Tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 5, fast food workers in more than 100 cities across the country are going on a historic strike. Will you be joining an action near you?
Calls for a living wage at fast food restaurants are growing louder each day. People of faith and worker justice advocates are walking in solidarity with brave workers standing up to fast food industry giants like McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Workers are calling on them to pay at least $15 dollars an hour so all workers can provide for themselves and their families. Fast food corporations CAN afford to pay their workers more. Now it’s time to amplify that call.
Earlier this week, I received an email from Maria Trisler, a McDonalds workers in Illinois who plans to strike tomorrow:
I’m going on strike because I can’t make ends meet for me and my 12-year-old boy on the $8.35 I make at McDonald’s. It’s just 10 cents more than minimum wage here in Peoria, Illinois.
I’m striking because not only can McDonald’s afford to pay us more, but time and time again they’ve shown just how out of touch they are with what it’s like to work for them – and try scrape by on poverty wages.
People of faith are standing with fast food and retail workers like Maria in their communities because as all religions affirm fair pay for an honest day's work. Too often, big corporations like McDonalds (with inflated CEO pay and healthy profit margins) are paying their workers poverty wages, forcing them to use charity and government aid programs just to make ends meet. It’s immoral, and it’s time to call of an end to that practice.
On Black Friday (the busiest shopping day of the year) community, faith and labor allies visited nearly 1,500 Walmart stores in support of workers who are standing up for dignity and respect. Community support for workers is growing, and thousands of allies called on Walmart to be a better employee, pay its workers a living wage, schedule regular shifts and stop the culture of intimidation and retaliation in its stores. Interfaith Worker Justice staff lead and joined actions in Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Seattle and the D.C. metro area. IWJ supporters joined actions, led vigils and prayed for workers in hundreds of cities all across the U.S.
Former IWJ organizer and seminary student, Joe Hopkins faced arrest at an action on Chicago's north side to draw attention to the immoral working condtions at the country's largest retail store. After his release, Joe told us:
I grew up around Walmart stores in rural Pennsylvania, and I never gave them much thought. I would shop there on occasion, and sometimes my friends and I would just end up there because they were some of the few places still open after 10 p.m. But I also knew from a young age that people with a lot of resources have a responsibility to help other people who have less. When I learned that Walmart’s executives make millions of dollars, and the Walton family has billions of dollars, I knew that they should help their workers first. Why don’t they? Can they somehow not hear the wages of their workers, the wages that they kept back by fraud, crying out? Today I joined my voice to the chorus of protest and put my body in the street so that the trumpet of justice would sound loud enough for even Walmart to hear.
Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. —James 5:4
Faith leaders confronted store managers and asked them to pass along a letter of support for better working conditions and respect for workers at Walmart.
Together we can call on Walmart to be a model employer! Thank you for supporting this campaign!
On this rare occasion that Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah fall on the same day, let us celebrate the blessing of family and friends, remember and thank all the people whose work and presence have influenced our lives, and pray for the strength and courage to live out our sacred calling to care for our brothers and sisters. On this blessed day, we ask you to join us in prayer.
Let us pray and give thanks to God for our bountiful lives.
On this day, where family and friends gather to eat, drink and give thanks for all that we have,
let us also remember those among us that have less to be thankful for.
While we give thanks for this food, let us remember and pray for the farm workers whose labors made our meal possible.
Let us remember and pray for the poultry worker, the canner, the truck driver, the grocery store clerk,
and the cooks who made this meal and all of our meals possible.
And while we pray in thanks, let us pray all people receive enough through their labors, so that all can live in security,
and that no one go hungry for lack of decent wages.
Let us seek and find ways to share our nation’s bounty with all those in need.
Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah to you and your family!
Tomorrow when I visit my grandfather for Thanksgiving dinner, I will be thankful for the opportunity he had to earn a living wage, yet all too aware that this opportunity does not exist for many Americans in 2013.
