Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety
Food Safety Inspection Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Dear Deputy Under Secretary Rottenberg,
We are a group of national faith-based organizations from various faith traditions and we are writing to you because our shared values call on us to advocate on behalf of the workers in the meat packing industry. We believe that all workers are entitled to safe workplaces that are free of dangerous conditions and that it is the responsibility of the government to act in a way that improves the safety of workplaces. It is because of these beliefs that we call on the USDA FSIS to reject the proposed Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection Rule, which would allow faster line processing speeds in swine packing plants, and to deny any requests for waivers that would allow for faster line speeds in poultry processing plants.
There is research that goes back as far as thirty years which definitively demonstrates that fast line speeds are the cause of serious debilitating injuries and illnesses. Meat packing workers use knives, saws, and hooks to make tens of thousands of precise repetitive and forceful motions everyday. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics these workers are injured at rates that are 2.4 times higher than the national average. For serious injuries that require time off of work or restrict an employee’s duties that rate rises to 3 times the national average. Study after study has shown that higher numbers of forceful repetitive motions leads to higher rates of serious workplace injuries and allowing faster line speeds will only exacerbate these injuries.
Our values lead us to the belief that the government has a duty to help prevent these predictable injuries from occurring. Instead of allowing faster line speeds which would cause more forceful repetitive motions the USDA should require plants to hire more workers, and decrease the force, line speeds and production rates.
Not only would increased line speeds impact the workers themselves but they would also have a negative impact on the entire community. Injuries and fewer production hours would lead too less financial contributions into communities. Lastly, faster line speeds can lead to contaminated meat leaving the plant and harming the health of the community. As people of faith, we believe that labor has a sacred bond with the dignity of all people. However we labor, our work contributes to the creation of community, the richness and diversity of culture, a chance for every human to connect in fellowship with one another.
As groups rooted in faith and from a moral perspective, we are committed to a public witness of justice and peace and in that spirit we ask that the USDA reject any rules or waivers that would allow for faster processing line speeds in any meat packing plants. We ask that you not put working people’s lives in danger to allow plant owners to make a little extra profit.
Bend the Arc Jewish Action
Disciples Center for Public Witness
Disciples Justice Action Network
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
Faith in Public Life
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Interfaith Worker Justice
Islamic Society of North America
Islamic Relief USA
Jewish Community Action
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Council of Churches
Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society
Unitarian Universalist Association
by Ben Levenson
Shavuot is one of the least well known important holidays in Jewish tradition. People know about passover and matzah, yom kippur and fasting, and hanukkah candles, but not Shavuot. Perhaps it’s because the customs, staying up all night studying and eating dairy (for all those lactose intolerant Jews) is less sexy than a passover seder about liberation and Hanukkah games and candles. And perhaps it’s also because the holiday commemorates receiving laws at Mount Sinai. I remember when I was a kid at one of these night study sessions reading through the ten commandments with a group from our synagogue and trying to unpack the meanings and the nuance in each of them. Now--that was sort of fun for me, but it was dry and often arcane and perhaps not all that exciting for your average modern Jew.
Yet, Shavuot is a rich holiday with timely teachings about welcoming strangers and economic justice. To commemorate its origins as a harvest festival, we customarily read the Book of Ruth on the second day of Shavuot. It’s the story of Ruth, a non-Jewish woman who marries into a Jewish family who then becomes a widow and falls into poverty. Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi are forced to move from their home to find food. And Naomi and Ruth go to Israel where Naomi’s family is from and where it is law for farmers to leave a portion of their crop unharvested, for the poor. They then find Boaz who takes them in and allows them to work on his field and even instructs his workers to help them. Ultimately Boaz marries Ruth and the story ends with the genealogy of King David. It turns out that Ruth, is his great grandmother.
What are we to make of this? This is clearly a story about justice and a reminder of how to treat the poor and the migrant in our times of austerity, workplace abuse, and staggering inequality. Not only is Boaz welcoming, but society is structured in such a way that Boaz has to leave a portion of his land. Not only that, Boaz is welcoming to Ruth who is a poor non-Jewish widow. And. And! Because of this generosity and welcoming, Ruth begets King David, one of the central figures of Jewish tradition and the writer of the Psalms, some of the most influential and widely read literature in all of human history.
Naomi and Ruth are not unlike our modern day migrants who in desperation are forced to make treacherous journeys to find a better life for their family. Like farm workers who pick berries in the pacific Northwest or who build houses and buildings in construction sites around the country or who work in the poultry industry with dizzying line speeds and toxic chemicals. In our world, these migrants are villainized and intimidated. Their wages are stolen and they are routinely forced to work in dangerous conditions without protection.
