Interfaith Worker Justice

This is what religion looks like.



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.

Good Works Chicago: Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique

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Last week on Good Works Chicago, Teresa Ging joined Kim Bobo to talk about the Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique, and what a sweet experience it was! Teresa is a University of Chicago graduate in economics and statistics. After working in finance for several years, she left to attend pastry school at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and when she returned, Sugar Bliss began.

The cake boutique opened in January, 2009 and has grown in many ways since. Although at first Teresa could not pay above minimum wage, as the business grew, she made it a point to increase wages for her workers. She also began to offer more benefits such as health care, paid sick time, paid breaks, retirement benefits and paid maternity leave. She also developed a system where employees are reviewed every six months. Each worker does self-assessment, and then Teresa and the worker develop joint improvement plans. Sugar Bliss’s business and customer experience improved as a result of the strong supportive environment for employees, according to Teresa.

For Teresa, why she went out of her way to pay workers more and offer benefits was simple. Workers should be treated like family. Not only was it personally important to Teresa to look out for the well-being on her employees, but from a business standpoint, she knew that offering greater benefits meant employees would stay longer. She was right, too. Many of her workers have been with Sugar Bliss for years and they rarely have the need to hire. As advice for new business owners, Teresa said employees are an investment and key to growing business.

Watch the full discussion:

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.

Still standing with the GTS8

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By Rabbi Michael Feinberg

Last week, I joined a group of 25 Episcopal seminarians and clergy in a vigil outside the gates of General Theological Seminary in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. We gathered in support of the "GTS8," the eight full-time faculty of the seminary who had been fired for attempting to unionize and address critical issues at their workplace including harassment, intimidation and retaliation.

For an hour and a half in the rain, to the backdrop of a smoldering sunset, we prayed, sang, process around the block around GTS, and ultimately onto the campus cloister itself. The tone was prayerful, communal--if entirely Christian.

Why did I as a Jew and a rabbi join this vigil?

Because I believe it is imperative that our faith institutions reflect our religious values and ethic—values including human dignity and equality, the rights of workers and economic justice. These are central in my own tradition as I know they are in the Episcopal church. It is essential that as faith communities we "practice what we preach," particularly in the instruction of future clergy and faith leaders.

The situation at GTS is a clear dismissal of the Episcopalian Church’s stand on worker justice and outright denial of workers’ rights to organize and engage in collective bargaining. While the GTS 8 have been "provisionally reinstated" their tenure and status have been compromised, and their concerns for their hostile environment have not been addressed. Because the board refuses to address the hostile work environment, I will continue to pray for and stand in solidarity with the GTS8, and I encourage all people of faith to do the same.

Rabbi Michael Feinberg directs the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition in NYC, and proudly supports the GTS8

Good Works Chicago: Addressing Health and Safety in the Workplace

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

On this week’s episode of Good Works Chicago, IWJ's Legal Director, Julian Medrano, interviewed Maria Gutierrez, who leads IWJ’s National Occupational Health and Safety program. Maria leads IWJ's know-your-rights trainings to workers through the Susan Harwood program of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). She has more than eight years of experience in the field. She is currently working towards her PhD in Occupational and Environmental Health from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

On the program, she highlighted that many employers who engage in the immoral and illegal practice of wage theft are usually the same employers who fail to provide safe working conditions for employees. Low-wage and immigrant workers are frequently taken advantage with regards to their workplace rights and safety. It’s an injustice IWJ and our network of affiliates are working hard to address.

The OSHA trainings consist of several steps training workers and providing them with the tools to address on unethical employers. First, trainers inform workers of their legal rights. Then, they teach workers how to identify hazards in the workplace and how to control those hazards. Further, workers are shown how communicate the risks they find. Finally, the workers are encouraged to take action and spread their new knowledge to their co-workers.

If a worker finds a health or safety problem in the workplace, they should first identify the problem to their employer and suggest solutions. If the employer refuses to take action, they can make an OSHA complaint. By law, an employer cannot fire an employer for filing an OSHA complaint. Filed complaints must be made 180 days after the violation occurs by either contacting OSHA nationally at 1-800-321-OSHA or regionally in the Chicago area at (312) 353-2220.

Worker’s rights violations can occur in any workplace. However violations related to health and safety are most prevalent in the construction, restaurant and healthcare industries. Too frequently, these violations go unreported. Anyone who suffers an injury on the job should tell their employer immediately and seek an Occupational Doctor. Employers are not obligated to go to the company doctor, as a caller from the hotline brought up, company doctors may not always be looking out for a worker’s best interests. It is also extremely important to make the record show the injury was occupational.

Because unsafe working conditions and wage theft often go hand-in-hand, IWJ recently opened Chicago’s first free Wage Theft Legal Clinic which is available for consultation for wage theft victims on Mondays from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m.. Workers can call the hotline at (773) 998-1320 if they believe their employer has wrongfully stolen their wages. 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.

The GTS8 and Worker Justice at Seminary

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Aina Gutierrez |

On Sept. 30, eight professors at General Theological Seminary were fired for exercising their basic (and legal!) rights as faculty members and as workers: the right to form a union. They demanded to meet to address issues that created a “hostile work environment."

