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Reflecting on Ferguson

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Adam DeRose |

As the tragic events continue to unfold in Ferguson, Mo, we have struggled in anger and frustration and lamented with a family and community broken by a system of oppression, economic injustice and racism.  

Today the Guardian reminded those of us who work to bring about economic justice for all workers that our struggle is deeply connected to the nation's legacy of racism. Ferguson, like many Black communities, has existed for years through a system of economic inequality. The economic marginalization of entire communities is directly related to the continued creation of economic policies that uphold white privilege and benefit white communities.

Ferguson is no Gothamesque slum of crumbling tenements and crack dens. It is a working class suburb of single-family homes and low-rise apartment blocks which used to be a gateway to the middle class. Manufacturing jobs offered decent wages and there was a decent public school system.
 
Something went wrong. You see it in the physical landscape of potholes and pawn brokers. And in the desperation. Some of it quiet: a mother counting out pennies, dimes and quarters to buy ice cream for her two children in McDonald’s. Some of it more dramatic: the owner of a burger bar bolting out onto the street after a skinny, grubby young man with shattered teeth. “You took from the tip jar! I saw you! Give it back.”
 
A major culprit is de-industrialisation. Missouri is part of the rustbelt of shuttered factories which arcs across the midwest.

Every community deserves access to good jobs, but, as our Black brothers and sisters know, we have failed to create policies that provide economic conditions for everyone to thrive. As we reflect on the shooting and the larger connections between race and class struggle, we are reminded that our fight uplift the dignity of all work is important now as ever.

Some 47% of African American men aged 16-24 in St Louis county are unemployed. Even that understates the economic crisis since many of those who do have jobs, men and women, earn a pittance in service jobs. “It used to be McDonnell Douglas was considered a good job. Now it’s McDonald’s,” said Teresa Mithen Danieley, rector of an episcopal church.

What is happening in Ferguson, Mo is tragic, and the system of economic and racial injustice will remain if we don't work tirelessly with our brothers and sisters to build an economy and society rooted in love. Our faith traditions share a vision where workers have access to good jobs that provides the means for a strong family life and full participation in society; where our families are entitled to vibrant and thriving communities; and where our streets and neighborhoods are safe from violence and from oppression by the state.

Together we pray with words but also with actions that we can build that society. We're called to advocate for an economy that invests in our communities, and those in roles of authority respect the humanity of the people they serve.


Photo courtsey: Sipa USA/Rex

Highlighting Ethical Employers

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By Anne Burkhardt

At Interfaith Worker Justice we’ve been searching for ethical employers to profile on an upcoming television show. It amazes me how difficult it’s been to find employers in low-wage sectors that treat their workers well. In many of these industries, wage theft is the norm. It is far more common to find restaurants and construction companies and other companies in low-wage sectors that do steal from their workers than those that do not.

So when we do find these employers, it’s so encouraging to talk them. These folks genuinely care about their employees and genuinely want them to have better lives through their work!

Kim and I met with two really marvelous employers in Chicago area. Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique owner, Teresa, left a career in finance to attend Le Cordon Bleu and then started a catering business, which turned into a storefront in downtown Chicago.

Part of the way that Teresa developed her business model was based on her experiences as an employee in finance. She said she was barely aware of the common treatment in the food service industry, like the $2 tipped wage. All of her employees started in 2009 at the minimum wage, but as the business grew, Teresa paid her employees more. Now, all of them make far above the minimum wage. Most employees have access to benefits, too, including health insurance, dental, vision, paid sick days, paid maternity leave.

And more than that: she treats her employees like family, making sure that there’s flexible scheduling, semiannual reviews with raises, and staff outings for paintballing, kayaking and friendship. It’s truly incredible when you realize how different Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique’s workplace standards are from the rest of the industry.

Like Teresa, Pete of I Have A Bean coffee company left a career in another field – Pete left the tech industry. After a mission trip to South America and a newly developed love for coffee—followed by his brother-in-law’s arrest (and subsequent difficulty in finding or keeping a job)—Pete was inspired to start his own coffee company. I Have a Bean exclusively hires post-prison people. Pete has some inspiring stories about successes: stories of people who were hired at Second Chance Coffee (as it’s also known) and went on to become leaders of nonprofit prison missionary organizations, or find other types of work suited to their skills.

