By Ryan Wallace
Some in the religious community say churches and labor unions don’t go together. In some congregations and faith communities, referencing the U-word (“union”) from the pulpit might be on par with dropping an F-bomb in Sunday school. My recent work with UNITE HERE! in Chicago has taught me that the Church has some lessons to learn from union organizing—lessons about partnering with the working poor; knowing your own power and how to use it for the common good; and working collaboratively towards a just world.
Some of the churches I’ve been a part of would greatly benefit from a weekend seminar on “mission” taught by a union organizer. In my experience, some congregations and faith communities generally understand mission to be doing something for the people. We, the Church, assess the needs of others and then set out to develop a program, an organization, or a committee to address those needs. In this approach, the end of mission is direct service: a full belly, a bed for the night or presents on Christmas morning.
So many people of faith, however, know that we are called to something beyond this sort of justice. Learn more about IWJ’s Labor in the Pulpit’s program.
In contrast, the “mission” of the union is doing something with the people. Only the union is the workers and the workers are the people. To put it another way, every worker in the union has a voice, and only their collective voices can determine their own needs and how to meet them. In my eyes, the mission of the union is to empower workers to sustain themselves.
Working as a seminarian in a labor union has revealed to me that there is a critical role for the religious community to stand alongside workers as they call for justice from their employers. Hotel workers at Hyatt are calling for a global boycott of Hyatt hotels until management treats them with the dignity they deserve and provides a safe working environment.
Support workers as a person of faith, and pledge to support the global boycott of Hyatt hotels.
Ryan's post is part of our summer series "Reflections from the Field." Ryan is a seminary student in Chicago and interning at UNITE HERE! Local 1 this summer as part of IWJ's Summer Internship program.
For too many working families across the country, everyday life has become almost like a game of rock, paper, scissors — only it’s rent, food or healthcare. With the cost of basic goods on a steady climb and the federal minimum wage stagnant, millions of hardworking wage earners are forced to support their families on poverty-level wages.
Today marks the third-year anniversary of the last increase in the federal minimum wage. Since July 24, 2009, the federal wage floor has been stuck at $7.25 per hour, or just over $15,000 per year for a full-timeworker.
According to a recently-released report by the National Employment Law Project, most of the nation’s largest low-wage employers –led by Walmart, McDonald’s and Yum! Brands– have fully recovered from the recession and are now enjoying strong profits. Meanwhile, millions of workers still struggle to survive.
These companies can afford to pay their workers better. It’s time for a raise! (graphic courtesy of NELP)
The top 50 low-wage employers examined, which together employ nearly eight million workers, have largely recovered from the recession:
- 92 percent were profitable last year
- 78 percent were profitable for the past 3 years
- 75 percent are earning higher revenue now than before the recession
- 63 percent are earning higher profits now than before the recession
- 63 percent have a higher operating margin (a measure of profitability) now than before the recession
- 73 percent have higher cash holdings now than before the recession
Putting money back into the pockets of America's workers is the right thing to do for the economy and workers. If the federal minimum wage kept up with inflation during the last 40 years, it would be $10.55.
Today, thousands of workers, people of faith and allies will gather in cities across the country to tell Congress and low-wage employers it's time to increase the nation’s minimum wage. Click here to find an action near you.
Get involved and join thousands of workers and allies across the country in pushing for an increase in the federal minimum wage.
By Mia Fill
As Hyatt housekeepers launch their global boycott of Hyatt today, I am thinking back on my first delegation with IWJ as a summer intern. As the capstone to our internship training, all 20 or so interns participated in a delegation at the Hyatt Hotel on Wacker Drive in Chicago. We prayed in front of (with the hopes of praying with) management and asked them to stand with a worker who was recently terminated and prayed they’d offer her back her job.
