December 2012 Archive:

Joy for all the People

What is there to be joyful about as the end of the year draws closer and the bearded men in the red suits dominate the television channels and the malls and merchandise flies off the shelves of stores all across the nation?

On Dec. 22, people of faith hosted prayer vigils for workers all along the supply chain, but especially the 112 Bangladeshi workers who died in a fire at a garment factory that produces clothing sold in Walmart stores in the U.S.

candlesThe Dec. 22 vigils followed more than 100 vigils on Black Friday—part of more than 1,200 actions at Walmart stores across the country supporting retail workers in the third largest workforce in the world. Many courageous workers walked off their jobs to protest low pay, stolen wages, manipulative scheduling, expensive benefits, the risk of losing a job when sick, and retaliation for speaking and standing up for their rights. 

Threats to workers and the labor movement have intensified as the number of states enacting and planning “right to work for less laws” grows. Incredibly, Michigan and Indiana are on that list. 

This holiday season has come to represent giving and hope for us all. Our government should take seriously the needs of workers whose labor makes any celebration possible and provides the resources for families to thrive?

We've got to push lawmakers and corporations to hear that cry! This work is not possible without the generous support of people of faith and worker advocates like you! Click here to make a gift to IWJ today!

So what is there to be joyful about during this Christmas season? 

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people—Luke 2:10

As the year ends we can celebrate the growing movement of people that, despite the challenges, remains committed to the struggle for worker justice, both here and abroad.

We can celebrate the steady gains in employment numbers and excitement among those who champion immigration reform in the United States. A changing electoral demographic will make a path to citizenship more likely in the coming year. The lives of millions of low-wage workers will benefit from meaningful and comprehensive reform.   

The labor movement is intensifying efforts to protect workers from state and federal legislators and unethical corporations who conspire against working people and the unions who work on their behalf. A vigorous worker center movement is growing as a new force for the empowerment of the American worker. Workers are taking to the streets and the state houses and demanding justice. 

People of faith are a growing part of labor and community partnerships supporting workers and raising their voices for fundamental change in the way workers are treated in our nation. Interfaith Worker Justice is an integral part of the work to raise the minimum wage, broaden benefits to workers like paid sick days and pay-stub transparency, and advocate on behalf of and alongside retail workers in work to bring justice and fairness to Walmart. 
This Christmas season, we celebrate hope. And we celebrate it with you! Click here to celebrate Christmas with a gift to IWJ.

Honoring workers along Walmart's supply chain

People of faith are remembering the victims of the tragic fire at Tazreen Fashions in Bangladesh at candle light services across the country this weekend. It’s one small way we can affirm to workers the dignity of a safe workplace and urge corporate leaders and lawmakers to put people’s lives ahead of profit.

prayer vigilThe factory fire at Tazreen Fashions, which produced Faded Glory brand clothing, is a grave concern to many of us, as consumers and as people of faith. In the fire 112 workers lost their lives due to management's negligence.

Walmart is not acting responsibly nor ethically when it allows working conditions that put the lives of workers in danger. All faith traditions affirm the dignity of work. As people of faith we stand with workers and ask Walmart to support a full and transparent investigation, to publish all audit reports relating to the factory fire, and to adopt meaningful measures to prevent future incidents all along its supply chain.

In the faith community, we are extremely concerned about the corporation’s poor labor practices in the U.S. and abroad. We demand that the company's executive leadership make the necessary changes to make Walmart an ethical employer that honors the lives and dignity of all its workers. The factory fire was just one example of the difficulties Walmart workers suffer because of the corporation’s unethical labor practices.

Worker advocates are also pushing Walmart to work with local and global unions and labor rights organizations on a safety agreement that would allow for independent inspections with public reporting, mandatory repairs and renovations, and a central role for workers and unions in both oversight and implementation. The agreement would call for supplier contracts with sufficient financing and adequate pricing, and a binding contract to make these commitments enforceable.

People of faith and worker advocates are delivering a letter to store managers on Saturday, Dec. 22, asking managers to pray with them in honor of the lives lost and to support a safety agreement that would make working conditions safer all across the supply chain.