Both Pete and Teresa started their own businesses, which is no small feat. And when the time came to choose how to treat their people, they looked at the bottom line and chose respect and justice, not wage theft and dehumanization. This is a business model that works, and works well!


Anne's reflection is part of our summer series of reflections from IWJ Interns. Anne is interning with Interfaith Worker Justice this summer working to get to know Ethical Employers like Theresa and Pete.

Ethical Business Leader at Market Basket

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By Kara Komprathoum 

I left my home in Massachusetts this summer to work for IWJ’s national office in Chicago. I never thought I would be missing out on a front row seat to the incredible worker organizing at the DeMoulas Family-owned supermarket chain Market Basket. I am proud that workers in New England are rising up and that a number of my friends have taken part (check out the video explaining the complicated story).

Workers are organizing to protect their good pay and benefits by urging the company’s board to reinstate the former CEO, Arthur T. DeMoulas. Workers are rallying for Arthur T. DeMoulas and reminding the region about what a responsible CEO looks like. The power they’re building is what happens when dedicated workers organize to make sure their pay and their benefits are respected and protected.

The majority of organizing and support has been online and though social media. There are a number Facebook pages dedicated to the movement and many people have all shared their stories about how Market Basket has positively impacted their lives through the benefits of being an employee, medical insurance and low-cost groceries. Market Basket workers and customers really want to see the store maintained in a values-based business that cares more about people then it does its profits.

I came to intern with IWJ this because I had an incredible amount of fondness for community organizing and the power it has for making change. To watch not only the employers of Market Basket but customers stand in solidarity for what is right is something that is inspiring.

IWJ is currently working to develop relationships with ethical employers who value employees, treat them with dignity and respect, and reflect those values in employee pay, benefits and working conditions. When I started my time at IWJ, I had thought good labor ethics probably only occurred with smaller businesses where it could be well maintained and managed. I was shocked to find that the good labor practices were happening right at home at the Market Basket chain. I was even more surprised to find that employers were so satisfied with their pay and benefits that the moment they saw a threat to this, they fought back and are still fighting the good fight.

IWJ and our allies in the region will be keeping an eye on the work of the Market Basket workers and pray for a resolution that maintains their positive working conditions, good pay and good benefits.


Kara's reflection is part of our summer series of reflections from IWJ Interns. Kara is interned with Interfaith Worker Justice at our national office in Chicago. Photo courtesy: Market Basket and Boston Herald.

Will it Pass in South Dakota?

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By Amelia Decker

After six weeks of research, planning, one-on-one conversations, re-planning, meetings, phone calls and emails, a round table conversation was held in Sioux Falls, S.D. to discuss the upcoming ballot measure that could raise the statewide minimum wage. Throughout the summer I had many conversations and listened to all of the perspectives in favor and against the change. I have become accustomed to the question, “Do you think it will pass?”  

“Yes,” I respond. I do think it will pass. I think it will pass because people here care for one another, especially for the poorest in their community. They care, and that leads them to advocacy and action. With advocacy and action from the faith community, I believe South Dakota will see a win for minimum-wage workers. 

The round table gathering late last month confirmed what I suspected to be true. In a one-party-controlled state, conversations appearing (or outrightly are) political can have daunting and serious implications, especially in communities of faith. Yet, despite these dynamics, the gathering was filled with leaders who wanted to talk about raising the minimum wage. Representing more than a half dozen denominations, and as diverse in age as one could hope for, they talked of their connection to the community as clergy, laity, city council, unions, Democrat, Republican, and perhaps most importantly, workers.  

Faith leaders voiced their hopes for action within their congregations. They recognized and named challenges, but more importantly, recognized and named the power faith communities build by working together. As such, it was clear the conversation needed to be continued, and another meeting was set to do so again in this month. 