The Book of Ruth and by extension the entire holiday of Shavuot reminds us that not only can all share in the world’s harvest, but that, in fact, immigrants and migrants can often be the source, like King David, of great and beautiful things. I take this to mean that not only should we help immigrants, but we should recognize their humanity, their creativity, and their power to make our world better.
by Sh. Abdur Rahman Khan
As we begin The Blessed Month of Ramadan (Fasting) we are reminded of the saying of Prophet Muhammad, (Peace and Blessings of God be upon him):
"The Most Merciful (God Almighty) shows mercy to those who have mercy on others. Show mercy to those on earth, and the One above the heaven will show mercy to you."
Mercy is the very essence of Fasting and often the Month of Ramadan is referred to as the month of mercy and Allah has made the sending forth of Muhammad (PBUH) as a Prophet of mercy to all of creation, as He Says (what means): "And We have not sent you (O Muhammad) except as a mercy to the worlds." [21:107]
So as Muslims and followers of this Prophet of mercy it is expected for us to exemplify that throughout our lives. Going through with rituals void of feelings and mercy of our fellow human beings, our fellow Muslims would not be truthful to the cause of mercy. If we really want to truly understand what Fasting means, then we have to participate more in what it calls us to do, beyond rituals. The larger culture of Ramadan lends itself to this advice in many ways, as to what we can do and what we should feel. It is part of the purpose and very culture of Ramadan to instill empathy that’s actionable.
One of mercy acts is to be kind and generous to workers. In expounding the importance of labors the Prophet (PBUH), said: “Allaah Said, ‘I will be the opponent of three on the Day of Judgment: one who makes a covenant in My Name and then breaks it; one who sells a free man as a slave and devours his price and one who hires a workman and having taken full work from him, does not pay him his wages.'”
Workers should be treated with dignity and honor regardless of the kind of work they are performing, as long as this work is lawful. Thus, in the Month of Ramadan, is the time to express that mercy and make things easy for workers.
Workers should not be overburdened with work. They have the right to physical and mental rest and especially at the time of fasting when they need time to connect to The Most Merciful. Workers should have time for work and time for themselves and time for their acts of worship.
To live with that consciousness and awareness of showing mercy to those under our supervision is among the highest achievements of the mercy that comes with fasting. Any employer who shows that level of mercy to his workers will have more trust and in the end more production. After all workers make the engines function and when a drop of mercy is shown during this blessed month the engines go a very far way.
Let’s reflect on the Hadith: The Prophet of mercy said:
Your workers are your brethren upon whom Allah has given you authority. So, if one has one's brethren under one's control, one should feed them with the like of what one eats and clothe them with the like of what one wears. You should not overburden them with what they cannot bear, and if you do so, help them in their hard job. (Al-Bukhari)
Is there a better time than in the Blessed Month of Ramadhan to act upon this timeless advice? Ramadan each year comes to us with an offer to be counter-cultural, to think differently, to act differently and hopefully remember the destination; accountability with our Lord, The Most Merciful.
In July of 2008, IWJ had several summer interns along with IWJ co-founder Rabbi Robert Marx attend an interfaith rally in Postville to protest the largest workplace raid in American history. IWJ founder, Kim Bobo wrote the following reflection piece on the Postville raids which offers a haunting narrative of that day and the following weeks. Postville: Ground Zero for the Intersection of Immigrant and Workers' Rights
"Let the voice of the people be heard!" Albert Parsons spoke these last words in 1887 right before he and 3 other men were unjustly hanged for the Chicago Haymarket Bombing. The Haymarket affair is widely considered the origin of international May Day events for workers. Read more about the history of May Day.
This May Day, take to the streets to voice your support for all working people. Today, more than ever, we need to make sure human rights are protected. We choose to show our love and solidarity by standing together and caring for one another independent of race, religion, or status. Our voices will be heard!