We stood behind two pastors, two rabbis and a reverend supporting the worker’s demand to management; the energy and strength among us was undeniable. To visibly pray and sing in the lobby of the Hyatt about the hurt they are causing their workers and to pray for these workers in front of guests and current staff is a unifying experience. It fully illustrates the power of people from all walks of life, different faiths and different stories in solidarity. At the delegation, I learned that supporting workers as they confront their employers is difficult, and the delegation I participated in might not have gone as well as it did (according to Hyatt Hurts, Hyatt has turned heat lamps on protesting workers during a Chicago heat wave.) See more reasons “Why Hyatt Hurts”
Hotel workers make our stay enjoyable. They change our sheets everyday and assure we are well taken care of, but what the housekeepers go through to give us clean sheets and towels is often hidden from guests. According to Hyatt Hurts, “some Hyatt housekeepers clean up to 30 rooms per eight-hour shift.” Injury rates for Hyatt housekeepers are high, and workers’ jobs are continuously threatened if they speak out.
What can I do to show my solidarity with Hyatt housekeepers as I make summer travel plans? There is more to take into consideration when choosing a hotel than what fits my budget. As a guest, it is important the hotel in where I stay treats workers fairly and recognizes the value of their labor. According to Hyatt Hurts, Hyatt housekeepers are getting hurt daily! The mistreatment of Hyatt’s housekeepers is putting them at constant risk.
Here are a few additional reasons to join the global boycott against Hyatt:
- The working conditions for Hyatt housekeepers are unsafe. Hyatt has been issued 18 health and safety citations at 11 hotels by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
- A Hyatt in Boston fired its entire housekeeping staff to replace them with temp workers for minimum wage.
- The federal government acknowledged there is a problem in the way Hyatt treats workers and issused a letter warning Hyatt of the hazards housekeepers are facing on the job
Stand in solidarity with Hyatt housekeepers. Join the global boycott & Vote Hyatt the Worst!
Mia is a part-time intern at IWJ's communication department as part of IWJ's Summer Internship program. Before begining her internship at IWJ, Mia worked in new media for Amnesty International's Midwest office.
By Nola Pastor
It recently occurred to me that my relationship with social justice work is deeply tied to a near, ever-present sense of dissatisfaction. While I often find myself backing up my activism and convictions with the belief that everyone has the right to live comfortably and well, it is that stubborn feeling of discomfort that drives most of my activism and work.
To me, the inability to feel settled with what is and how I am, and the constant feeling that there is more to do and to be, resonates with the hard and painful work of going against the grain — of working for social change. Recognizing what feels wrong or lacking in the world, and even within ourselves and our efforts to change things, can put us in the path of wonder and grace.
In coming up against things we do not know, like, nor can fully change, there is always that opportunity to learn, forgive, build relationships, and to discover our role and purpose in movements that push for the kinds of change we want to see. The margins of ourselves, our actions and principles and the imperfect way these overlap with other people and larger experiences is a place of both humility and strength.
So for all the moments when I don’t know how to reconcile paperwork with presence, self with other, loss with light and struggle with ease, I hope this very vertigo can be a reminder that at the very least, discontent staves off complacency. The staircase neither begins nor ends with me.
Together, we can build a stronger movement for worker justice.
by Anthony Zuba:
I get updates all the time from Interfaith Worker Justice. Well, IWJ called for prayer vigils this week at Walmart stores across the U.S. It's the 50th anniversary of Walmart, so in the spirit of the biblical jubilee, religious groups have been calling for a "Jubilee at Walmart," with living wages and better treatment of the company's 1.4 million workers.
The Capuchin postulants do most of their shopping at the Walmart in Hays, next door to us in Victoria. We really have no other option. Many of our groceries come from Walmart, too. As regular customers, we have a stake in Walmart, and we must accept responsibility for tacitly approving, with our dollars, the business practices of the company. (For a "people's perspective" on the impact of Walmart on workers, women, the environment, and small businesses, among other issues, click here.)