My grandfather never graduated college. He attempted twice but life got in the way each time. After finishing his freshman year at Indiana University my grandfather was drafted to serve in the Korean War. After returning to the U.S., he was accepted into the school's optometry program, and he continued working towards his degree. When he became ill with stomach ulcers he was unable to complete his courses and was forced to put college on hold once again.
At the time, he and my grandmother were expecting the birth of my aunt, and he decided it was best that he get a job to support his growing family. He was able to get a union job at the local telephone company.
His job wasn’t the most exciting or glamorous job, but it was an honest and dignified source of livelihood. For 35 years, he worked as a union member of the Communications Workers of America, had benefits, a pension and he was able to support his wife and two children. If he was asked to work a holiday he received triple pay.
In contrast, Walmart claims to be a company that provides its workers with “great job opportunities” (have you seen the commercial?). In October, Walmart executives attempting to tout how the company pays workers, actually admitted more than 500,000 of store employees make less than $25,000 annually. That’s barely enough to keep a family of four above the poverty line.
Those numbers got me thinking: How many Walmart employees have experienced setbacks similar to the ones my grandfather faced before landing his job at the phone company? How many workers face unexpected commitments, health issues or inadequate childcare? Walmart workers deserve a living wage, schedules they can plan their lives around, access to affordable healthcare and above all dignity and respect at their workplace.
On Black Friday, Nov. 29, let us show our gratitude for the workers who sell groceries, stock shelves and operate cash registers at retail shops across the country, but especially at Walmart, the industry leader. You can join people of faith standing with these workers on Black Friday calling for dignity and respect at work, something we all deserve.
Yesterday, Kim Bobo and the Rev. Michael Livingston sent a letter to every member of the House of Representatives urging them to take action on commonsense and compassionate immigration reform. Today, the Rev. Livingston ends his three-day solidarity fast with the Fast for Families group on the National Mall. The Fast for Families fasters are going without food to pressure Speaker Boehner and the House of Representatives to take up immigration reform. Fasters won't eat until the House votes on an immigration bill.
Below is the letter:
Nov. 19, 2013
Dear Member of Congress,
All religions believe in justice. We call upon you to pass comprehensive, commonsense immigration reform before the end of the year. There are no compelling reasons for waiting to deliver justice to the 11 million undocumented people living in the shadows of our nation. Millions of people are facing deportation, and families are being divided. Without legal status, immigrant workers fall victim to every kind of labor abuse and cannot protect their rights without fear of deportation. Unscrupulous employers steal their wages without fear of investigation and abuse outdated immigration policies for an immoral profit.
We join with the millions of citizens of our nation, Republican and Democrat, and of every race and religion to call upon you to take action to fix this broken immigration system and put our nation back on the road to shared prosperity for all. Study after study by unimpeachable research institutes confirm that our economy will prosper when employers have legal channels to employ workers and when their labor and wages are subject to the standards of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Compassionate and commonsense immigration policies are possible. S-744 and HR-15 are far from perfect bills, and many in our membership oppose provisions that will make it extremely difficult for immigrants to ever become citizens in the country where they have labored for many years for low wages. The 60-day continuous employment provision is an enormous obstacle, especially in our current employment crisis. However, we do remain steadfast in our commitment to comprehensive and common sense immigration reform that keeps families together, protects the rights of workers and makes citizenship an achievable goal.
It is not too late to act with haste to pass immigration reform legislation. In the providence of God, the sooner you do so, the better.
Interfaith Worker Justice
The Rev. Michael Livingston
National Policy Director
Interfaith Worker Justice
Today IWJ’s the Rev. Michael Livingston joined Eliseo Medina, the former International Secretary-Treasurer, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), in a solidarity fast.
Medina has been fasting for a week on Capitol Hill and he has been joined in solidarity fasts here in Washington, and all across the U.S.
