Interfaith Worker Justice

This is what religion looks like.



Fortune: Why Sweden is moving to a six-hour working day

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From Fortune:

by Benjamin Snyder

Sweden’s bid to switch entirely to a six-hour work day appears to be gaining steam.

Many businesses in the country are having employees work fewer hours with the goal of becoming more productive. The move also comes in a bid to boost workers’ private time with family.

Toyota centers in the country apparently made the change 13 years ago. Last year, businesses in Stockholm also introduced a six-hour work day. In an interview with Fast Company, Linus Feldt, CEO of app developer Filimundus, said, “The eight-hour work day is not as effective as one would think.”

Read the full article from Fortune

Michigan Live: Buffalo Wild Wings owners agree to $1.8M minimum wage settlement

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From Michigan Live:

by Gary Ridley

CHICAGO -- A company that owns a string of Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants across Michigan and Illinois has agreed to pay $1.8 million to settle claims they violated state laws by refusing to pay its employees minimum wage.

Diversified Restaurant Holdings and its subsidiaries filed a motion Sept. 30 in Chicago U.S. District Court asking the judge to approve the settlement reached with more than 1,000 of its current and former employees at its Illinois and Michigan restaurants.

Two lawsuits, one filed by a worker at the company's Fenton restaurant, and another filed by two Illinois-based employees, claimed the restaurant management company forced tipped employees -- who were paid sub-minimum wages -- to complete duties outside of their tipped occupations and paid them less than minimum wage.

"The lawsuit was directed to a longstanding and illegal practice that is too common in the restaurant industry: using tipped employees to perform non-tipped work while paying them less than the full minimum wage," said the employees' Chicago-based attorney, Douglas M. Werman. "These cases and this settlement demonstrate that tipped employees have the power to change their employers' practices and recover the wages that they owed. We are very proud of this result."

Read the full article from Michigan Live.

The New York Times: Do We Value Low-Skilled Work?

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

by Brittany Bronson 

Las Vegas — IN the casino restaurant where I work, the rush arrives at 10 p.m. The nearby show releases, sending 30 guests into my section all at once. For the next three hours, my body is in constant motion, quickly navigating tables, balancing pint glasses between my fingers, managing a growing mental checklist without ever expressing panic.

In a fast-paced restaurant, these are key skills. But in our economic rhetoric, they are categorized as “low skills.”

Taking orders does not demand a college-level education. Carrying trays of cocktails requires physical endurance, but no extensive, complex knowledge. Most people walking through casino employee hallways — janitors, housekeepers, retail workers — are categorized as unskilled laborers, and the laws of capitalism clearly state that we are all easily replaceable: Anyone can be trained to do our jobs.

Headlines tell us that “College Graduates Are Wasting Their Degrees in Low-Skilled Jobs,” that “Skilled Workers Are in Short Supply.” We’re raised, in the culture of American capitalism, to believe certain things, without question, namely that the value of work is defined by the complexity of the task and not the execution of it, that certain types of work are not worthy of devoting a lifetime to.

But on some nights, when my multitasking, memory and body are in sync, when I find myself moving calmly around a room full of slightly buzzed and cheerful people, I feel confident that not every person can do the job as well as I can.

The terms “unskilled” and “low-skilled labor” contradict the care and precision with which my co-workers, who have a variety of educational backgrounds and language fluencies, execute their tasks. A newly hired server assistant can learn to, say, “Take these plates from here to there,” but a skilled server assistant can clear a table in one trip versus two, simply with more careful placement of dishes along his forearm or between his knuckles.

In the restaurant business, we call this a “nice carry.”

The body absorbs information the same way the mind does, with observation and study. Like an athlete, a worker completing the same task for the thousandth time knows that muscle memory and precision are powerful tools. But in the workplace, there are no advanced graphics or slow-motion replays highlighting the efficiency of movement, the prioritizing of tasks or how a more meticulous approach can mean the difference between a chaotic shift and a seamless one.

Instead, the routine, repetitive nature of these jobs is perceived to define workers’ limitations, rather than their capabilities. And although most low-skill work requires a constant interaction with people, because of its low-paying status it is deemed a dead end, rather than a testament to an individual’s ability to acquire, adapt and specialize.

