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September 2012 Archive:

Clergy Members Denied Access to Warehouse

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IWJ is working with organizations across the country calling for change at Walmart, and their contracted warehouses. Warehouse Workers United is working in California with warehouse workers advocating for better working conditions and more accountability by employers. On Sept. 19, a delegation attempted to visit a warehouse there. Check it out!

WWE delegationOn Sept. 19, Dr. Jerry Campbell, president of the Claremont School of Theology; Dr. Helene Slessarev Jamir, professor at the Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University; Father David Starr of St. John’s Church in San Bernardino; Stephen Padilla and Francisco Garcia, graduate students in religious studies and ethics preparing for ordained ministry; and Rev. Eugene Boutilier, retired minister of the United Church of Christ, attempted to visit the warehouse where workers are on strike in Mira Loma, California to independently check whether or not workers’ safety concerns have been addressed.

Here is the clergy members’ account:

We arrived at the NFI Industries’ distribution center in the Mira Loma area of Jurupa Valley the morning of Sept. 19. We were stopped at the gate where we explained that we had come to meet with Ed Jankay, the facility director.

 

We explained we wanted to meet with Mr. Jankay to make our assessment about the current status of working conditions at the warehouse. We are concerned about claims made by NFI, the warehouse operator, and by Walmart in the news media claiming that health and safety concerns have been addressed. Workers report that the problems have not been fixed. We wanted to make an independent assessment of the facility as we are very concerned about potential labor law violations.

 

We were denied access and refused an appointment with the facility director.

 

We asked to see Warestaff, the temporary staffing agency that employs the warehouse workers, administrator Alejandra Herrera and were told she was not at the site that day.

 

When we continued the conversation with security personnel, they made more phone calls while we waited. We were then told we would meet Tom Garner, regional security official for NFI. Our 15 or 20 minute conversation with him was polite, although at one point he stated that should we decline to leave he would call the Sheriff and have us removed. Garner said that Cal/OSHA had been to the warehouse and “had found nothing wrong.” (Note: Cal/OSHA is currently investigating claims at the NFI facility in Mira Loma. Comprehensive inspections such as the one at the NFI facility in Chino, California that led to more than $250,000 in citations in January often take up to six months. The ongoing inspection of the Mira Loma NFI facility opened in July 2012 and has not been closed.) We suggested that if there was “nothing wrong,” then NFI must have made some changes because we had heard direct testimony from dozens of workers about many health and safety hazards. He replied, “we haven’t done anything.”

 

Mr. Garner assured us we could return for an escorted visit, and only an escorted visit, if we had a prior appointment. We assured him we would seek an appointment.

UPDATE 1:

Clergy members called Sept. 20 and asked to speak with Ed Jankay. They were told he was “in a meeting.” Mr. Jankay has yet to follow up or to set an appointment.

UPDATE 2:

Clergy members called Sept. 21 and asked to speak with Ed Jankay. They were transferred to a voicemail, left a message for Mr. Jankay and have yet to hear back.


Learn more about IWJ's work with allies calling for Jubilee at Walmart and how you can get involved advocating for justice for Walmart workers. This story was originally published here by our friends at Warehouse Workers United. 

Ten Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class

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10 Ways reportMany people of faith know that the middle class is the great engine of the economy, and are concerned that today that engine is sputtering.

Too many workers are working jobs that don’t pay enough to support families, and too many can’t find work at all. Meanwhile, the jobs that will grow the most in the next decade are expected to be low-wage and stripped of benefits. We’re on an unsustainable course and it’s time for U-turn.

That's why Interfaith Worker Justice joined more than a dozen leading national organizations that research the economy, advocate for good jobs and represent workers and proposed 10 steps to build the middle-class. The guiding principles of the roadmap are values we all share: that work lies at the center of a robust and sustainable economy; that all work has dignity; and that through work, all of us should be able to support our families, educate our children and enjoy our retirements.