Find a May Day event in your area: http://bit.ly/WMemDay2018
Workers Memorial Day Events
April 27, San Diego, CA
Interfaith Worker Justice of San Diego County
Workers Memorial Day Service, 11 am-12 pm
April 27, Indianapolis, IN
Indianapolis Worker Justice Center
Workers Memorial Day State Ceremony, 11 am - 1 pm
April 27, New York, NY
Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State
2018 Workers Memorial Day, 11 am
April 27, Springdale, AR
Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center
Vigil for Fallen Workers, 6 - 7:30 pm
April 28, Houston TX
Fe y Justicia Worker Center and Workers Defense Project
Memorial Day Vigil and Dinner, 3-6 pm
April 28, Memphis, TN
Workers Interfaith Network/Memphis Workers' Center
Workers Memorial Day Prayer Vigil, 6:30 pm
May Day Events
May 1, Milwaukee, WI
Voces de la Frontera
Day Without Latinxs & Immigrants: No 287g, 10 am
May 1, Detroit, MI
The Micah Center
Gran Marcha del Puente de 1o. Mayo, 12-5 pm
May 1, Springdale, AR
Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center
1 de Mayo:Trabajadoras al Frente con la Dignidad Rebelde, 5:30 - 8:30 pm
The risk of asbestos was realized as early as 1918, but is still legal in more than 70% of the world today, including the United States.
Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images
by Catholic News Services
The last government shutdown -- well, threatened shutdown, anyway -- seems so long ago.
The nine-hour "funding lapse" of Feb. 9, like the three-day shutdown that began Jan. 20, hinged on how Congress was going to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Donald Trump said he would end March 5. He also called on Congress to pass a measure to save the program, created in 2012 by President Barack Obama via executive order.
In the January shutdown, Democratic lawmakers backed down on their threat to keep the government closed until a DACA deal was reached. In the February funding lapse, Democrats and Republicans agreed to conduct a debate and vote on DACA in the weeks to come, as a six-week continuing resolution to keep the government funded through March 23 was overshadowed by the $1 trillion spending package of which it was a part.
The congressional sidestepping of DACA prompted the U.S. bishops to declare a "National Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers" for Feb. 26, one week before the program's expiration date. The day resulted in thousands of phone calls to lawmakers.
That, in turn, was overshadowed by the Supreme Court declining that same day a request by the administration to bypass federal appellate courts and rule on whether the administration has the right to shut down DACA.
The justices' action wiped out the March 5 deadline date, leaving DACA up and running at least until the high court accepts the case for the appeals court -- and possibly renders a decision -- or until Congress finally deals with it. The high court's action only keeps DACA intact for those currently with DACA status; two federal judges have blocked Trump, saying the administration must continue to accept renewal applications for the program. The rulings do not make DACA available to those who had not already applied for it.
While the exact path ahead is unclear, at least there is a path.
"I think a lot of people feel a little insecure, they don't feel safe and they're unsure what's going to happen because things are up in the air," said Michelle Sardone, director of strategic initiatives for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.
"They're feeling fear about whether or not to apply: 'Will the government use information they have on me to use against me?' If you submit your application with the application fee, will it be adjudicated or ... will it be a waste of your money?" Sardone said. "Each person has a particular case. They should go to an accredited legal services provider to find out the best situation for them and for their family."
"We just buried a man in his 60s who came from Ireland in a house with no electricity, no plumbing. He came over to the U.S. without a trade, became a pipe fitter and a coach," said Mary Harkenrider, a member of the Southside Catholic Peace and Justice Committee in Chicago, which sponsored a forum March 1 to show support for the city's DACA holders.
In talking to Catholic News Service, she used the example of this Irishman to illustrate what immigrants bring to this country.
"As a coach and a family man, he affected people throughout the city and across the country and at his funeral there were thousands of people who pay respect to this immigrant, who came to this country without a STEM education or highly advanced skills," Harkenrider added.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Some arguing for the reform of U.S. immigration laws say preference should be given to the highly educated immigrants.
She added: "We would be amiss without the talents of the immigrants in our communities. ... whether it's the Irish or the Polish or the Hispanic. I think we have to continue to recognize our history and build on it."
Chicago, Harkenrider said, is "a city of immigrants."
Nor is Chicago the only town that can claim that mantle.
Camden, New Jersey, is such a town. Mexican-born Monica Perez Reyes, 20, has lived there since her parents brought her to the United States at age 2. They entered the country without legal documents. She has kid sisters born in the United States who are U.S. citizens. As for Perez, "I'm good for two years" with DACA.
She admits to frustration with Congress, though. "I'm kind of offended. They're sort of playing around with my future," she said. "And the manner they're handling it, one day they may say they'll do something to make it better like have a path to citizens, ship, but the next day they say they're going to terminate it altogether."
Perez added, "I know some people are scared, but I'm not necessarily scared unless something is set in stone. I have a plan A, a plan B, a plan C. If worse comes to worst, I have a plan; I'll have to go to Mexico and make my new life there."