The labels “low-skilled” or “unskilled” workers — the largest demographic being adult women and minorities — often inaccurately describe an individual’s abilities, but play a powerful role in determining their opportunity. The consequences are not only severe, but incredibly disempowering: poverty-level wages, erratic schedules, the absence of retirement planning, health benefits, paid sick or family leave and the constant threat of being replaced.

Instead of improved job quality, the rewards for task-oriented workers are pats on the back and the constant encouragement to aspire for something better.

Read the full article from The New York Times.

Rudy López Remarks at Dominican University

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

IWJ Executive Director Rudy López accepts the Bradford O’Neil award for Social Justice from Dominican University.

Good afternoon everyone.  It is a real honor to be here with you today. I know it’s a Tuesday but I want to take us to church for a minute. 

From Malachi 3:5 — “I will be a swift witness against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages," says the Lord.

From Leviticus 19:34 — You shall treat the stranger who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself; for you too were once strangers in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.

And from James 5:4 — Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord...and he is not pleased! 

I added that last piece to it. I can go on and on with verse after verse that speaks to the just and fair treatment of the worker and our immigrant brothers and sisters. The bible is very clear about what the Lord demands, but unfortunately we don’t always live up to how we should be treating one another. These are just a couple examples of how a bible speaks to us and in truth; all major faith traditions have similar messages in their own books of faith that show us how faith and values are intimately linked. It is powerful when scripture is transformed into action and where the spirit is strong, transformation happens. I can feel that the spirit is strong here at Dominican and the fruits are all around us.

I am deeply humbled to receive the Bradford O’Neil award for Social Justice on behalf of Interfaith Worker Justice. We are a national organization dedicated to worker justice through a worker lead movement that engages diverse faith communities into action through grassroots organizing to shaping policy at the local, state and national levels. We organize, educate and advocate for a just and fair economy where an honest days work, deserves and honest days pay.

I accept this award on behalf of our network as a whole and the tremendous work they have done over the past 19 years and as a down payment for the work to come. There is so much yet to do and our network of faith and labor groups and worker centers look forward to working with those who share our common values. 

I’ve been in the social justice movement for nearly 20 years but have been the head of IWJ for less than a year. How did I get into this type of work? When I first started I didn’t know that organizing existed let alone that there was an entire movement connected to it. I did what today’s symposium “Caritas et Veritas in a Life’s Work” is asking you to do. I followed my heat and values in order to seek love and truth in my life. It’s been an ongoing journey that hasn’t been easy but I have to say it’s certainly been worth it. One of the key pieces to all this is taking the time to listen to what God is saying. When we take time to listen to what God is calling us to do, each one of us can do incredible things when we are aligned with our purpose of our life’s work.

Why do I believe in this? I believe this because I have seen time and time again that when we are connected to our passion and purpose; we are in sync with our own vocation no matter what it may be and it leads to good things. It’s important to remember that a vocation is not just about what kind of job we have but how are we living our life according to a set of values and sharing them with those around us. You can be successful and have lots of things, but if not aligned with your vocation does it really make you whole? What’s missing? We long for meaning and we long for purpose. It’s in our nature.

Now let me be clear, alignment with your vocation doesn’t mean you wont have hard times and struggle. In fact, if you don’t have to struggle you should be asking why not.

My own journey toward my vocation began where I grew up in a small scrappy little steel town called East Chicago, Indiana where my dad worked for nearly 40 years in the mill. Everyday I saw him work hard and I saw how proud he was to be able to provide for his family. I also grew up seeing family members in low wage jobs that would work just as hard, but sometimes not get paid what was owed to them. This is what we now know as "Wage Theft:" the deliberate and illegal underpayment or non-payment of wages which affect millions of workers across the country. 

I also have felt the pain due to our broken immigration system. My cousin Martin crossed the border through Eagle Pass, TX in August of 2005 in search of a better life for his family. He and a group of 20 crossed, like so many others do, with the paid assistance of a "Coyote," a human smuggler. My cousin became sick along the way and was abandoned by the Coyote and left with two things: a gallon of water and a promise to return for him. That promise was never kept. 

Several days later I received a call from the local sheriff at 2:30 in the morning informing me that they had found the decomposing remains of my cousin. He was left to die cold, hungry, and alone.  