This new guide is something every lawmaker should take seriously as we continue to rebuild the economy. Here’s a quick overview of the 10 steps:

  • MAKE EVERY JOB A GOOD JOB.
  • FIX THE MINIMUM WAGE.
  • SAVE GOOD PUBLIC AND PRIVATE JOBS.
  • ENSURE HEALTH AND RETIREMENT SECURITY.
  • UPHOLD THE FREEDOM TO JOIN A UNION.
  • MAKE THE MODERN WORKPLACE PRO-FAMILY. 
  • STOP WAGE THEFT.
  • REQUIRE THAT YOUR BOSS BE YOUR EMPLOYER.
  • GIVE UNEMPLOYED JOB-SEEKERS A REAL, FRESH START.
  • TOUGHEN LAWS PROTECTING WORKER SAFETY AND HEALTH.

Rebuilding the great American middle class in the 21st century will once again require deliberate action by the American people, through our government and by businesses that understand that our mutual long-term prosperity depends on treating workers everywhere with dignity and giving them the means to a decent standard of living. It will mean taking a U-turn from the policies of the past 30 years, which have squeezed workers in the pursuit of short-term profits, slowly hollowing out the middle class on which our long-term prosperity is built.

Together, we can set a course that will honor work, help rebuild the middle class and drive us forward to a more powerful, sustainable economy.

Read the full Report, and learn how to advocate for good jobs for America now.

National solidarity with Chicago teachers

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IWJ and our affliates are doling out support for the Chicago Teacher Unions. IWJ's local affiliate in Chicago, ARISE Chicago, is working with other community groups supporting the strike. Yesterday, IWJ national staff visited teachers on the picket line and joined ARISE at a massive support rally downtown yesterday. 

ARISE published a recent blogpost today on "Why Chicago Teacher are Striking." Check it out:

CTU rallyThe Chicago Teachers Union has been attempting to negotiate a fair contract since last November.  Teachers have been working without a contract since June 30.  Should there be a strike, it is not simply about compensation, although the Board of Education has proposed combining wage and health care proposals, resulting in a net loss in salary.  Although legally the union can only strike over compensation issues, this strike is very much a fight to defend a quality public education for every Chicago student.  It is, as CTU President Karen Lewis has declared, a struggle “for the soul of public education.”

In ten months of negotiation, the Board has refused to negotiate over core union issues that would create, as the union’s hallmark study declared “The Schools that Chicago’s Students Deserve.”   The Board refuses to negotiate over classroom size; over having a nurse and social worker in every school; over having a library in every school; and over funding neighborhood schools instead of its drive to privatize public education through creating scores of non-union charter schools where teachers and parents have no voice. This is a strike that teachers and advocates of workers’ rights and supporters of public education across the nation are closely watching.

You can read the full post at ARISE Chicago's blog

IWJ organizer Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow received this email from a friend and CPS teacher earlier today, a response to an incident when a CTU teacher was picketing and a passerby yelled "Why don't you work 40 hours a week like the rest of us?!" 

Dear sir who yelled out "Why don't you work 40 hours a week like the rest of us?!" and then drove away before anyone could respond,

I would love to work 40 hours a week. That's a way better deal than working the 60-70 hours I work now. 

I would also like to use the washroom whenever I need to and to take a full lunch break without being called to the office or prepare things for the afternoon. When I need a day off, it would be so nice if I could just take a day off rather than put in the several hours it takes to write sub plans beforehand only to spend the day worrying about my students. 

I've already spent way more than $500 this school year (and it's September) and might get back $100. How much of your own money did you spend on work this year? I'd like to have a personal assistant who could take messages for me, answer emails, file, and make appointments with parents for me. Instead, I do all of that in addition to teaching my students. 

When I'm sick, I'd like to take a sick day instead of stumbling to school because my students are taking a standardized test that is supposed to reflect everything they've learned in 9 months when they've only been in school for 6. I'd appreciate not having to pack up my classroom every year only to unpack it 2.5 months later. Thirty-one is a prime number that should not be equal to the number of students in my first grade class.

