in their view the suffering of poor whites and “…Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and other minorities helpless in our mechanized, industrial society. Lacking specialized training, they are the first victims of automation. Thus the rate of Negro unemployment is nearly three times that of whites. Their livelihoods destroyed, the Negro unemployed are thrown into the streets, driven to despair, to hatred, to crime, to violence. All America is robbed of their potential contribution.”
The national unemployment rate on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 1963 was five percent, for blacks it was 10 percent. Today the national rate is 7.7 percent while for African Americans it is nearly 16 percent and almost 10 percent for Hispanics. There is no pending legislation to create jobs for the millions of our unemployed citizens of every race and ethnicity. The dream suffers today as it did then. In 1963, the federal minimum wage was raised to $1.25 under the terms of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. Today it is $7.25 and that represents a 30 percent loss in value over the last forty years. The dream suffers today, as it did then.
If the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (now wallowing in Congress) were to become the law, 30 millions Americans would see their wages raised—nearly half of them would be African Americans. Dr. King spoke of his dream that his children and all children would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. If that dream was a reality today it would mean little if it were not accompanied by lifting the crushing poverty into which children of color are born every day.
Dr. King once described congress as, “…single-mindedly devoted to the pursuit of war” but “emotionally hostile to the needs of the poor.” The wars have changed, we need only substitute the War on Terror for the Vietnam War, but the hostility of congress, our government, to the poor has not changed.
Join us today and honor the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom call for a living wage for ALL WORKERS regardless of the color or their skin, or immigration status. As Dr. King said, "There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid or day laborer."
What gain has the worker for her toil? Almighty God in your providence many millions of men, women and children live in our nation as “undocumented."
Let them live in the wonder of your grace, in the shelter of your love. And as they continue to work among us, often in the lowest paying jobs in our nation, let our work be, alongside them, to bring justice to our broken immigration system, to hold public officials accountable for bad policy, to stay this course until a just and fair path to citizenship lay before them. We will rejoice to watch them walk that path with dignity.
God of us all: In the midst of our demeaning politics, we pray that your good will be done, that your justice and mercy prevail. One human family, one God, now and forever. AMEN.
The Rev. Michael Livingston is IWJ's National Policy Director and yesterday joined the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and others at a rally in D.C. calling for compassionate immigration reform.
What is there to be joyful about as the end of the year draws closer and the bearded men in the red suits dominate the television channels and the malls and merchandise flies off the shelves of stores all across the nation?
On Dec. 22, people of faith hosted prayer vigils for workers all along the supply chain, but especially the 112 Bangladeshi workers who died in a fire at a garment factory that produces clothing sold in Walmart stores in the U.S.
The Dec. 22 vigils followed more than 100 vigils on Black Friday—part of more than 1,200 actions at Walmart stores across the country supporting retail workers in the third largest workforce in the world. Many courageous workers walked off their jobs to protest low pay, stolen wages, manipulative scheduling, expensive benefits, the risk of losing a job when sick, and retaliation for speaking and standing up for their rights.
Threats to workers and the labor movement have intensified as the number of states enacting and planning “right to work for less laws” grows. Incredibly, Michigan and Indiana are on that list.
This holiday season has come to represent giving and hope for us all. Our government should take seriously the needs of workers whose labor makes any celebration possible and provides the resources for families to thrive?
We've got to push lawmakers and corporations to hear that cry! This work is not possible without the generous support of people of faith and worker advocates like you! Click here to make a gift to IWJ today!
So what is there to be joyful about during this Christmas season?
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people—Luke 2:10
As the year ends we can celebrate the growing movement of people that, despite the challenges, remains committed to the struggle for worker justice, both here and abroad.
We can celebrate the steady gains in employment numbers and excitement among those who champion immigration reform in the United States. A changing electoral demographic will make a path to citizenship more likely in the coming year. The lives of millions of low-wage workers will benefit from meaningful and comprehensive reform.
The labor movement is intensifying efforts to protect workers from state and federal legislators and unethical corporations who conspire against working people and the unions who work on their behalf. A vigorous worker center movement is growing as a new force for the empowerment of the American worker. Workers are taking to the streets and the state houses and demanding justice.
People of faith are a growing part of labor and community partnerships supporting workers and raising their voices for fundamental change in the way workers are treated in our nation. Interfaith Worker Justice is an integral part of the work to raise the minimum wage, broaden benefits to workers like paid sick days and pay-stub transparency, and advocate on behalf of and alongside retail workers in work to bring justice and fairness to Walmart.
This Christmas season, we celebrate hope. And we celebrate it with you! Click here to celebrate Christmas with a gift to IWJ.
God of all
We pray for our nation after this prolonged period of campaigning with hopes that those elected to lead, at every level, will work now for your people. We pray these men and women will humble themselves to the sacred task of governing for the people who cast votes, not the corporations and wealthy individuals who paid for influence. We pray for legislators who will care about jobs for the unemployed and underemployed, education and opportunity for children, and health care for all, especially the most vulnerable among us.
We pray for laws that will protect and respect the earth—this planet created to be a home for all humanity, not a thing to be owned and exploited for profit by a few. We pray for regulations that will harness the hubris and greed of the financial sector. We pray for governance that knows the difference between a financial system and an economy, the one that has become a perverted and unregulated industry, the other a living organism of earth and human life.
We pray for wisdom not rhetoric; generosity not indifference, and justice not patronage. We want legislators working across the aisle, not erecting barriers like the border walls that imprison even those who seek to keep others out. We pray for a just sharing in the expense of government, let those blessed with great wealth give according to their means, let all give as they are able.
We pray for leaders gifted in diplomacy, blessed with character and integrity; leaders who know our security comes from relationships of trust and communication, not superior guns, more bombs and bloated armed services.
For our part give us the patience to give our leaders a chance to govern with grace, compassion, justice, and love. Let us support sincere effort and celebrate wise compromise. Make us accountable to our faith and so hold those we elect accountable to serve all the people, not just those who can afford to pay for self-serving polices.
May we never cease to pray, and to hope, and to work for justice for all.
I wanted to cheer when the first segment on the economy was a focus on simply, “Jobs.” Jim Lehrer made the wise decision to begin with the most critical issue facing the nation. To end poverty we need jobs—good jobs for American workers that pay enough to support our families. But it was all downhill from there.
It’s unfortunate that beginning with the right subject didn’t evolve into detailed proposals on plans for creating new jobs and employing millions of workers. Even more troubling was the absence of debate about the critical concerns for worker justice that are at the center of the focus of IWJ. There was no discussion of collective bargaining, no discussion of immigration and the plight of the immigrant worker, no discussion of the desperate need to raise the minimum wage, very little discussion and especially concrete detail about creating new and well paying jobs with benefits that enable security for individuals and families.
If our presidential candidates can’t talk about these things how can we expect to create a legislative climate in which real solutions to these problems can be constructed? People of every faith need to remain vigilant in our strong advocacy of jobs and justice for working people. We need to continue to organize, educate, and advocate for individuals living in poverty, for unemployed and underemployed people struggling to make ends meet.
Download the Vote You Values voter's guide for information on issues impacting working families.