These aren’t the values that we have as people of faith. These aren’t the values that we have as Americans. Allowing senseless oppression and death like this is not who we are as a nation. Pope Francis reminds us that we are “the land of the free and home of the brave” and a place of dreams and high ideals. For those of us who are people of faith those values and ideals are rooted in our faith. It is through our life experience we find ways to give shape and life to it in the real world. Pope Francis gave us an example of this in the opening of his speech before Congress:

I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society.

He reminds us of the need to look beyond the mechanics of our economy and remember its essence . . . the people who create it. The workers who are giving of themselves everyday deserve an economy that serves them and their families. 

During his amazing trip, the pope also reminded us several times of the need reflect on our own history as a nation of immigrants and to see the humanity in each other.

We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants . . . We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.

He challenges us to look at the face of each person and see his or her humanity. He also asks us to go deeper and see the divinity in each one of us. This is important because only seeing the human side of a person can lead us to charity — but does it lead us to equity? The kind of equity that is essential for the dignity of each person? As children of God, respect and dignity are the right of ever person no matter who they are. 

The pope’s values laden statements give us a clear idea of how deeply held feelings can be beautifully amplified in a way that others can connect their own values. For the students present here today, I am very excited for what’s in store for you and honestly a little envious as well. You are at an incredible time in your lives and in our nation’s history. A time in which your journey towards your own vocation allows you to fulfill the promise of who you are, a beautiful child of God called to do good in the world. 

Brothers and sisters, let me tell you, we have much good to do together. Each in our own way according to the vocation we are called. It is indeed our Life’s work to share God’s love, which can be seen in many forms: justice, compassion, charity, empowerment, healing and much more.  Whatever way you choose, we have a responsibility to share it with others. We all have tremendous gifts and if we work together to move a set of common values, rooted in faith or in our life’s experience, we can do incredible things and make incredible changes.   

Thank you again for this honor and may God bless you all.

Why 100 Women Marched 100 Miles

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |


In the days leading up to Pope Francis's arrival in the United States, 100 women marched 100 miles to renew calls for comprehensive immigration reform and an end to the deportation crisis that has torn apart hundreds of thousands of families. 

This is their story: 

video courtesy of Sojourners

Fortune: How Nestlé plans to prove that paid parental leave makes business sense

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From Fortune:

by Jared Lindzon

One reason the U.S. lags the rest of the world when it comes to paid parental leave and other family-friendly policies: Many companies have not yet been convinced that providing generous—and, yes, expensive—benefits will ultimately improve their bottom lines.

A new initiative from Nestlé may help make that argument.

Tuesday, at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, the company announced that it is launching a study that will collect data on the number of employees who use its parental leave and protection policy and how many of those employees remain at Nestlé six, 12 and 18 months after returning from leave.

Why is that significant? According to the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, the average cost of replacing an employee is 21% of their salary. What’s more, that percentage gets even larger when you zero in on executives and other highly-skilled workers.

With a workforce of 51,000 in the United States and over 300,000 around the world, Nestlé says it can provide a significant sample size to determine the impact that parental leave policies have on employee retention. The company plans to release its initial findings by the end of 2016.

“Right now, I think many companies are just looking at this as a cost, and they don’t have a lot of data to see it from a different vantage point,” says Paul Bakus, president of Nestlé corporate affairs. “We’ll be looking at whether or not the retention rates have changed over time, which we hope to be a positive outcome, and that success would encourage other companies to pile on and do this.”

Read the full article from Fortune.


The Times of Northwest Indiana: Unions enjoying resurgence in ranks, popularity

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From The Times of Northwest Indiana:

by Joseph S. Pete

The death of unions turns out to be greatly exaggerated, at least in Indiana.

Union membership has surged in the past two years in Indiana since the passage of a right-to-work law in 2012, confounding expectations of many.

Indiana had 299,000 union members last year, up from 249,000 union members in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union membership, which dipped as low as 9.1 percent of the workforce in 2012, was back to 10.7 percent of the workforce in 2014.

And the number of Indiana workers who are represented by unions in their workplace, but not necessarily dues-paying members, rose to 335,000 last year, which is 12 percent of the total workforce.

The rhetoric is that unions – which represented a quarter of all American workers as recently as 1980 – are dying, a relic of a bygone age. But Northwest Indiana and much of the state remain bastions of the labor movement.  