My conscience would not let me rest. So, I organized a prayer vigil for Jubilee at Walmart with my postulant brothers.
I was a little nervous about doing this. First of all, a prayer vigil for economic justice in a red state? Nuts, right? Most of the people here in Hays like -- no, love -- Walmart, which has been in business here for almost 30 years and employs about 700 people just at this one store. And although public prayer is a part of the Kansas culture, I don't think they've seen anything like this kind of a prayer before!
Second, most of the postulants never did anything like this before. I know the risks involved in prayer actions, and I know how stressful it can be confronting the almighty dollar with the almighty God for the first time. Nevertheless, seven Capuchin postulants formed our group. Bless them for their courage, doing something they never did before.
Check out Anthony Zuba's summary of the event.
You shall treat this fiftieth year as sacred. You shall proclaim liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to your own property, each of you to your own family. Leviticus 25:10
This piece was originally posted by Anthony Zuba on his personal blog, From a Brother. Zuba has worked as a community organizer, editor and teacher. He is now in the process of becoming a Capuchin Franciscan friar. He supported IWJ's week of action calling for Jubilee at Walmart for more information about how to join in the call for Jubilee, join our Walmart Action team.
By Tim Dyk
To join workers and friends from the Unite Here local 8 in Seattle, I headed down to the waterfront where the rest of the union members and organizers were picketing outside of a prominent local hotel that has been slow to honor the needs of their workers in terms of job security, health care and livable wages.
Picketers walked in a small loop on the well-trafficked sidewalk—pedestrians and tourists passing through intermittently. The demonstration incorporated union members from the hotel, as well as workers facing similar challenges at the Space Needle and the U.S. Postal Service. In the top corner of the hotel, we noticed management looking down from the open window of their room, absorbing the sights and sounds, or at least observing. After a while they shut their window and their blinds.
As I continued walking in the pace of the picket, I caught sight of the actions from the woman directly in front of me. The elderly Asian woman quickly bent down to pick up a single coin that had fallen from the pocket of the union organizer in front of her. She urgently returned the coin to the organizer, never missing a step from the pace of the march.
I was surprised at how the woman took such great care to return what was really a minimal amount of money. It was evidence not so much of generosity, but of moral decency and basic service. The picket was not some selfish attempt to wring the bosses dry; instead it posed a request for management to “do the right thing” in honoring the humanity of their workforce. Employees are expected to serve customers with excellence; yet when it comes time for management to “serve” employees with fair pay and basic benefits, management continues to drag their feet.
At this hotel, those in power continue to keep themselves insulated and elevated from the cries of their workers. But when I remember the example of this elderly woman returning the coin, I have a tangible example of equity and neighborly consideration—a manner of living that is actually sustainable for the bosses and the workers. This is the side I need to be on.
Interfaith Worker Justice supports workers' rights to stick together and bargain collectively for wages, benefits and better workplace conditions. Learn more about our work with unions.
Tim's reflection is part of our summer series "Reflections from the Field." Tim is interning with Unite Here in Seattle this summer as part of IWJ's Summer Internship program.
As we all prepare to celebrate Independence Day, Interfaith Worker Justice and our allies are encouraging you to be mindful of workers when you prepare for barbeques and holiday parties with your families and loved ones. Here are four tips to think about workers during the holiday:
- Check out AFL-CIO’s union friendly grocery list that highlights products, jobs and stories Made in America.
- Support union grocery stores. Don’t know where a union grocery store is near you? Download UFCW’s app for your smartphone.
- Pray for workers at Walmart, where it is common for management to intimidate workers, steal wages and provide unsafe working conditions. IWJ is working with the Making Change at Walmart campaign and hosting vigils all week across the country in support of Walmart workers.
- IWJ is proud to support Dahlia Green Cleaning Services worker cooperative in Austin, Texas—the first green worker co-op in the country. Support worker initiatives like Dahlia Green Cleaning Service in your communities