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Love to eat and support workers? There’s an app for that.

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

Two of my favorite things to do are eating and standing with other working people. So naturally, when I heard about the Just Dining app, I had to check it out.

The app comes behind the print guide, “JUST DINING: A Guide to Restaurant Employment Standards in Downtown Madison,”  which is a project of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin and Workers’ Rights Center of Madison. The print guide details the conditions for workers in the restaurant industry--workers who are mostly older than 20 and have spent years working in the industry, yet still struggle with poverty wages and inconsistent schedules. As someone who has never worked in the restaurant industry, but cares about the folks who make it possible for me to greaze to my heart’s content on the weekend, the print guide seems like a good 101 primer on restaurant worker issues.

Given that you probably won’t have the Just Dining print guide in your pocket next time you’re hungry in Madison, the app is the next best thing. It’s easy for smartphone users to go to the Just Dining app and check out the map or search by name for nearby restaurants. The app uses a simple rating system based on six or seven stars, and it breaks down where business pass or fail on several important criteria: health insurance availability, non-tipped employees starting at $8.75/hr or more, tipped employees starting at $3.62 or more, paid sick days, paid time off, written records (of personnel policies and tracking hours), and even retirement savings.

As the cherry on top, the Just Dining app is also free in the iPhone app store. If you have friends in the Madison area, who are looking for work in a restaurant or looking for a more ethical dining experience, please spread the word!

Easter: a Transformational Story of Hope

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by The Rev. Doug Mork |
I have a beautiful serigraph on the wall of my office, John August Swanson’s Story of the Prodigal Son. It’s a blur of rich colors and textures suggestive of Oaxacan folk art. When I put on my glasses back on it snaps into focus, telling Jesus’ parable about the unshakable love of a father for his wandering son.
Stories are powerful. The most powerful of them provide lenses through which we pull our story and the world around us into focus. Sometimes they provide meaning and purpose. Sometimes they explain how things are connected and who are the actors. Some of the best ones disrupt the way we see the world and suggest another way, perhaps a way towards more abundant life.
 
Our world is filled with such stories. They compete with one another for our attention, our loyalty. We both tell them and live them to one another, sometimes consciously trying to explain who we are and other times broadcasting it inadvertently with our actions.
 
One story we often tell ourselves these days is about that great and powerful god, The Market. It is a virtuous god, full of wealth and ego building potential. If we are willing to serve it, to make sure it is fed and watered and free from all bondage, along with its friend The Economy it promises to take care of us. Or so the story goes.
 
In this story, The Market doesn’t really like the minimum wage. It especially doesn’t like the idea of raising it. Raising the minimum wage will cost jobs says The Market. Don’t you want more people to have jobs? Don’t you know how important small businesses are? There are people who just shouldn’t earn this much---at least not until they work a little harder. The Market has much to say.
 
For Christians this is Easter, the day we celebrate new life from death, a new story through which we view all others. But the resurrection we celebrate today comes only after a week marked by a journey toward suffering and death. At the cross many stories were put to death, many tales carefully crafted to protect the status quo. Dead is the story that left to our own devices we will use our power for the good of the neighbor. Dead is the story that power and violence will bring peace. Dead is the story that we must go it alone.
 
The story of those early followers of Jesus that we find in Acts 2 suggests that seeing the world through the cross and the resurrection was transformational for this community. Choosing to trust in the risen Christ rather than The Market led to radical concern for the neighbor, new ways of organizing economic life that prioritized people. At least that’s the story.
 

I’m convinced that the Easter story is still transformational. It still invites us change how we see the world, to view our neighbor differently. As our world comes into focus we too are challenged to organize an economy that serves and empowers people rather than the other way around. I really need Easter. There is too much death, sometimes even my hope for a meaningful minimum wage, real immigration reform or a strengthened right to organize ends up on life support. But then the events of Holy Week and Easter remind me again that with God, all things are possible.

Good Friday: When Things End in Death.

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow |

When Good Friday and Easter rolls around, I often hear preachers say, “We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” There is so much truth to this sentiment. However, I don’t think we stop at Good Friday long enough in our lives to really soak in what it means to live in a Good Friday world. Even in our liturgical life, we don’t dwell of Good Friday for very long. We keep it to a minimum, oh let’s say, an hour service on Friday evening. Growing up, Good Friday was a ritual that had to happen before Easter Sunday. I remember always being told that there is no Resurrection without death, so there is no Easter without Good Friday.