So, yes. I do think Initiated Measure 18 will pass. Leaders in this community not only care, but know that they must take action. They have long been serving the poorest members of the community, and why they will continue to meet this fall in order to lift up workers and families who can be brought out of poverty by an increase in minimum wage. 

As my work as an IWJ intern winds down, it is clear that the work for the faith community of Sioux Falls is only just beginning! This community will certainly be one to continue watching.


Amelia was an intern with IWJ's Summer Internship Program, and spend her summer working with faith communities in South Dakota to support the passage of Initiated Measure 18 to raise the state's minimum wage.

 

Work, Worth and Value

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The following is a cross-posted reflection from the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, former IWJ board member and Director for Public Witness at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness

Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. —James 5:4

The Moral Challenge

Excitement filled the air when President Obama announced in January 2014, that he would sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour. The President signed an Executive Order raising the wage and challenged corporations and business owners to follow his lead. As the largest creator of low-wage jobs in the country, the federal government is in a position to lead by example.

Several corporations, states, and local municipalities have voluntarily raised their minimum wages, both before and in response to the President’s challenge. According to the United States Department of Labor, twenty-two states have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. In contrast, five states have no statewide minimum wage law, leaving many workers in those states unprotected by a wage floor of any kind. These five states are all located in the Southeast U.S. where historic low wage jobs and poverty remain pervasive.

It is a moral challenge to our nation where inequality is growing and wages are stagnating, to affirm the work, worth, and value of each human being who desires to be and/or is engaged in the workforce. The bible reminds us that the Lord God cares about the treatment of workers. The writer of James challenges the communal values of the rich, declaring that they are consumed with holding on to the remnants of their wealth while their workers are defrauded of their wages.

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you. -- James 5:1-6

This ancient text speaks to our modern context, where many persons in our nation, including the wealthy, are guilty of stealing from the poorest workers and denying them the basic dignity of a living wage. A living wage is more than a minimum wage. It is a wage that sustains workers and families in a safe, decent standard of living. While multinational corporations are paying millions of dollars in “severance packages” to CEOs who have failed their companies, the majority of the workers in the same company can work their entire lives and never earn the same amount of money. The power of the passage written by James is that he ties our human attitudes about worker justice, then and now, to the Lord’s judgment.

Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. -- James 5:4-5

The privileged position of employers and their excessive power over workers is the struggle. Our culture permits the belief that cheap goods and corporate profit are more important than livelihoods and that workers deserve far less than what is adequate to live. But greed is a sin. The significant message of hope to those who are poor and working for poverty wages is that God hears their lament.

Work

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness (OPW) is partnering with Interfaith for Worker Justice, Good Jobs Nation, and other groups concerned about worker justice to demand better jobs. We challenge the notion that $10.10 per hour is enough to provide persons, especially those supporting families, with a decent living. Indeed, $10.10 per hour only just raises a family of four above the poverty line.

I know that the President’s authority only extends so far and that Congress must act to improve jobs and wages for all workers, but I was disappointed that President Obama did not exercise his power over the federal labor force to its fullest extent. His $10.10 executive order covers service workers, such as those in concessions, health care and construction, but it leaves out federal contract workers who serve our airports and the Pentagon, as well as those who work to provide goods, such as uniforms, food, and other supplies. Many of these workers are making far less than the new minimum and have no ability to enter into collective bargaining with companies that refuse to raise their wages. These companies profit immensely and taxpayer dollars go to subsidize excessive CEO compensation rather than ensuring fair wages for the workers. The President can fix this injustice with the stroke of a pen.

Such executive action is not without precedent. During World War II, an “army” of “Rosie the Riveter” workers demanded fair pay and decent working conditions. President Franklin D. Roosevelt used his executive authority over federal contracts to support these workers and the U.S. emerged from the war with the only standing economy and a strong middle class. Likewise, decades later President Lyndon Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 established racial non-discrimination practices in hiring federal contract workers, a precursor to the landmark Civil Rights Act. Today, the federal government spends $1.3 trillion in taxpayers’ funds through contracts with private companies. It is only right that jobs created by taxpayers should be good jobs that provide workers with a living, not trap them in poverty.