She was accepted to study art at a California college, but her status as an immigrant without documents left her ineligible to receive scholarship money. So Perez is attending community college in Camden while planning to major in art therapy, working to make money to pay her tuition.
Another such town of immigrants is Pasadena, Maryland. Hector Guzman, 19, also born in Mexico, was brought here by his parents, he said, when he was 1 year old. A soccer goalie and midfielder, a German scout recommended he go to England to try out for professional soccer there. He had to decline. "I could get there on my Mexican passport, but I couldn't come back," he said.
Guzman has his own plan B. Like Perez's, it involves going to a community college and working as a butcher and chef to pay tuition. He'll add landscaping work as the weather warms. He's starting up a small business already. At some point, he said, he'd like to open a restaurant, maybe several of them, "and maybe have a ranch or a farm." He said the DACA process was easy.
Patricia Zapor, a CLINIC spokeswoman, said a January check of DACA applications showed the government was still processing applications from 2016. Zapor noted that the government had cut staff in anticipation of DACA ending, then had to ramp up staffing with the upsurge in applications and renewals. Renewals ordinarily took two to three months; Zapor said without DACA, immigrants in the country without legal permission cannot legally work in the United States.
Guzman said he's not worried. "My parents are a little worried," he said. An older sister, who like him has DACA status, "doesn't act like she's worried," he added.
With the days winding down until Trump's original March 5 deadline, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said the upper chamber would debate a banking bill in early March, making no mention of DACA -- deferred action, indeed.
How to deal with this interim period is "tricky, right?" said Ian Pajer-Rogers, communications and political director for Interfaith Worker Justice, which has more than 30 affiliated worker centers around the country.
"We have taken the position that only a clean DREAM Act will do with no riders or add-ons from the right -- no wall, no border security measures. We'll continue that. Where that leaves us with the party in power and the party that is trying to negotiate for our people, the Democrats, is less clear."
The DREAM Act he referred to stands for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. The bill is what gives DACA recipients the "Dreamer" name.
Anxiety among DACA families cuts both ways, he said. "What I've seen among the undocumented folks is a very willingness to self-sacrifice. Among the DACA recipients I've worked with they don't want to trade their parents' safety and security for their own. ... I think you find the parents who are willing to say the opposite, almost. They're willing to see more enforcement and risk detention if their kids are safe. We're really going for the starting point that all are protected."
"The more pressing thing might be the (Feb. 26) Supreme Court ruling," Pajer-Rogers said, "that folks who are in detention can be detained indefinitely without bond. So if there's something on the mind of workers today, it's probably that."
Read more from the Catholic Sentinel.
As the Supreme Court heard the pivotal union case, Janus v. AFSCME, on Monday, an unacknowledged presence haunted its chambers: that of Sylvester Petro.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has rejected a National Chicken Council petition to increase line speeds in poultry processing plants. This is a significant victory for thousands of poultry workers across the country and a direct result of the worker-led coalition of IWJ affiliates and allies that have been organizing tirelessly for years on the issue.
Just last month IWJ affiliates, staff, and coalition leaders met with USDA officials to urge them to reject National Chicken Council’s proposed elimination of the line speed regulation and presenting the officials with hundreds of petitions signed by poultry workers. The USDA also received 100,000 public comments in opposition to the industry proposal.
Our coalition met with USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Carmen Rottenberg in Washington, DC
Under current rules regulating line speeds, working men and women resort to wearing diapers and forgo water breaks in sweltering processing plants just to keep up with current quotas. They work through serious injuries that frequently cause lifelong disability and chronic pain.
"We applaud the USDA decision to stop the petition of increasing the line speed in poultry processing plants," said Magaly Licolli, Executive Director of the Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center, an IWJ affiliate. "This is a huge victory for thousands of poultry workers who often risk their health and safety by processing chicken at high speeds. However, we will keep fighting to assure poultry companies don’t get away with continue petitioning line speed waivers for individual processing plants.
So while we celebrate today’s decision by USDA, we know that there is much work ahead for IWJ, our affiliates, and our allies — together we will continue our organizing to challenge the already-breakneck speed and inhumane conditions that working people endure in so many poultry processing plants from coast to coast.
All members of Congress must do better or this cycle of short-term stopgaps and legislation that hurts working people will continue unabated.
by Maxine Phillips
Four years ago I shivered with a handful of people in front of a McDonald's in midtown Manhattan agitating for a $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers. The only news outlet that covered the demonstration was Al Jazeera, which had a U.S. office at the time. The demonstration was part of a national campaign of one-day strikes by workers in fast-food restaurants in an effort to improve conditions in an industry marked by high turnover and low wages.