This may be true. But for those disciples and followers of Jesus, Good Friday was all they knew in the moment. On Good Friday, they didn’t fully know there was going to be an Easter. Many low-wage workers in the United States (and around the world!) live lives in a Good Friday world because that is their reality. However, there are those of us, even as we work in solidarity with workers, who don’t dwell in Good Friday long enough. Especially as Christians, we’re so filled with hope and the resurrection (at least in our heads) that we don’t sit with the pain and the struggles. We want to participate in the movement to fix things or make things better, but how often do we participate in the movement to merely be in solidarity? To sit in this space of Good Friday, with despair, with hopelessness and anger? I think it would do us some good to dwell in the realities of the Good Friday world because is an important part of our Easter story. Yes, we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world, but if we don’t learn to dwell in the Good Friday part of this story, we are in many ways minimizing and undermining true deep painful experiences. Sometimes we’re so focused on being Easter people that we are uncomfortable even thinking about how we may even be contributing to a Good Friday world. But we are. You and I contribute to a Good Friday world everyday, and I think it’s important for us to spend some time thinking about this space.

Yes, we are a people of hope. Our tradition is centered around the resurrected Christ and this is the good news! However, sometimes we dwell in the resurrected world too much and do not pay enough attention to the Good Friday world in which we live. I encourage us today, on Good Friday, to spend some time in the realities of our Good Friday world. Sit with the pain, the frustration and anger at a world that is so evil, so violent and sometimes seem so hopeless.


This year, each Friday during Lent, IWJ's Organizing Director, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, reflected on Scripture and her experiences in the field helping to move the work for worker justice and a fair economy.

Lenten Series: On Holy Thursday May Congress Open Their Eyes

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Thom Shellabarger |

Well, Congress left town again without providing financial relief to the long-termed unemployed workers that so urgently need help. Neither did they reform our dismal immigration system; nor did they increase the minimum wage.

The Senate did pass a short-termed extension of federal unemployment benefits, while it is retroactive to the beginning of the year, it is of short duration. However, the House is unlikely to take up the bill, leaving the problem unresolved. Similarly, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation to reform our immigration system months ago. Again, the House is unlikely to take up the bill. After the recess, the Senate is likely to pass an increase to the minimum wage (including tipped wages). However, we are told that the House is unlikely to take up the legislation. Seems like a pattern to me! The Senate acts and the House does nothing.

Last Supper

This Congressional recess is timed to allow Members and their staff to celebrate Passover or Easter. For many Christians, the 40 days of Lent ends on Thursday of Holy Week. Holy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper, where he urged followers to share bread and wine in his memory. It is a night of prayer, celebration and remembrance. It begins a story of betrayal, agony and passion. The ancient story certainly reminds us of how quickly public sentiment can change: Jesus goes from being cheered as he enters the city to being jeered as he ignominiously dies on the cross. Yet, He lives!

Let us pray that every Member of Congress will open her or his eyes to the many people among us who struggle to provide for their family. The unemployed who can’t find a job or those working at minimum wage and still living in poverty all across America. May this Holy Season bring a change of heart and a renewed sense of dignity and purpose.


Thom is IWJ's Public Policy Associate and works in Washington to lobby Congress to advance legislation that lifts up the dignity of work. He's been working with allies on renewing unemployment insurance, reforming the U.S. immigration policy and raising the federally minimum wage to one that supports working families. His reflections are part of IWJ's Lenten Series.

Lenten Series: Living Faithfully So All Can Work With Dignity.

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow |

The Anointing at Bethany is a famous story of a woman anointing the feet of Jesus with Alabaster, and it is including in this upcoming Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary reading in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 26.

The thing that strikes me about this story is this woman’s radical action, which seems excessive to the disciples so much so that it angered them and they said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor” (Matthew 26: 8-9). 

Honestly, every time I read this story, I cringe a little, because I do feel like what this woman did was wasteful. I grew up in a household with limited means, and I learned early on what it meant to be thrifty.  

When I first moved to the United States, I couldn’t believe the bargains found at places like Walmart! Seriously, who could ever imagine you could buy a toaster for $5?! This was unheard of where I grew up (in India) or where my family was (in Korea). I also couldn’t understand why the same things at Walmart were so much cheaper than at other grocery stores. I fell in love with Walmart. It was my favorite place to shop.