Our advocacy on behalf of federal contract workers has become more intense in these difficult economic times. In addition to the minimum wage struggle at the federal level, the 220th General Assembly (2012) tasked the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Office of Public Witness with connecting Presbyterians to the work of the United Workers Association (UW) of Baltimore. This workers’ movement is organizing to hold developers that have benefited from public funds, subsidies, and tax incentives accountable to the community for providing living wage jobs and other human rights in communities and workplaces. United Workers is a low-wage workers organization, founded by day laborers in 2002 and a leading voice for human rights in Maryland. Our advocacy was implemented through the Hunger Program’s Fair Development Program.

Scripture admonishes, “You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9). Fair Development means not showing partiality just to the developer, but ensuring wellbeing for everyone in the community. When the government pays for goods and services or subsidizes private business with public funds, it is incumbent on us to ensure those funds ensure fair wages and good livelihoods for the workers, not windfalls for developers and CEOs.

Our self worth ought to be directly tied, through Jesus’ love, to the affirmation of the worth of others. No one should work hard everyday, but still not make enough money to feed her family because she is paid a poverty wage. And through Jesus, my own self-worth is tied up in hers. At least 21 million people—8 million workers and their familiesrely on low-wage jobs in the federally supported economy, that is, jobs with firms that receive a significant portion of their revenue from federal funds. Over 70 percent of these workers are women and nearly 45 percent are people of color—which makes the federal government the largest creator of low-wage employment for working women and people of color.

The President must seize the moral courage to lead by example and set a new precedent of good jobs, fair wages, decent benefits, and the right to organize for workers in the U.S. In this way, President Obama could expand the use of his executive authority from the 200,000 workers affected by the $10.10 order, to 8 million workers and their families – an estimated 21 million people in all.But today’s culture teaches us that our self worth is tied to our ability to provide for our family. Health and wellness are associated with owning a decent home, paying for our children’s education, affording a vacation to rest, and maintaining an automobile. When working persons do not earn enough to provide basic needs for themselves and their families, self worth is compromised. Failing to pay just wages is a failure to see God in each other. Allowing our public funds to pay low wages is nothing short of sin. But President Obama has the power to change the marketplace and ensure that no worker whose paycheck comes from the taxpayer lives in poverty.

Worth

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood the twin-headed creature who would on one hand declare that persons who are out of work are shiftless, lazy, and damaged goods while on the other hand use epithets such as “illegal immigrant” and “undocumented worker.” Such hateful rhetoric is both dehumanizing and degrading – no person on earth is “illegal” in God’s eyes, after all – especially when our economy fails to provide enough good jobs for everyone who wants one. At an AFL-CIO meeting in 1961, he said:

“Negroes are almost entirely a working people… Our needs are identical with labor's needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor's demands and fight laws, which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature, spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.”

Congress needs to get serious about improving existing jobs and creating new ones. I spoke with a Presbyterian Campus Minister at a prestigious university who shared with me that many students graduate and are unable to find work in their field of study. This dearth of employment forces them into positions for which they are overqualified, thereby perpetuating a chain reaction of underpay and scarcity of jobs throughout the labor market. Many of these young adults are ashamed to return home to their old bedrooms or parents’ basements because of embarrassment around not meeting family, church, and community expectations. She said,

Oftentimes these young people find themselves having to resort to working on low-wage jobs, while barely able to afford the basic necessities of life. Some who have come from affluent homes are ashamed to return home, because of their deep feeling that they have disappointed those whom they love.

We need to create jobs that provide a living for the workers we have, while also making sure education is available to train workers for the jobs we need.

Likewise, we live in a nation where women are still paid less for doing the same job as a man. I would suggest that we in the Church must be vigilant in our advocacy for equal pay for equal work. However, it is important that we, in the Church, not be guilty of the same injustice with respect to women’s compensation that we are witnessing in the employment sector outside of the Church. There is a significant devaluing of women and the valuable work that God has put in all of our hands – male and female – when the Church legitimizes these same unjust compensation practices in our Pastoral calls and other vocational work.