Click here to for all the tools you need to set up and register a prayer vigil near you, or see if one is already organized in your community.

People of faith on so-called "Right-to-work" laws in Michigan

Today, people of faith across the country are crying out to Michigan lawmakers demanding justice for workers. Lawmakers passed so-called "right-to-work" legislation this month making it harder for public and private employees to work with unions and stick together for better working conditions, pay and benefits. "Right-to-work" laws continue to lower the bar for worker standards.

By Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

“We firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers for organizing.”

RTW infoMy brother bishops and I wrote that more than a quarter-century ago in our 1986 letter Economic Justice for All. Regrettably, it rings true still today.

The right-to-work legislation that was passed by the House and the Senate in Michigan just this month is designed to break unions. It is designed to prevent workers from organizing. And we must oppose it as firmly as we did during the 1980s.

Click here to learn Why Unions Matter and What Faith has to do with it.

As Catholics, we believe that if the dignity of work is to remain protected, then the basic rights of workers must be protected – fair wages, freedom from discrimination and the right to organize and join unions. We believe in justice. We believe in the common good.

Right-to-work laws go against everything we believe.

Economists tell us that right-to-work laws devastate economic justice. They lower wages for all workers. They lessen benefits for all workers. They increase poverty for all people.

Workers tell us that these laws decrease cooperation, collaboration, love and solidarity.

This legislation should not just offend Catholics, but all Christians and members of all faith traditions. At the core of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and all great religions are the values of dignity and respect, values from which economic justice and the right to organize can never be separated.

Governor Rick Snyder’s Presbyterian tradition “affirms the rights of labor organization and collective bargaining as minimum demands of justice.” Similar statements have been made by the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to name but a few.

However, we do not need statements from on high to understand what we know to be true on the ground. Right-to-work laws do not help the least among us. Rather, they profit those who already hold more power and wealth than is their fair share. They foster extreme inequality, inequality that can only lead to extreme disparities and extreme division.

In the book of Isaiah, the prophet proclaims, “Woe to those who make unjust laws.” Indeed, woe to those in the Michigan state legislature who voted in favor of these laws. Woe to Governor Snyder whose pen is at the ready to sign these bills.

Just as Catholic bishops united in 1986 to speak against organized efforts to break unions, it is now time for Michigan citizens of all faiths to unite against an unjust law, passed in great haste, which will do great damage to our state. Each of us must take responsibility for speaking out and taking action to prevent a terrible injustice from occurring in Michigan.

This reflection originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton is a retired auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. Infographic courtesy of our friends at the AFL-CIO.

Let's Light our Souls

On December 8th, many Buddhists around the world celebrate the Bodhi Day -- the day that Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment under a Bodhi Tree.

Buddhists usually celebrate by eating a bowl of rice and milk, putting a string of lights throughout their house, potting or buying a live ficus tree for their home, and retaking the Buddhist vows.

This is a great opportunity to think about Buddha’s achievement: enlightenment (“to have woken up and understood”).

Although I constantly think about the importance of awakening and understanding, I am in no way searching for enlightenment, especially now that I find myself very grounded to this world.  You see, I have a son and I can't imagine detaching myself from him.  It also helps that the achievement of such a grandiose act is one in bazillion (don’t quote me on that, the number might be slightly off). Let’s say that earlier on I decided to stick around this world to make sure that, if I can’t be enlightened, I am bringing light to those around me.  This Chinese proverb always reminds me that change starts from the inside out:

If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house.
If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.

And with the stress of the holiday, I must say that I am a little behind on this task.  The more stressed I get, the dimmer my light gets and the uglier I look.  That is why today I invite you, in celebration of Buddha’s enlightenment, to join me and my fellow IWJ colleagues in the practice of mindfulness and try to light our souls.  It can be as simple as leaving a chocolate treat for your colleague who is working a lot this season or helping IWJ build this amazing social justice movementIt is all compassion. So today we might not illuminate the whole world (not yet), but we will for sure bring light to some dark places.

May the light in your soul brighten your face and those around you.

Your fellow half-light-at-the-moment-but-sure-to-be-bright-soon sister.