Interfaith Worker Justice

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Good Works Chicago: Herb and Shelly’s

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By Eric Coats

Shelly Herman, founder of Herb and Shelly’s, joined Good Works Chicago on Dec. 16 to discuss the farm fresh market. Herb and Shelly’s delivers fresh food to its customers— everything from vegetables and eggs to meats and dairies. Several years after meeting her husband while studying business at MIT, the two decided to develop an ethical and healthy company which sources its produce from local growers. Herb and Shelly’s makes sure each grower is being treated fairly, and that the farmworkers on the farms are treated fairly. The company seeks to maintain a mutually beneficial business arrangement, usually conducted by a handshake. The company’s mission, according to Shelly, is to preserve the environment, help provide access to healthy food to all, and contribute to a vibrant, local economy.

Shelly has a profound philosophy around the way she believes workers must be treated. She sees workers first and foremost as people, individuals who deserve fair pay, vacation days, holidays, sick days, personal days, and financial support for health insurance. She understands that companies have needs, especially the need to keep costs down, but she says “cutting wages and workers' benefits as a way to be efficient is shortsighted.”

Shelly says she's a firm believer in creating a positive environment which nurtures workers and when that happens, success rings ten-fold. This seems to be a pattern with employers who have made the wise (and economically-efficient) decision to invest in their workers rather than merely see them as expendable capital.

In the future Herb and Shelly’s will strive to provide fresh, healthy and delicious food to a variety of neighborhoods and incomes, while conducting a fair, socially-conscious, and still-efficient company.

If you believe you are a not being treated fairly by your employer or are a victim of wage theft and are being paid unfairly, please call IWJ's Wage Theft Legal Clinic at (773) 998-1320. The hotline is open on Mondays from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. The Wage Theft Clinic is located at 19 W. Jackson Blvd. at the John Marshall Law School. All messages will be answered within 24 hours.

Good Works Chicago: Worker Cooperatives

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Camille Smith |

Brendan Martin of The Working World visited on Good Works Chicago this week. He shared with IWJ's Kim Bobo the story of New Era Windows, the worker-owned cooperative he’s working with here in Chicago area.

The history of New Era begins with the 2008 financial crisis. The nearby Chicago window factory joined thousands of businesses who faced challenges after the crisis. The factory closed without paying its workers all they were owed, and owners began moving out equipment. The workers occupied the factory and demanded they were paid their wages. This action generated the attention of the worker justice community around the country. Their devotion to creating change started them down the path of what New Era Windows is today.

The factory went through several different owners until the workers decided to buy out the company on their own. This happened because workers believed they could manage their own company. There are now 16 worker-owners at New Era Windows, and the company is in its first full year of production.

Brendan shared that though worker-owned cooperatives aren’t common in the United States, they are more possible than people think. Worker-owned cooperatives can start up from a group of workers on their own or come from an existing business. Worker-owned cooperatives aren’t common because workers don’t often see them as a possibility. Too often, workers accept workplaces as static rather than trying to change them. In the long run, when workers do start owning their own work, they find they are paid better. In order to start this transition, workers need to be educated about business and change their mental shift to ownership. When workers genuinely feel they own the company they tend to succeed. Brendan compared it to tending your own garden; you get to see the fruits of your own labor.

Anyone who wants to support worker-owned co-ops should believe and them and search locally to support them. Learn more about worker-owned co-ops and consider buying your windows from New Era.

If you believe you are a not being treated fairly by your employer or are a victim of wage theft and are being paid unfairly, please call IWJ's Wage Theft Legal Clinic at (773) 998-1320. The hotline is open on Mondays from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. The Wage Theft Clinic is located at 19 W. Jackson Blvd. at the John Marshall Law School. All messages will be answered within 24 hours.

Good Works Chicago: Beyond Green

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Camille Smith |

Last week on Good Works Chicago, Greg Christian of Beyond Green, joined us to talk about pay, benefits and working conditions at his company. Beyond Green provides food services for schools without kitchens and provides consulting to schools looking to offer healthier food to students. Beyond Green is a certified B-Corporation, which means their company strives to help the environment and community.

Greg works to make sure Beyond Green prioritizes serving local, organic and hormone-free food. The challenge, he says, is to serve real food that kids like. Greg said that the key is to make healthy food tasty. Greg has been cooking for 34 years, mostly as a chef. At one point he aspired to work a high-end job, but his perspective changed when his child became ill. He learned about the health benefits of organic foods, and he saw how much that improved his child’s life. Now, his philosophy now is to serve the world by serving food. Greg started his work 11 years ago in Chicago Public Schools. He now works with private schools, but hopes to shift back to working with public schools because he knows it is essential for all children to eat well.