I realize that there are those in the PC(USA) who are critical of organized labor. But I have worked with the labor movement as a local Pastor to demonstrate for the rights of workers to organize, raise the minimum wage, struggle against violations of workers’ rights, and a host of other worker justice issues and I have seen the power and efficacy of shared struggle. Despite the flaws that are often raised regarding labor unions, it cannot be denied that workers need greater protection and advocates who are willing to sacrifice their comfortable and privileged positions to engage the struggle for jobs and justice in the United States.

Earlier this year, I was in North Carolina marching in a Moral Monday gathering of 80,000 people protesting in front of the North Carolina State Capitol. I was elated to see so many Presbyterians (lay people and clergy, teaching and ruling elders) participating, and even placing their bodies on the line through nonviolent civil disobedience, to declare that teacher pay should not be cut; voting rights should be expanded for people and not diminished for the sake of expanding corporate power; and a host of other people-based rights that restore the integrity of God’s plan for people-kind. This is the struggle to which God is calling us today.Presbyterians have a history of engagement in worker justice. Former Stated Clerk of the now Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Eugene Carson Blake was a stalwart leader in the 1960’s with regards to jobs and justice. While representing the National Council of Churches and the Presbyterian denomination he is often seen pictured at the March for Jobs and Justice, now known as the 1963 March on Washington. Often walking arm in arm with Dr. King, Blake represented Presbyterians and the ecumenical movement, saying that the Christian tradition values labor, believes in the dignity of work, and in just compensation for the worker.

Value

In our capitalist society, payday is always a good day. There is a sense of pride in earning a living and having the means to build a better life. For those of us who take a paycheck for granted, let us be reminded and in solidarity with those persons who, after receiving their paychecks, still cannot meet their basic needs, including food, housing, health and child care, much less a family outing for dinner or a Friday-night movie. Let us not forget the father or mother in despair, because there is never enough to make ends meet, even after working multiple jobs or overtime.

I was taught a work ethic as a child. I grew up in a household of two educated parents who valued work. Both my father and mother over-functioned in their work life. Daddy was a Presbyterian Pastor and civil rights leader. My Mother is a retired middle school teacher. We lived in South Carolina where all of the symbols of racial supremacy, jim crow segregation, and the denial of human freedoms existed for African Americans. I am blessed that neither one of my parents internalized the messages emanating from the bigotry and hatred of that period. Instead, they instilled in me the values of living in a community, supporting one’s family, obtaining a solid education, and building a bridge for other generations to follow. They insisted that I recite a poem periodically as a reminder to value myself through the work that was before me:

If a task is once begun never leave it til it’s done. Be your labor great or small, do it well or not at all.

As I grew up, work was considered to be the task at hand. It entailed labor and required perseverance, vision, and a willingness to take responsibility. Later, my faith experiences taught me that Jesus interpreted and proclaimed meaningful labor for the transformation of human society – a cross. He describes this in the Gospel of Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself; take up his cross and follow me.” The cross represents a fundamental way of life that requires sacrifice on behalf of the Almighty. Renewing one’s mind and a willingness to present one’s body as a living sacrifice, acceptable to God – this is our spiritual worship. Therefore, the call to ministry is a labor for love for humanity on behalf of the Almighty. The sacrifice is a calling to stand for and with others when others cannot stand for themselves.

I joined a group of demonstrators, striking workers, and fellow faith leaders at Union Station in Washington, DC, a federally owned rail station with a host of businesses and restaurants, where many federal contract workers are paid below the DC minimum wage. I chose to sacrifice my body and spend time being arrested to declare to the President, in the words of the labor chant, “no justice, no peace.” I expect that God will move in President Obama’s heart to give him the courage to sign an Executive Order that will ensure that the federal government only does business with companies that bargain collectively with workers, pay living wages and benefits, stop wage theft, and limit excessive CEO pay. And know that I am in this fight for the long haul. I will continue to struggle with this Administration and the Congress to create good jobs, improve the ones we have, raise the minimum wage higher, and make sure workers have their rights and dignity.