While the legislation floating around the halls of the Capitol Building is far from a just answer to current immigration policies, the failure by Speaker Boehner and House Republicans to debate and vote on the legislation is a grave injustice to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
Every day, more than 1,100 new Americans -- including husbands and wives, parents and children -- are forcibly removed from the country. We will fast to change the hearts of lawmakers who refuse to hear the cries of these families.
Fasting is a sacred undertaking inspired by the prophets that brings us closer to God and demonstrates the moral resolve of our movement. The ultimate example of this is Jesus Christ, as well as iconic leaders from recent history such as Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez deprived themselves of nourishment to show solidarity with the oppressed and call society to atone for injustice.
"My first day isn't over yet, and I've already heard enough amazing stories from other fasters to deepen my resolve to struggle for comprehensive immigration," the Rev. Livingston said. "I heard heart wrenching stories of families torn apart by deportations. We have to stop deportations and reform this, not just broken, but immoral immigration system."
By joining the fast, he is honoring the suffering experienced by thousands of families in America by immoral immigration policies and immoral escalation in deportations tearing apart our families and hurting our communities.
Yesterday, IWJ supporters were joined on a call by Mary Watkines and Janet Sparks, two amazing worker-leaders from the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). Watkines and Sparks helped supporters on the call develop plans for a big day of action on Black Friday, and reminded people of faith and economic justice advocates that every action on Black Friday is remarkably important to the Walmart associates standing up to Walmart's executives and their managers for a voice.
"We’re being heard, and we’re making a lot of noise around here. Our focus is to educate the associates and the community about Walmart’s bullying," Mary Watkines said.
On Black Friday, faith leaders and community supporters all around the country will work to bring attention to the culture of intimidation and retaliation at Walmart stores. We'll come together in our neighborhoods and towns and urge Walmart to be a better employer: pay workers a fair wage, create safe working conditions and treat workers with dignity and respect they deserve.
"What the community can do is continue to support us and be there at the actions because then Walmart sees that it's not just the associates asking, but the community is in with us and sees what they’re doing is not right," Watkines said.
Janet Sparks told callers yesterday that she was praying for a leader to step up and confront Walmart's immoral practices at its stores. She said she had no idea that she would be that worker! OUR Walmart leaders are planning to keep urging Walmart to do what is right, and your support means the world to her and other workers.
"Thanks so much for supporting Walmart employees, so many are so afraid to step forward and join this great organization. They’re afraid of losing their job. They’re afraid of being retaliated against. The list is endless," Sparks said to callers. "When community goes out and supports us, they know someone else believes what they’re silently holding inside. It shows other people are caring about them. It just might be the step that helps them come forward and join this organization."
Can you show your support to Walmart workers like Janet and Mary on Black Friday? As a person of faith, you can remind Walmart managers and executives that treating workers fairly, paying living wages, providing safe work environments free of intimidation is the right thing to do.
Last week, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard reminded In These Times readers of the prophetic call of faith leaders to lift up the needs of the poor in our communities and advocate for an economy that deconstructs inequality and values the humanity in all those who work. Gerard lauded Pope Francis' commitment to living simply while disciplining the "Bishop of Bling" (German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst who recently approved spending an estimated $42 million on remodeling his diocesan center and residence, including $22,000 for a bathtub.).
Gerard connected Pope Francis' leadership to the leadership of any American corporation, save the massive compensation packages associated with that leadership:
Pope Francis is beloved for his asceticism. He lives in Spartan rooms and drives a 1984 Renault. He runs an organization as big as any American corporation. Yet he doesn’t demand millions in pay and perks.
American CEOs and boards of directors should take note. The income inequality they’ve fostered with outsized CEO pay packages and paltry wages for workers is creating an American royal class served by serfs. Instead of fixing that problem as Pope Francis is, they’re trying to conceal it.
Corporate boards should behave more like Pope Francis, banishing imperial CEOs and rejecting royal pay package demands. If they did, they wouldn’t have to fear embarrassment when those pay ratio numbers get released.