The strikes were supported by coalitions of unions, clergy, and community groups across the country. Few people thought that they had much chance of success. In New York, Michael Bloomberg was mayor, and the restaurant industry was united in its opposition to a living wage and regulation.
This week, I stood with dozens of fast food workers and their allies at the office of the New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer to mark the official launch of Fast Food Justice, which is the first nonprofit worker organization to register under legislation that allows fast-food workers to take payroll deductions for the organization. Under the legislation, passed last year by the New York City Council, 500 workers in the fast-food industry needed to sign up for payroll deductions that their employers would send to the non-profit, non-union organization.
Critics warned that it would be hard to get 500 signatures in an industry notoriously hard to organize. The law went into effect in late November, and organizers quickly gathered 1,200 signatures. The Restaurant Law Center, the legal arm of the National Restaurant Association, filed suit in federal court to overturn the legislation, but Fast Food Justice maintains that it is not a labor organization of the kind regulated by federal law.
With monthly deductions of $13.50, the organization hopes to make gains among New York City's 65,000 fast-food workers and guarantee a steady stream of income so that it can work toward improvements in the industry.
Speaker after speaker praised the efforts of the workers, who have been fighting for several years for a rise in the minimum wage (now $13.50, rising to $15 per hour by the end of 2018) and of legislators who have also passed fair scheduling standards. The fair scheduling standards require fast-food employers to give advance schedules to workers and to offer more hours to existing workers before hiring more part-time staff.
"We want to be able to feed our families," said one worker, who told of starting out a few years ago at the then minimum of $7.25 an hour and being fired when she needed to take a sick day.
The legislation is part of a package of progressive steps being fought for that include affordable housing, decent health care, lower cost transportation, and equality in the workplace.
"Faith leaders have been proud to stand with fast-food workers in New York City over the past five years as they fought for and won a $15 minimum wage," said Rabbi Michael Feinberg, executive director, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition (far left in photo).
As Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Lorelei Salas (at podium) said, the demands of fast-food establishments have made workers "endure unpredictable schedules and incomes that make it hard for them to create budgets, schedule child care, or pursue education or a second job." The combination of a progressive mayor and city council, persistent organizing by workers, and broad coalition-building with groups as diverse as Planned Parenthood of New York City and the Fair Workweek Initiative of the Center for Popular Democracy has brought some measure of financial security and work stability to fast-food workers.
Other cities have passed a $15 minimum wage law over bitter opposition, and others have initiated fairer scheduling, but organizers hope that this launch is for the first of what will be many worker organizations that can bring justice to workers in an increasingly hostile and anti-worker environment.
Maxine Phillips is a co-convener of the Religion and Socialism Working Group of Democratic Socialists of America.
After a four-month international investigation that resulted in the release of the Interfaith Worker Justice report Breaking Faith: Outsourcing and the Damage Done to our Communities alongside Congressman John Lewis in December, Mondelēz executives will soon receive at home a package including the Breaking Faith report and letters from faith leaders and members of Congress urging the mega-corporation to stop outsourcing American jobs to Mexico to avoid paying a living wage.
The letter signed by 35 faith and labor leaders who comprise the Interfaith Worker Justice board of directors urges Mondelēz to “recognize the moral urgency in respecting your workers on both sides of the border by paying a living wage and ensuring stability of employment as an alternative, values-driven strategy that will at once bolster your bottom line, retain the loyalty of your consumers, and ensure a healthy return for Mondelēz investors while redefining your brand as one committed to worker justice and corporate stewardship.”
After attending the report release in December, Congressman John Lewis and four other members of Congress composed a letter to United States Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer using Mondelēz’s outsourcing to illustrate the need to ensure that trade agreements like NAFTA include “strong, enforceable labor standards that raise wages in Mexico and reduce incentives for offshoring; encourage domestic investment; and support well-paying American jobs.”
“Companies like Mondelēz must understand that treating its workers with dignity and respect while paying a living wage is both the right thing to do and a savvy business strategy,” said Doug Mork, president of the Interfaith Worker Justice board of directors. “Time and again, we see companies that commit to corporate responsibility and worker justice thrive in terms of positive brand association and increased consumer loyalty. We will continue to work to convince Mondelēz that a commitment to good, family-sustaining jobs on both sides of the border is good for workers and good for business.”