We know working families cannot live on the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour, or even on $10.10 per hour, the President’s new wage floor for contract workers. As we chanted with the workers yesterday, “$10.10 is not enough!” It is only a good start. As noted by Senator Elizabeth Warren in a recent speech, had wages kept up with worker productivity over the years, the minimum wage today would be around $22 per hour. I urge you stand with workers and with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in support of better jobs for all workers, for as we improve jobs at the wage floor, so will all other jobs rise on a tide of justice.


The Office of Public Witness will continue to engage on this issue and I invite you to follow our email action alertsblogFacebook page, and Twitter account to be part of the movement. Further, I want to encourage you to pray for all of us – for striking workers, for desperate parents, for protesters, for those of us who engage in civil disobedience. Our calling to stand when others cannot stand for themselves is consistent with our Savior’s calling to stand for all of us in our weakness. Vulnerable workers need partnership and solidarity with those who can afford to risk for justice. And I invite you to let the Office of Public Witness know where similar wage issues and actions are taking place across the country. May God’s Peace be with you.

Calling for a Good Jobs Executive Order

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by The Rev. Michael Livingston |

Over the last year, I have marched with federal contract workers who clean and serve food at federal buildings like the Smithsonian Museums and Zoo, the Pentagon, Union Station and the Reagan building. These courageous workers have gone on strike NINE TIMES to demand living wages and the right to form a union. In response, the President announced at the State of the Union that he is raising the pay of low-wage federal contract workers to $10.10 by Executive Order.

Brothers and sisters, our President has taken a step towards greater economic justice, but $10.10 is the least he could do for the least among us. Workers need more than a Minimum Wage Executive Order, they need a Good Jobs Executive Order!

At the State of the Union, when the President announced the $10.10 Executive Order, he held up Costco as an example of a good American company. The president said "profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. We should too."

We agree, Mr. President!

Costco also allows its workers to bargain collectively without interference. It provides living wages and benefits, and doesn't steal wages from workers. Costco's does not pay its top executives immorally excessive salaries. If Costco can create good jobs and good profits, so can companies that do business with the U.S. Government.

A Good Jobs Executive Order that makes sure the U.S. Government only did business with companies that follow Costco's business model would be TRANSFORMATIONAL! A Demos report estimates that a Good Jobs Executive Order would put more than 20 million Americans on the path to middle class.

12 Million People Robbed Each Year

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Pam Shearman |

You may have heard the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” Stealing is more than losing money or a possession. I remember when our home was broken into, and we were robbed. We replaced the material things, and we fixed the broken door and window. But our sense of security was difficult to replace. It was a long time before we could sleep well without feeling threatened and vulnerable.

We spend almost as much time at work as we do at home, so being robbed at work can leave us feeling vulnerable, day after day. According to the Illinois Department of Labor, a large number of wage theft claims are filed by restaurant workers. A recent survey of fast-food workers reported nine of ten workers say they have experienced wage theft. The operational commandment in the food service industry seems to be “Thou SHALT steal.”

Recently, we heard from a young woman whose first job was with a national fast food chain. Her first day went very well, and both she and the manager were pleased with her job performance. After she clocked out at the end of the shift she said goodbye to her manager. “Where are you going?” he asked. Then he explained that she needed to stay and work off the clock. That was her first and last day at that job. She knew that standing up for her employment rights was the strongest course of action.

This young woman and millions like her should not have to take a stand alone.

The National Restaurant Association ("the Other NRA") estimates that 13.5 million people work in restaurants in the U.S. This adds up to more than 12 million people robbed at work (compared to only 1.5 million home robberies each year). The NRA has no policy stand on wage theft. Here is a sampling of the NRA’s policy positions for workers:

  • The NRA is opposed to the Affordable Care Act even though 90% of restaurants have fewer than 50 employees and do not have to offer healthcare insurance to employees.
  • The NRA is opposed to mandatory paid sick and family leave to take care of sick loved ones claiming that “arbitrary mandatory provisions that require new benefits without giving flexibility to businesses will come at the expense of other benefits.”
  • The NRA is opposed to an increase in the minimum wage stating, “dramatic, mandatory wage increases…would place yet another financial burden on business owners”. The minimum wage for tipped workers in Illinois is only $4.95/hour! (Find out the tipped-minimum wage in your state.)