Storefronts along 119th Street in downtown Whiting were filled with signs supporting the striking United Steelworkers earlier this year when BP refinery workers hit the picket lines. Thousands of union members have turned up to recent rallies outside steel mills in East Chicago, downtown Gary and Burns Harbor. As steel contract talks have dragged on, steelworkers have maintained solidarity to defend health care benefits even after the import-battered steel companies handed out thousands of pink slips nationwide.

A recent Gallup poll found 58 percent of Americans support unions, a dramatic increase of five percentage points over the 2007 level, when unions only enjoyed support from 53 percent of the public. And Indiana's "right-to-work" legislation, which unions characterized as "right to work for less," has failed to put a dent in union membership since it was passed in 2012.

The state's right-to-work law prohibits union security agreements that make paying union dues a condition of employment. Unions say it was a union-busting move meant to harm them financially.

However, union membership skyrocketed in Indiana by nearly 18 percent between 2012 and 2014.

Read the full article from The Times of Northwest Indiana.

Hundreds of prayers sent to Congressional leadership, urging action after Pope Francis’s visit

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

Calling on Congress to heed Pope Francis’s message of taking on economic inequality and ending the cycle of poverty that so many Americans suffer under, Interfaith Worker Justice today delivered hundreds of prayers to Congressional leadership, urging swift action to address injustices suffered by working people, including poverty wages, no paid leave, and rampant wage theft nationwide.

Here are just two of the hundreds of prayers sent to Congress today:

For the dignity of work and for all persons in need of work; for those who can provide work for those without; for safe and healthy working conditions for all who labor; for just laws and just wages for all workers; for just relationships among workers, among employers and workers, and among workers' families. For all these intentions, I pray to the Lord. Lord, hear my prayer.

I am praying for justice for workers, in pay, working conditions, health and for set schedules so they can be with their families. I am praying for mother earth, for reduction in fossil fuels and increase in solar and wind power. I pray for Pope Francis to have a safe and productive trip to the United States. May he change hearts and minds.

“The interfaith prayers sent to Congress today signify the deep commitment to the fundamental values of decency, dignity, and respect for all workers that Americans across the nation share,” said IWJ Executive Director Rudy López. “Polls consistently show that an overwhelming majority of Americans want a living wage, paid leave, and the promise that workers will be paid for every hour they work. We hope that Congress hears these prayers and takes swift action in accordance with these values that we share as a nation.”

The 500+ prayers were sent to Senator Mitch McConnell, Senator Harry Reid, Representative John Boehner, and Representative Nancy Pelosi. The prayers were accompanied by a short note on behalf of the IWJ network, asking the Congressional leaders to take immediate action to enact a national living wage, a mandate on paid leave, and a national law to put an end to wage theft.

You can see the prayers here

Take action here. 

The Atlantic: A Small Boost in Family Income Makes a Big Difference for Kids

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From The Atlantic:

by Gillian B. White

While money might not be the single most critical ingredient in child rearing, the ability to provide basics such as food, shelter, healthcare, and education can make a significant difference in a child’s overall well being. And a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that increased cash flow might be especially helpful when it comes to caring for children facing emotional or behavioral obstacles.

In 2011 7.5 percent of 6 to 11-year-olds were on prescription medication for emotional and behavioral problems such as ADHD, anxiety, and depression according to the paper. But that figure was 9.2 percent for children whose families fell below the poverty line

The study’s authors, Randall Akee of UCLA, Emilia Simeonova of Johns Hopkins, and E. Jane Costello and William Copeland of Duke, suggest that children’s well being may improve along with household income. In order to investigate the impact of an increase in household income—while omitting the positive impact that a change in career or education among parents might play—the study took a look at unearned income. Researchers looked at Native American families who started receiving an average annual payment of $4,000 per adult tribe member after a casino opened on tribal land. Prior to the casino opening, the average income of these households was $22,145. As a control group, they also included non Native American families who didn’t benefit from the new casino. They interviewed parents and children annually, from around the age of 9 until kids were 16 years old. They then followed up with the kids periodically to see how they were doing in adulthood.