Then I read Barbara Ehrenrich’s book, Nickeled and Dimed, and I couldn’t believe the stories she told about Walmart in the narrative. I began to find out from other sources, like the documentary High Cost of Low Prices, about the real story behind why things were so cheap at Walmart. The low prices, in part, had to do with their business practices and how they treat—or more like—mistreat their workers. It was hard for me to stop shopping at Walmart. For someone who grew up with the mentality of saving every penny, I didn’t like the fact that I was paying more for the same products somewhere else.

And the reason I write this story as a Lenten reflection today is that sometimes when we want to live radically, it may seem excessive to others. I know many people who say, “I know I shouldn’t shop at Walmart, but the prices can’t be beat.” Sometimes our need to pinch every penny becomes a bigger priority than living faithfully so that all people can have dignity. The disciples were logically right to criticize the woman out loud. But you see, being followers of Christ, sometimes things should not be logical. Logic says shop at the cheapest place possible, our faith says, support businesses that treat people with dignity.

It’s not enough that we’re out there on picket lines or at rallies fighting for fair wages and higher minimum wages. What are you personally doing to contribute to the movement of raising the standards for all people so that all may work with dignity? How are you treating your employees, staff or interns?  Are their working conditions dignified? Are you creating an environment where you are living out the values of dignity for all in your own work place and where you spend your money? Sure, there are lots of ways to be thrifty about how you run your organization or business but what does it mean to live out these values of dignity and justice? Sometimes it may seem excessive to others but that’s the faithful thing to do.

Learn more about ways people of faith are supporting Walmart workers standing up for fair wages and respect at work, calling for a workplace that allows ALL employees at Walmart to live and work with dignity.


This year, each Friday during Lent, IWJ's Organizing Director, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, will share reflections based on her pastoral education and experiences in the field helping to move the work for worker justice and a fair economy.

Lenten Series: Work is to be Life-giving

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow |

In this week’s lectionary reading (Revised Common Lectionary) God finds Ezekiel in a valley of bones, a very dry valley of bones. God asks Ezekiel if he thinks these bones can live. Ezekiel’s answer is “God, you know." God tells Ezekiel to prophecy over the bones, to say to the bones, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord'. "Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin and put breath in you and you shall live,” (Ez 37:5).

In the Gospel story of this week’s lectionary reading, we encounter Jesus who hears of Lazarus’s failing health yet waits a few more days before heading to Bethany to see about Lazarus. Upon his arrival, his sisters inform Jesus that Lazarus has died.

In our world today, such stories of death, destruction and sorrow are not too far away. It’s not always a physically violent death or destruction; sometimes it’s the slow death of one’s soul, robbed of dignity in all kinds of ways. When we think about the way our society treats low-wage workers, there is something that seems to suck life out of them, something about the way their lives have been shaped by corporate greed and capitalism. Work is to be life-giving. I heard a worker lamenting on the radio recently saying, “We are supposed to work for a living; to support our families and a lifestyle, but now it feels more like we live to work." This is the reality of so many low-wage workers who have to work many hours to make ends meet under all kinds of stressful working environments.

The end of both the Ezekiel’s encounter with the dry bones and Jesus's visit to Bethany are journeys from death to life. Ezekiel prophesies and the bones come to life, and Jesus calls Lazarus out of his tomb.

It is easy to remain in a place of "death" and "destruction," but with faith we are able to speak life into situations where death seems to be the only prevailing sentiment. Christians are called to speak to this culture that is out to get every last drop of sweat and blood from workers, to stop such injustice, and once again remind us all that work must be life giving.

We, as people of faith, continue the struggle for justice and dignity for all because we know, at the end of the day, it is possible to seek life even if all we see if death and destruction around us. Together, let us start by demanding an adequate wage that restores dignity in work. Join us by signing the faith-based letter calling for a raise in the minimum wage.


This year, each Friday during Lent, IWJ's Organizing Director, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, will share reflections based on her pastoral education and experiences in the field helping to move the work for worker justice and a fair economy.

Cesar Chavez and food-service workers

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

Last weekend, worker justice advocates were able to honor the life and legacy of the late César Chávez, who lead farm workers in the struggle for dignity and justice on the field, on the big screen. With anticipation, my colleague, Janel Bailey, another friend and I joined hundreds of others excited to screen the film in Chávez's name at my local cinema on opening day.