The NRA expects that 1.3 million restaurant jobs will be added over the next decade – that’s a million more workers with no private healthcare insurance, insufficient paid sick time for themselves and their families, and rock bottom hourly pay. And that’s a million more workers who have their wages stolen by their employers.

Can they count on you to fight theft with them? Learn more about IWJ Issues and see all the opportunities to get involved. Together we can make “Thou Shalt NOT Steal” the standard for everyone!


Pam is a seminarian joining Interfaith Worker Justice this summer for clinical pastoral education, she will be reflecting each week on her experiences. Cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Retreat to plan ahead

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Kim Bobo |

I love staff retreats. Getting away from the office with colleagues allows you to build and strengthen relationships, think about the “big picture” directions of the work and plan for the future.

This year’s retreat was especially fun, very encouraging and slightly poignant for me. The highlight of the fun was the high ropes course. Even though you are technically “harnessed in," so that no harm can actually come to you, it feels super scary as you step out onto tiny ropes or wires about 30 feet above the ground. I have bruises all over my body from ramming into the platform or gripping the ropes too tightly. But, I made it around the course with some coaching and encouragement from colleagues. The young and fit staffer zipped around the course and I moved slowly and cautiously, but most of us pushed ourselves outside our comfort zones in ways that were scary and totally fun. I was quite proud of myself!

The retreat was quite encouraging about the future of the work because IWJ has such a talented group of staff with great passion for the work and overall clarity of purpose. We disagree sometimes on approach and language, but we are committed to working together and growing in our experience and effectiveness. I have such respect for my colleagues and think one couldn’t find a better team of folks with which to work.

staff retreatA good part of the retreat focused on my upcoming transition, how we best prepare IWJ for a new director and how the entire staff can support a new director. Even though I am helping drive the transition because I think it is the best thing for the organization, there was some sadness for me around realizing that this past retreat was likely my last retreat with the staff. Next year’s retreat will be with the new director.

Overall, the retreat was fabulous – fun, renewing, and encouraging. Just what a retreat should be.

Community: The Key to Organizing

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

By Elizabeth Nawrocki

“Elizabeth can make a new best friend at a bus stop,” my mother, for many years, has been known to explain her middle daughter as very outgoing and friendly. It didn’t surprise her at all when I recounted a fascinating conversation I had about Hinduism and Christianity at (where else?) a bus stop on the way to work. Perhaps this trait my mother realized in me paved the way for my love of and perceived vocation to community, in whatever capacity that may be.

I think this love of community is what draws me to this work. I am spending the summer with the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy (FAME), part of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), in Oakland, Calif. In my short time with FAME and EBASE, I have seen the importance of community in more ways than one. Community is essential when dealing the broad task of imagining and creating a more just society. It is easy to slip into the individualistic vibe of the world today. Often our activism takes the form of our signature on a petition and not much beyond that. Community organizing, however, takes a different approach. Beyond simply signing a petition, organizing fosters relationships.

The relationships I have witnessed form the backbone of the campaigns in which we are involved, and these campaigns would not have any success without the established community backing them. The minimum wage workers and the organizers know one another’s stories; they know the person beyond their hourly wage. The hotel workers and union representatives sit down around the  table and chat; they have a relationship. When this shift in focus from “a cause” to one’s brothers and sisters occurs, the campaigns for justice become so much more meaningful and so much more effective.

At FAME we not only explore the relationships we have with other individuals, but we explore the relationships that take shape between the issues with which we have engaged. As I become more aware of the intersectionality that is present between each aspect of social injustice, it becomes virtually impossible to deal with a single issue without addressing or affecting an other. At FAME, I have become particularly familiar with the intersection of labor and immigration. Management can use a worker’s status again him, creating a workplace unfit for any type of flourishing. The main provider of a family can be detained and deported, leaving the rest of the family fumbling financially and emotionally. 

