Interfaith Worker Justice

This is what religion looks like.



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!

Back to school and Stop Staples

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

My Staples reward card isn’t getting used lately.

Recently the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) protested a trial postal (USPS) program at Staples. The program benefits Staples, a large office supply chain store that has shown sales losses of more than 5 percent during the last year. However, it also means that work done by union postal workers is being done by non-union workers at Staples. The APWU has called a boycott of Staples to send a message of solidarity with the union workers.

The American Federation of Teachers, with 1.6 million members, approved a resolution to boycott Staples, according to the Wall Street Journal. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), representing another 1.6 million public-sector workers, also adopted the boycott.

Back in July, both the USPS and Staples confirmed for WSJ that the Staples trial program would be discontinued! This clearly shows the power of 3 million union consumers in solidarity with APWU members. But since then, the APWU has indicated that none of the fundamental concerns of the union have been addressed, and the program has been replaced by an almost identical one with a new name.

Money talks. When it comes to the teacher’s union, it’s a lot of money talking. A year ago, the National School Supply and Equipment Association (NSSEA) disclosed that during the previous year, public school teachers had spent $3.2 billion for class materials and $1.6 billion of that money came out of the teachers’ own pockets!

I am reminded that an author identified as “the Teacher” wrote about solidarity in the Hebrew Scriptures:

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastics 4:12)

In the boycott led by these three unions we continue to see this teaching proven true once again.

The APWU will boycott until they see evidence that the outsourcing of their members’ work to non-union employers, like Staples, has stopped. The U.S. Mail Is Not for Sale. That’s why I’m headed to the nearest Post Office to do my mailing. 

 Pam is a seminarian who joined Interfaith Worker Justice this summer for clinical pastoral education and reflecting each week on her experiences.

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

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

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

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

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?

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

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.