Adam Janel selfie Chavez

We even participated in the National Farm Worker Ministry's "selfie" contest, but we didn't take home the prize (to be fair, we're not #selfie experts, but were thrilled to give it a try). As films commonly do, Luna's César Chávez highlighted the broad movement and the organizer's life through the lens of a narrative (not always reflecting a solid historical truth, but many patrons—including the three of us—left feeling inspired by the work of the United Farm Workers). Rightly so, Chávez inspired millions to commit themselves to seeking justice for workers.

And the struggle for that justice continues today. So this week, we lift up the 20 million food workers who make up one-sixth of the workforce in the country. Workers in the American food system are still some of the lowest paid workers in our economy. In fact, two of the three largest low-wage employers in the U.S. are fast food companies, Yum! Brands (the company that runs Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC) and McDonald's. More than a third of their workers make less than $10.10 an hour, hardly enough to cover the basics, much less raise a family. Just like the farm workers in the grape fields, today's food workers are rising up, ready for the long struggle for fair wages and better working conditions. And interfaith groups, people of faith, worker centers and worker advocates are ready to continue to stand with workers fighting for better pay and working conditions.

On Monday, food workers and allied organizations delivered a petition calling House Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote on the Fair Minimum Wage Act (H.R. 1010), but we're not stopping there. We'll continue to get out on the streets and work to raise state and local minimum wages so that even a deadlocked Congress cannot impede justice. But we're up against some large lobbying groups, such as the National Restaurant Association, that are working hard to keep workers (especially tipped workers...) at the bottom of the pay scale, robbing them of both a fair and moral wage and also the dignity of their work.  

The "Other NRA"

The "other NRA" is the lobby of choice for companies like McDonald’s, YUM!, and for the large full-service restaurant companies like Darden Restaurants, which runs places like Red Lobster, Capital Grille and Olive Garden (Learn more about the Restaurant Opportunity Centers United's Dignity at Darden campaign). Not surprisingly, they’re heavily involved in anti-worker campaigns: they are one of the leading forces in keeping the federal tipped minimum wage at $2.13 an hour (where it’s been stuck since 1991) and blocking minimum wage increases across the country.

César Chávez and the United Farm Workers reminded the nation that the struggles of farm workers and their families mattered. He inspired those to walk in solidarity with farm workers in their struggle for justice. And with a strong moral conviction, Chávez declared that all work has value and all workers must be treated with dignity and respect. Let us carry that conviction into all food-service jobs across sectors today!

Learn more about IWJ's work to raise the federal minimum wage, and learn how you can get involved with state and local minimum wage and worker justice campaigns in your community!

Lenten Series: Hope from fatigue

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow |

At about this time in our Lenten season, most of us have adjusted to what we've "given up" and very few of us are thinking about Lent unless we have a specific practice calling us to remember it everyday or are reminded at church. It’s about the time for Lenten fatigue.

Sometimes we feel that fatigue in the justice movement. Many of us feel like the struggles are long and hard. Sometimes the struggles are the norm, and we forget what it was like before the boycott or the vision of “what could be” seems far off in the distance.

I have been involved in organizing immigrant communities in one form or another for more than 10 years. Struggles for immigration reform have become such and intergraded part of my life that I almost don’t remember what it was like to not be working in this struggle. Honestly, sometimes I get fatigued. Sometimes I become numb to the stories of my fellow immigrants for whom the broken immigration system continue to inflict pain and oppression. Even for these folks, fatigue sets in.

However, we know that soon enough Palm Sunday will roll around, and Holy Week will be upon us. We will spend the week remembering what Lent is about, what our Christian identity is about.

It is because we have hope that we practice Lent each year. In the same way, it is because we have hope that we continue to fight for the common good—for the respect and dignity of ALL people. The hope comes to us through the courage of all of us willing to stand up and say, “enough is enough!” It is hope that comes to us through the victories we see because of tenacious organizing and worker leadership. We give thanks for that gift of hope!


This year, each Friday during Lent, IWJ's Organizing Director, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, will share reflections based on her pastoral education and experiences in the field helping to move the work for worker justice and a fair economy.