Their firing doesn’t just impact the professors, but the students and future leaders of the Church. As custodians and overseers of an institution charged with nurturing the next generation of Episcopalian leaders, it is the Board of Trustees’ responsibility to lead by example and practice worker relations that align with the values of the Church and honor workers’ legal and moral rights.

At the 2102 General Convention, the Episcopal Church resolved to build networks in the labor movement and work with those in the labor movement to strengthen for a more just society, pledged to oppose legislative attempts that eliminate or reduce collective bargaining rights and consider union rights when making purchasing and contracting decisions. Given the Episcopal Church’s explicate opposition to retaliation and support of workers’ right to organize.

By refusing to fully reinstate the GTS8 (all the updates are here), GTS has failed to live out its religious values. Worker advocates are turning to the Presiding Bishop and Episcopal Church for leadership and accountability. What the Board of Trustees has done wrong, the Church can make right. We say to Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori: It's time to step in; push for full reinstatement of the GTS8!

As the Deputy Director of IWJ, I’ve encountered my fair share of unscrupulous corporate bosses who strip workers of their rights and dignity on the job. As a faithful Episcopalian and divinity school graduate, whose experience of church and seminary led me to my vocation, I never imagined the day when I’d find myself rallying against leaders of the Church’s oldest seminary.

On Oct. 17, the GTS Board of Trustees ruled against pleas — from students, clergy, worker advocates and concerned people of faith — to fully reinstate the GTS8.

What the board of trustees has done is wrong. The Presiding Bishop can make this right. Episcopalians, seminarians, clergy, people of faith and worker rights advocates all over the country are waiting for her to act. The GTS8 deserve nothing less than full reinstatement.

Sign the petition telling Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori: It's time to step in; push for full reinstatement of the GTS8!

Good Works Chicago: Dimo's Pizza

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

I’ve started a weekly television show on CAN-TV called Good Works Chicago. If you are in Chicago, watch it on Channel 21 on Tuesdays at 4:30 to 4:55 p.m. This past Tuesday, I interviewed Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau, founder and owner of Dimo’s pizza. What a great company!

Dimo’s is a locally owned pizzeria with a little under 50 employees and two serving locations; in the Wrigleyville neighborhood at 3463 N. Clark St. and another in Six Corners at 1615 N. Damen Ave. Dimo’s began in its Wrigleyville location in 2008, then known as Ian’s Pizza. In 2012, it evolved into Dimo’s and began heavily focusing on the impact it could make on workers, customers and the community.

Dimo’s sees pizza as its platform to reach out and help improve the lives of those around them. Besides creating hot and delicious pizza, Dimo’s is passionate about contributing to Chicago public schools, advocating for bike safety, and supporting local artists.

Fair treatment of workers is a primary value. All workers are paid significantly above the minimum wage because workers start above the regular minimum wage (not the tipped minimum wage) and also earn tips that range from $2-$6 per hour. Employees receive employer provided health insurance and paid time off. There is a clear path to increase one’s wages by learning more skills. Dimitri’s emphasized that “you can’t self-actualize and grow when you are worried about yourself. You want to pay [employees] enough that they don’t have to worry.” He also noted that “human capital is the most valuable asset.”
Dimo’s is currently hiring and looking for employees that value uncompromising quality, hard work, opportunity, innovation, laughter, and the planet. Career opportunities for Dimo’s can be found at online.

To learn more, visit Dimo’s online, or follow the company on Instagram @dimospizza.

Do you know someone that I should be talking to on my show?  The Good Works Chicago program interviews employers who:

  • Pay workers above the norm, because they believe that workers’ pay should lift them out of poverty and they want to retain valuable employees.   The actual amount workers are paid varies greatly by sector and the length of the time the company has been in business.
  • Provide some benefits and are seeking to add more.
  • Encourage workers to have a voice in the workplace.  
  • Offer training and opportunities for advancement to workers.
  • Hire and promote a diverse workforce.

If you would like to recommend someone for us to interview on air, or would like more information email Sarah Avery.

Photo Courtesy: Dimo's Pizza

Network Visits D.C. to Connect, Learn and Advocate

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Janel Bailey |

Last week, affiliates from IWJ's worker center network came from all across the country and met in D.C. (we actually stayed up in Bethesda, M.D. at a beautiful retreat facility) for an organizing and capacity-building training and worker advocacy day on the Hill.

Overall, we had a great time. We gathered about 20 worker-leaders and organizers from the network to discuss big ideas like "leadership development" and fundraising. Together we shared more specific and personal experiences about the work we do back home. We talked about our history, the lies our teachers told us and about our movement history that wasn't even in the curriculum.

One of the best things about being a part of a large national network is—of course—being connected across the country! During the training, everyone bonded quickly. Between old friends and new ones, we all made connections (even across language barriers with the help of some fabulous interpreters)! Connections outside the training room reminded us how small the world truly is (we ran into Tim Beaty at the Teamsters, who's helping with Kim's big event in December).

Up on the Hill, we got what one Congressman's staffer jokingly referred to as the "real D.C. experience," which is running around the Hill, rushing to meet with members of Congress wherever we could...even in the hallway!

I felt very fortunate to spend those few days in the company of such fearless, talented leaders and organizers. At the end of our final training session, we each shared some things we'd learned, felt and committed to do once we went home. I'm excited to mobilize as many allies as possible to support the awesome worker centers in the network as they shape their national fight against wage theft, protecting payroll choices and securing Paystubs for All!