They found that after casino payments started arriving, children who had displayed emotional or behavioral problems started showing significant improvements. Both conscientiousness and  agreeableness increased significantly, as measured by their responses to questionnaires and personality assessments. The less favorable trait of neuroticism, (which they describe as a chronic level of emotional instability that can lead  to psychological distress) also saw a slight uptick, but it wasn’t statistically significant.

These shifts may take place in part because of the positive effect that more money can have on parents. Increased household income can decrease individual and marital stress, lower reported drug and alcohol usage, and increase parental supervision and involvement.

That last point may be a key to understanding why an increase in household income can boost the overall health of kids. The financial health of a household impacts children in many ways. There are obvious ones, like the ability to put food on the table and to provide safe, clean housing. But household earnings also play a role in how parents invest in their children. Parents with more income can often afford to give their children better educational opportunities, they can pay for extracurricular activities, they can move to better neighborhoods, and they can spend more quality time with their kids. For example, additional income sometimes means that a parent can reduce work hours in order to care for children. Hourly workers can take on fewer shifts, or be more selective about employment, choosing schedules that coincide with school hours, so that they can spend time with children after school. These investments are especially important for children who were already struggling with emotional or behavioral problems. In the study, families who received casino cash reported better parent-child relationships, and that was especially the case in households where children had struggled with emotional and behavioral problems in the past.

Read the full article from The Atlantic

Sojourners: What Pope Francis Can Teach the US Catholic Church about Thomas Merton

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From Sojourners:

by Rose Marie Berger

At his speech before Congress on Sept. 24, Pope Francis listed Trappist monk Thomas Merton as one of four exemplary Americans who provide wisdom for us today.

Out on the National Mall, thousands cheered when the pope named two other exemplary Americans: Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fewer recognized Merton (or the fourth exemplar the pope mentioned, social activist Dorothy Day.)

The pope did not choose to hail anyone associated with the institutional Catholic Church as his models. Instead he chose a former president, a Protestant minister, a lay Catholic, and a monk.

That monk was significant because 10 years ago, when the first national Catholic catechism for adults was published in the U.S., Merton’s name was omitted as not Catholic enough.

The editors had included Merton in an earlier draft. In fact, the opening chapter told the story of Merton’s conversion. The editors understood that Merton’s story was quintessentially American and that he was central to 20th-century American Catholicism.

At the time, however, two influential conservatives involved in drafting the catechism described Merton as a “‘lapsed monk’ who in his last days went ‘wandering in the East, seeking consolations, apparently, of non-Christian, Eastern spirituality … ”

They were appalled that anyone would hold Merton up as a model of faith, according to Deborah Halter’s 2005 National Catholic Reporter essay, “Whose orthodoxy is it?”

When it was leaked that Merton was being excised from the new catechism, Catholics implored the bishops’ catechism committee to reverse its decision. Hundreds of letters flowed in. A petition was signed by 500 Catholic leaders.

The International Thomas Merton Society sent a letter to then-Bishop Donald Wuerl, chair of the committee charged with writing the catechism, and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president Bishop William Skylstad, saying they were “deeply disturbed” by the Merton exclusion.

“Merton,” they wrote, “has played a crucial role in the faith journeys of thousands upon thousands of Catholics (as well as other Christians and even non-Christians) both during his lifetime and since his death, and we believe his inclusion in the catechism can and should be a significant way to extend the powerful witness of his life and writings to a new audience.”

Now-Cardinal Wuerl — so prominent at the pope’s side this week in his current role as archbishop of Washington — stated that Merton was removed because young Catholics didn’t know who he was.

Even at the time, that was a weak excuse.

So the catechism was published with no mention of Merton.

And since then the popularity of Merton’s writings and spiritual wisdom has continued to grow.

His monastery in Kentucky is a place of pilgrimage for thousands each year. He is avidly read among the young as well as the old. He continues to provide opportunities for encounter and dialogue. The International Thomas Merton Society’s membership extends across the globe.

Yet the institutional church as it is embodied in diocesan bureaucracy and managerial bishops continues to shut doors rather than open them.

As recently as last week, the Northern California chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society attempted to host a talk by a Merton scholar and well-respected theologian on the topic of Merton’s interreligious dialogue. But the bishop asked the local Catholic Church to host it off-site.

What a missed opportunity.

When Francis chose to lift up Merton before the Congress as an exemplary Catholic American, he knew what he was doing.

Read the full article from Sojourners