Lenten Series: Washing feet and low-wage workers

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow |

washing feetThis past week, both the Sunday sermon and the Wednesday Lenten study, my church focused on the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. After sharing a meal with the disciples, Jesus wraps a towel around his waist, rolls up his sleeves and begins doing a task that is considered job for servants. When he comes to Peter, Peter protests and says, “No, Jesus, you are not washing my feet!”  When I hear Peter’s reaction, I can relate. How could, of all people, Jesus wash my feet?

Jesus’ response is that he is washing their feet so that they would go do likewise with one another. Many interpret this passage as Jesus’ call to be a “servant leader,” that is, to do things others will not do, or to be sacrificial. While all these are great traits in a leader, I think Jesus was telling the disciples that they are no better than the person who would usually wash their feet. If Jesus was washing feet, then the disciples should too, and this means that they are not above the servants who are usually relegated to these roles.

Jesus' entire ministry demonstrated his commitment to make sure all people were treated with dignity and respect. This last act, before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, was once again his way of emphasizing to his disciples that indeed, they are no better than anyone else. That they were somehow not above washing someone’s feet because he was doing it too.

When we think about the roles people play today in our daily lives, many people are relegated to work that is disregarded and not seen as dignified work. We, as followers of Christ, have to remember that vocation, ministry and career cannot only be defined by tasks that we do each day. We must work towards creating a world where a janitor is well respected and honored for their work as much as the CEO of the company. 

It is easy to sit at a restaurant and be engrossed in our meal and our conversations to not notice the people who are serving and helping us enjoy our experience. It is easy to go through the grocery store and go through the checkout line and not think twice about the cashier who is ringing you up except that he is a part of your shopping process.

This week, I encourage us to be intentional about how we treat one another, especially those people who are in our lives daily we often forget to pay much attention to. Remember that our lives are not any more important than theirs, our time is not more important than theirs, and most importantly, their humanity, and dignity should not be defined by the uniform they wear.

Jesus reminded us that we’re not any better than anyone else, especially those who “washing your feet”, basically those make your life run the way you expect.


This year, each Friday during Lent, IWJ's Organizing Director, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, will share reflections based on her pastoral education and experiences in the field helping to move the work for worker justice and a fair economy.

Wage Theft in the Fast Food Industry

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Danielle Sullivan |

Last week, fast-food workers filed class action lawsuits against the industry giant, McDonald’s, alleging rampant wage theft at its franchises, including “under-compensated overtime in California; uncompensated time cleaning uniforms in New York; and being required to show up, but not allowed to clock in, when business is slow in Michigan,” according to Salon.

These widespread wage theft problems, in addition to immorally low compensation, limited access to employee benefits and irregular hours come at a time when the fast food industry is booming and reeling in the profits. McDonald's and Burger King are part of a $200 billion industry.

As people of faith, we believe these employers should pay their hard-working employees enough to cover the necessities, support their families, and not force them to rely on government or charity programs. More and more, we're seeing how these multi-billion-dollar companies are making it harder for their workers to afford the basic necessities.

Recently, Mother Jones developed a living wage calculator to show what wages are needed to make a living depending on where you live, how many people are living under your roof, and how much you make in a year.

All workers deserve a living wage for their honest work, and this wage calculator only shows the severity of the problem.

Why Wage Theft Matters

For years, people of faith and worker center advocates in Interfaith Worker Justice’s national network have stood alongside workers pushing for an end to wage theft. Once again, people of faith are ready to throw their support behind workers with the hopes of pressuring profitable companies like McDonald's to do the right thing for workers, their families and our communities.

A recent survey in New York last year by Anzalone Research showed that 84 percent of fast-food workers are victims of wage theft—when employers (like McDonald’s franchise owners) pay less than minimum wage; refuse to pay overtime; force workers to work off the clock; hold final paychecks; misclassify employees as independent contractors; refuse to give timely breaks, steal tips; and, sometimes, fail to pay workers at all.

In response to such working conditions, fast-food employees have gone on strike, fighting for $15 an hour wage, the right to form a union without retaliation and an end wage theft.

As people of faith, driven by Scripture’s repeated admonitions against exploiting and oppressing workers, we believe that every job must enable those who work to support a family; workers must be free to stick together and advocate for fair working conditions; and employers must honor and respect their contributions, rather than abuse and exploit their toils through crimes such as wage theft.

Learn more about wage theft and how you and your faith community can get involved with the movement.


Photo from our friends at the Low Pay is Not Okay campaign