These intersections provide the opportunity for coalition work, fostering even greater community and interdependence. I attended one of the monthly vigils held at the West County Detention Facility and witnessed the beauty that is present in community. We gather together to pray, to weep, and to stand in solidarity with the detainees held in the facility. We share stories of the families affected and imagine how to reunite them and bring justice to the broken system. But my favorite part is the “moment of noise” at the end. In a display of our contempt for the current system and our love for our brothers and sisters held within the facility, we make as much noise as possible. We hope for those inside to hear and know that we are standing with them. We form a community, a friendship with those beyond the walls.

While this may not be what my mom was getting at when she would tell relatives about my ability to befriend a stranger in no time, there is no doubt that these are related. Establishing relationships is at the very core of any social movement. The people I have gotten to know and the events I have been able to experience have been transformative to my faith and understanding of what it means to be part of a community. No way could we make a change without each other. There is truly a beautiful society, beyond the economics and the politics we see today, that can emerge from an ever-growing sense of love and community.


Photo courtesy of EBASE-FAME

David vs. Goliath over Worker's Comp

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By Mia Katan

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” — Emma Lazarus

Sadness needs no translation. Sofia’s (her name has been changed for privacy purposes) rapid Spanish rolled over me in waves. Beyond “Best Western” and “cleaning maid” I relied on another intern’s translation. In the cool of a church basement in East Boston, we absorbed Sofia and Isabella’s stories. They shared a common theme: each were injured at work, their employer denied the injury had occurred on the job, and lost their job.

Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health is working with injured workers. The worker center helps injured workers, who primarily hail from Boston’s thriving immigrant community, navigate the workers' compensation system. This summer, Kristen and I are working on a report about the Massachusetts’ workers’ compensation system. We're interviewing attorneys, injured workers and experts. We will explore contributing factors in delayed medical treatment and inadequate wage replacement benefits.

When an employer or insurance company contests an injured worker’s claim it triggers a long and complex process. It is illegal for an employer in Mass. to not carry workers’ compensation insurance. Employers without worker’s compensation sometimes attempt to avoid fines by dumping injured workers at the hospital and denying any responsibility or relationship. Employers with insurance try to deny responsibility to avoid increasing insurance premiums. This legal battle hurts everyone involved. Injured workers’ health deteriorates as treatment is delayed, which increases the cost to the employer, insurance company and the state. Many injured workers already face socio-economic disadvantages like language and education barriers. When you consider the financial power of employers and insurance companies it truly becomes a David vs. Goliath interaction.

Then there is this: Insurance companies hire “Independent Medical Examiners” to examine a worker and write a report. One attorney I spoke with says these reports often contain leading questions that help physicians come to the conclusion their employer is seeking. These doctors are anything but “independent” and are paid up to $1,000 an hour for an appointment usually less than fifteen minutes long. In this way, insurance companies get the medical documentation they need to contest a worker’s claim in court.

Even when a worker receives compensation, it’s not enough. In Massachusetts, a worker is entitled to up to 60 percent of their previous average weekly wage with a $1,181.28 maximum and $236.26 minimum. Many of these workers were receiving a minimum wage of $8, an already unlivable salary. Can you imagine taking care of a family on $236.26 a week, while disabled? According to a report from MIT, a living weekly wage for one adult with two children in Boston is $1,314. Therefore, injured workers receiving workers’ compensation are not only dealing with their disability but also a dramatically decreased standard of living.

The system is clearly flawed. Immigrant injured workers are fighting an uphill battle. Massachusetts must reform to protect society’s most vulnerable. Writing a report is a drop in a bucket, and I can only hope this drop joins a stream in the fight for worker’s rights. This report will inform MassCOSH on what workers’ compensation reform should look like. Just as advocacy groups, including MassCOSH, recently won the fight to raise minimum wage in MA one can hope my contribution will inform a future battle for worker’s compensation reform.