Beyond Green tries to do right by its employees. Many food service companies are often shortsighted in externalized costs, and squeeze out their workers. Greg says he's found that when workers are treated well and are happy at work, they stick around and provide better and more consistent work. Beyond Green runs a sustainable kitchen and employes a small diverse staff. Greg views his employees as his family and makes sure to pay them all above minimum wage. He remarked he would have no problem with mandated raise in the minimum wage, because he thinks it is important to pay workers well, especially in the food industry. In the future, Greg hopes to provide health insurance for his employees as an added benefit.

If you believe you are a not being treated fairly by your employer or are a victim of wage theft and are being paid unfairly, please call IWJ's Wage Theft Legal Clinic at (773) 998-1320. The hotline is open on Mondays from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. The Wage Theft Clinic is located at 19 W. Jackson Blvd. at the John Marshall Law School. All messages will be answered within 24 hours.

Greed before Safety in Mining Disaster

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

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that the former director of Massey Energy, Donald Blankenship, was indicted on four criminal counts by a federal grand jury for violating mine safety rules and deceiving federal inspectors. The indictment claims that his willful disregard for safety laws in order to make more money resulted in 29 men dying in West Virginia at the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. 

Finally, a move to seek justice for the 29 mineworkers died because of greed.

The report is amazingly clear about the role played by greed. It indicates that Mr. Blankenship ignored safety violations “in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money.” Unfortunately, Mr. Blakenship is not alone when it comes to putting profits before people and greed before safety. Poultry workers have serious hand and wrist injuries because the line speeds are too fast and there aren’t enough workers on the line. Fast food workers are burned because they aren’t taught how to handle grease and hot pans or are not given adequate protective gear. Roof workers fall off roofs, injuring or killing themselves, because contractors don’t invest in protective harnesses. 

The response from Blankenship’s lawyer is truly breathtaking. His lawyer claims, “Don Blankenship has been a tireless advocate for mine safety.” There are many things one could say that might have been close to the truth. For example, perhaps one might have said Blakenship has been a leader in the mine industry or an active public citizen (he’s a large contributor to conservative causes) or something else, but a safety advocate? Really?

I don’t know what will happen to Mr. Blankenship. The company that now owns the mine has paid criminal penalties to the Department of Justice. Subordinates have pleaded guilty in criminal cases. Surely, something will come of this case. Perhaps Mr. Blankenship will go to jail. He should. He put profits before people and greed before safety. Unfortunately for workers, he’s not alone.

Decision from Ferguson breaks our hearts

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With saddened and outraged hearts, we join the nation in mourning the denial of justice for Michael Brown. The grand jury's failure to acknowledge the abuse of power that took an innocent life is a serious affront to our values, to justice and to our democracy.

As people of faith, we have a moral obligation to stand up for a society that values and protects the inherent human dignity in ALL of us. We pray for strength drawn from our indignation so we might stand up and organize in our workplaces for a fair economy, in our neighborhoods to build a just democracy, and in our communities to build a society that values all of God’s people.

Earlier, the Workers Center for Racial Justice in Chicago joined the Black Youth Project at a rally in City Hall reminding Government officials that black lives matter.

Today, we must take action and lift up this crucial struggle for justice.

Here are three things you can do:

  • If you feel called, share your support on social media.

You can also share via twitter.

Good Works Chicago: I Have A Bean

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

Pete Leonard of Second Chance Coffee, marketed under the I Have a Bean brand, shared his unique business story on this past week’s Good Works Chicago show on CANTV.  Pete’s story began when a family member who had strong business and technical skills couldn’t find a job because he had been convicted of a felony. Initially, Pete hired him for a software job, which worked out well.

Pete has always loved coffee, but experienced the most amazing cup of coffee ever while visiting a rural area on a church mission trip. He couldn’t believe someone could roast such good coffee in a big steel drum over a wood fire. Upon returning home, Pete began roasting his own coffee using his Weber grill. Friends and neighbors loved the taste.

Pete began to learn more about the struggles of ex-offenders. The biggest problem is often landing a job. Many employers don’t want to hire people with criminal records. Without access to jobs, too many people return to a life of crime. According to a 2011 study published by the Pew Center on the States, “Illinois prisoners commit new crimes or violate parole at an alarming rate: 51.7 percent of Illinois inmates return to prison within three years.” Pete believed his relative and others deserve a second change.