At Interfaith Worker Justice, we echo calls for corporations to honor their workers with fair pay for honest work. Corporate CEOs should be compensated fairly for their contributions to the organization, but so should all workers. Excessive compensation packages in the contrast to immorally (and often unlivable) low wages paid to the majority of workers on the front lines of day-to-day operations is an injustice directly in opposition of Catholic Social Teaching, and religious scripture in many of the world's religions.
Yesterday, President Obama called on Representatives in the House to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Yet, many folks despair that, in the wake of the government shutdown, it will be difficult if not impossible to pass a sensible and compassionate immigration reform bill.
Well, Salon's Josh Eidelson sat down yesterday with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) to talk about working with Congress, and the President, to pass immigration reform. Despite the sizable obstacles that stand in the way, Gutierrez holds out hope that by working together, we can find a pathway to citizenship for immigrants and their families. Here's what he had to say:
I disagree with [the idea that there's no chance of passing comprehensive immigration reform] because even during the very contentious and oftentimes nasty debate over the budget and the debt ceiling, as contentious as that got, the conversations the dialogue continued between Democrats and Republicans trying to find a play... [S]o I believe that that’s going to eventually bear fruit, and that we’re going to be able to move forward.
Gutierrez also said that, if Congress fails to pass comprehensive immigration reform, President Obama must take bold action to end the 1,100 deportations that occur daily:
I think that those quarters of the immigration movement that are calling on the president to [enact a "ceasefire" on deportations] are absolutely right. There are devastating effects if the Congress of the United States cannot enact comprehensive immigration reform – then the President of the United States has the responsibility to act to defend those immigrants which he says he wants to provide safety and justice for.
You can read the entire interview with Rep. Gutierrez at Salon.
If you haven't yet, please join Interfaith Worker Justice in calling on your Representative to fix our broken immigration system NOW!
The government is open after 16 days of democracy on the run. Analysts and economists are already at work calculating the cost and damage done to our economy. People of faith need to remember that cost begins with the workers who didn't receive paychecks for that two-week period and won't receive checks for at least another two weeks.
These are good people who don't have a comfortable margin of error in the calculations that define their day-to-day existence. Without regular income the rent can't be paid and it becomes harder and harder to keep the refrigerator filled with food. For these workers, a missed paycheck could mean no gas in the car, if there is a car.
Hardest hit in Washington, D.C. are the workers in federal buildings who are employed by government-contracted corporations and concessionaires. Unlike direct employees of the federal government, these workers won't receive back pay for days lost during the shutdown. As one worker put it, "I've gone from low-wage to no wage."
Members of Congress get paid lucrative salaries, corporate executives with government contracts get hefty bonuses, and what do the workers get? Worry. Anxiety. Despair. Where is the justice in that? "What gain have the workers from their toil?"
On the day before Congress finally passed legislation that put the government back to work, I walked the halls of the offices of members of the House of Representatives with 70 other religious leaders and at least a dozen of the workers most affected by the shutdown. We sang hymns and talked with House staffers who were both surprised to see us and just a little bit uncomfortable with our presence. We told them to tell their bosses to open the government now and the workers described in detail the hardships they were experiencing. We prayed for courage on the part of the moderates in the Republican Party who have not stood up to the small, loud, clique of members who have held the government captive to their irrational demands and will go down in history as having caused the unnecessary suffering of hundreds of thousands of people for no good reason at all. May their names never be forgotten.
While we may celebrate this moment when our democracy has exhaled, we must remain sober at the real prospect that this sad drama will be repeated in a few short months beyond the short shelf life of the legislation just passed. So we prayed then and we pray now for the workers whose lives are not insignificant factors in toxic political battles, they are rather, children of God, brothers and sisters in our national community. Their well-being is God's desire. Our solidarity with them is the test of our faithfulness to the highest values of our various religious traditions and to the principles of our founding as a nation.
Click here to support government-contracted workers beyond the shutdown.