Pete decided to put his love of coffee together with his software skills as well as his desire to help ex-offenders get a second chance. At first he thought perhaps he could show ex-offenders in halfway houses how to roast in their grills, but that didn’t seem like the best long-term plan. Eventually, he designed a coffee roasting machine that allows him to make coffee that is roasted at the perfect temperatures every time. 

Second Chance Coffee Company was launched in 2007 with a two-fold mission: to roast and distribute truly exceptional coffee, and to help transform the lives of post-prison people in the process. Part of Second Chance’s motto is to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”

The company has grown to six full-time and one part-time worker. All the workers are paid living wages. Ex-offenders are employed in roasting, administration, marketing and accounting. Pete is the only one on staff who has not spent time in prison. Because coffee drinkers and ex-offenders looking for jobs are everywhere, Pete hopes to eventually open 72 roasting plants across the nation, working in collaboration with halfway houses.

For delicious and amazingly fresh coffee beans that serves a social mission, order online.

If you believe you are a not being treated fairly by your employer or are a victim of wage theft and are being paid unfairly, please call IWJ's Wage Theft Legal Clinic at (773) 998-1320. The hotline is open on Mondays from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. The Wage Theft Clinic is located at 19 W. Jackson Blvd. at the John Marshall Law School. All messages will be answered within 24 hours.

IWJ joins Ignatian Solidarity Network at Conference

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By Lucas Fletcher

The Ignatian Solidarity Network is a national social justice network that works in partnership with Jesuit and other Catholic institutions to promote leadership and advocacy among students and alumni. More than 1,500 student leaders from Jesuit education institutions attended the 2014 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, D.C. This annual conference helps cements solidarity and unity among the "Ignatian Family".

The conference features a series of workshops and keynote speakers, followed by an Advocacy Day, where student leaders meet with their respective congressional representatives to advocate on behalf of social justice issues. On Monday, Nov. 17, Teach-In participants went to Capitol Hill and voiced their concern over humane comprehensive immigration reform among other issues.

When asked about her experience at the Teach-In one participant said “the experience overall was challenging and humbling among other things. I think everyone's experience and take away was completely differently depending on where they are in their journey."

Interfaith Worker Justice hosted a table the conference, to talk with students about the issues facing low-wage and immigrant workers and how faith communities are involved in local communities and at the national level. Interested in learning more about IWJ's student programs? Learn more here.

Another participant said “It was my fifth time participating, and I've always appreciated the passionate speakers and energy that each presenter brings to the experience. I am thankful for the opportunity to host a networking session with other Jesuit university leaders to discuss ways on how to institutionally support undocumented students in HigherEd.”

This tradition highlights how the Jesuit community in the U.S. has been able to work together across hundreds of institutions to promote and advocate on behalf of social justice issues. The Ignatian Solidarity Network is an example of how faith can bring communities together in the pursuit of positive change.

Good Works Chicago: Fig Catering

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Camille Smith |

On Good Works Chicago, Justin Hall of Fig Catering joined IWJ's Kim Bobo to discuss how working in food service has helped him create an ethical business. Justin and his wife started Fig Catering, now a full-service catering company, about 10 years ago. It all began when the two bonded over their passion for making good food and were asked to help cater a fundraiser for a local congressional candidate. Although the candidate didn’t win, Justin and his wife got the winning idea to begin their own business.

As someone who has worked in food service for many years, Justin knew that there were many issues facing low-wage workers. Because customers want affordable food and because food services can’t reduce the price of their ingredients or appliances, employers often cut wages unfairly. Cutting wages for workers often comes in the form of taking tips or not paying workers as "employees"... That is wage theft.

In order to be a more ethical employer than many of the food service employers that commit wage theft, Justin and his wife decided to build a sustainable business with values. Their focus is to have employees that want to work for them. They pay at least 20 percent above the minimum wage for all workers, as well as try to regularly give raises to employees and provide healthcare. Their idea is to make the jobs reliable and stable, which in turn will benefit their business by retaining employees. Justin shared that Fig Catering hardly experiences turnover because they go out of their way to treat employees well.

Justin’s advice for those who aim to be ethical employers is to take risks and start with a strong foundation, because in the long run, you will be rewarded. Companies that can afford to pay better wages should. When asked about how he would respond to a mandated minimum wage increase, Justin said he would have to see where the money in his business lies, and if necessary, he would take a pay cut himself in order to pay his employees higher wages.

Whether in food service or any other sector, If you believe you are a not being treated fairly by your employer or are a victim of wage theft and are being paid unfairly, please call IWJ's Wage Theft Legal Clinic at (773) 998-1320. The hotline is open on Mondays from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. The Wage Theft Clinic is located at 19 W. Jackson Blvd. at the John Marshall Law School. All messages will be answered within 24 hours.

Stop Wage Theft Now: Paystubs For All!

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Yesterday, Interfaith Worker Justice and a dozen IWJ-affiliated Worker Centers and Interfaith Groups highlighted the crisis of wage theft in their communities as part of a National Day of Action Against Wage Theft. Local groups visited elected officials and local Department of Labor offices to throw their support behind a federal Paystubs for All regulation and participated in direct action at unethical businesses with a track record of wage theft.

The network came together in an impressive show of power against the rampant wage theft many low-wage and immigrant workers face each day on the job. Centro de Trabajadores Unidoes en la Lucha from the Twin Cities, Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, Damayan Migrant Workers Center in New York City, MassCOSH in Dorchester, Mass., New Labor from New Jersey, the Pilipino Worker Center in Southern California, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, Voces de la Frontera in Milwaukee, Western North Carolina Workers' Center, the Workers' Center of Central New York, Workers' Dignity Project in Nashville, Center for Worker Justice of Easter Iowa, and the Worker Justice Project in Brooklyn, N.Y. all called for an end to Wage Theft. Some groups leveraged social media to amplify the message, others did good ole' fashioned on-the-ground direct action, a few met with lawmakers and government officials. The day was a huge success. Take a look at some of the photos from actions online and on-the-ground!

Organizations like Damayan Migrant Workers Center, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, Western North Carolina Workers' Center participated online!

Worker Centers like MashCOSH and New Labor visited employers to call out wage theft! (New Labor visited FIVE locations!)

Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center visited their local office of the Department of Labor

The Worker Justice Project and the Pilipino Worker Center hosted a community event for workers to learn how to prevent wage theft!

Help Interfaith Worker Justice and the affiliate network stop wage theft and urge Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to make issuing a Paystubs for All regulation a priority! Learn more about Wage Theft online!

Big win for workers in Massachusetts: Paid Sick Days

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By Paul Drake, Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice

Last Tuesday, Massachusetts voters strongly approved a ballot question guaranteeing workers five days worth of earned sick time. Starting July 1, 2015, all workers will be able to start earning one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. This will bring into the fold nearly one million Massachusetts workers who cannot earn sick time currently, a full third of our workforce.

Actualizing this strong public support for earned sick time was the final step in a long struggle that began more than eight years ago in the state legislature and culminated in the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition's grassroots campaign to put humane labor standards at the forefront of public policy making here. Earlier this year we were able to use our other ballot initiative to win passage of an $11 minimum wage via the state legislature. And since low-wage workers are also those least likely to have sick time, these two measures together will help redeem some of the deep insecurity of those on the margins of our economy. Respectively, these two policies will be the strongest state minimum wage and earned sick time policies in the country, once fully implemented.

As people of faith, we know policies like earned sick time and healthy minimum wages right core wrongs in our economic relationships, but so does the public at large. Voters approved progressive measures like minimum wage raises and sick leave standards from coast to coast on Tuesday. Here in Massachusetts, nearly 60 percent of voters approved the sick time question. And therein lies both our hope and our responsibility: people fundamentally feel the economic brokenness that surrounds them, and they will act on this, given the opportunity.

Our task as communities of faith is to tap into this recognition and help build constructive opportunities to actually address our shared vulnerability, instead of unhealthy responses that fail to address its core dynamics. Here in Massachusetts, the ballot initiative tool has proved a powerful means of doing just that, by allowing volunteers to engage voters directly on the issues: petitioning, knocking on doors, making calls, drawing out stories, and building actionable consensus. This process has been incredibly empowering for communities of faith here, by providing us a tangible way to lift up some of the core vulnerabilities people face as workers and a means to publicize our collective voice for justice in a way that fosters concrete, redemptive action.

IWJ affiliates are mobilizing faith communities and worker advocates to win earned sick time throughout the country. New Labor, an IWJ-affiliated worker center in New Brunswick, N.J., is using the energy from successful Trenton and Montclair sick leave campaigns to push for legislation in New Brunswick and also state wide. You can learn more about how to support New Labor here.

Learn more about how to get involved in sick leave work in your community here.