Despite all of the above, the thing I want most right now is to be back in my classroom with my students. I do what I do (and put up with everything else) because my students come first. So please, the next time you think that the media is the most reliable source of information, you might want to talk to a teacher near you. There are more than 20,000 of us in Chicago, and we'd be happy to have a civilized and informed conversation with you.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not on strike because my job is hard. I knew that from the beginning. I am fighting for a fair contract because—like I’ve seen on so many picketing signs—better teaching conditions translate to better learning conditions. Let’s really put children first and give them an education that serves them right.

Sincerely,

Ms. Pak

Interfaith Worker Justice of East Tennessee is set to host a solidarity dinner for Thursday, the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin plans to join the solidarity rally on the steps of Wisconsin's statehouse, and nearly 100 people of faith offered prayer online.

You can offer your prayer to the striking CTU teachers too.

Labor in the Pulpit at my church

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I never get up too early on a Sunday. But I asked my pastor for the opportunity to speak in front of the congregation on Labor Day weekend as part of IWJ's Labor in the Pulpits program, and that meant attending the early service on Sunday.

So, with my coffee in hand and my sermon carefully numbered and printed in hard copy, I walked to church.

Aina in the PulpitI was nervous about giving the message I had prepared. My family was new to the parish - we had been there almost a year, which is not much in church time, and I don’t think most folks knew about my job. I’m guessing they saw me as a mother chasing around after my three small children; or the person that occasionally brings mini donuts for the coffee hour. This was a different kind of introduction to my life—my work, my personal story of being from a working class family, my faith, and how all of those things connect to worker justice.

Click here to read my Labor in the Pulpit sermon.

I wasn’t sure how some folks would take it. I’ve done Labor in the Pulpits several times, and someone argues with me every year about the relevance of and value of unions. I knew that our church had business owners and managers in the pews, and the local school district superintendent, who had just negotiated a difficult contract with our teachers was also a member. I wasn’t sure if my message would ruffle feathers.

But after each service, I found myself surrounded by well wishers and union members from AFSCME, AFGE, the writers union and others. I even heard a few “Amens” called out during my message, not common practice for the reserved and often stoic worship of Episcopalians.  

My goal was to put the “Labor” back in Labor Day at my Church. But there were other benefits too.  I built a relationship with my pastor (who is a smart, hard working, lovely woman) and made personal and strong connections with several new people in the church. Sharing my story and work helped deepen my faith, affirm my passion for justice, and strengthen my community. It felt great.

Which is good, because I think I’m already booked for next Labor Day weekend!

It's not too late to honor a worker for Labor Day. Join people of faith all month and honor a worker with a gift to IWJ. 

Pray for and honor airline workers

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By The Rev. Felipe N. Martinez

God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

When injustice is evident in our community, the Church is called to stand with those who are wronged, to support them, and to advocate for justice.  Last week, the Church stood in solidarity with the mechanics of Republic Airways, who face hostile labor conditions created by management's decisions that trivialize and undermine its employees.

Representing a Monitoring Committee formed by IWJ, the Rev. Darren Cushman-Wood and I, marched together with dozens of Republic Airways pilots, flight attendants and mechanics to the corporate headquarters in Indianapolis. Our goal was to speak in person with Republic Airways CEO Mr. Bryan Bedford and express the committee’s desire to seek a mutually beneficial settlement to the mechanic’s plight.

Fairness in Flight reportThe Monitoring Committee attempted several times to schedule a meeting with Mr. Bedford. The committee also wrote to Mr. Bedford, appealing to his professed faith, asking for a meeting with the committee to present the improvements mechanics were seeking. Regrettably, Mr. Bedford has declined to meet with the Monitoring Committee. On August 30, 2012, the Republic Airways reception staff told the Rev. Cushman-Wood and me that Mr. Bedford was not present in the office. We left the report written by the Monitoring Committee detailing our findings and our suggestions on how to find mutually beneficial solutions to the problems identified by the Republic Airways mechanics.

The Monitoring Committee and area churches in Indianapolis will continue to pray that all the Republic Airways employees, especially its mechanics, will be able to bring an end to the unjust treatment they endure. The committee continues to pray that the mechanics’ efforts to organize will continue, even in the face of the illegal scare tactics and calloused manipulation by management. The committee will continue to meet and advocate for a mutually beneficial resolution between Republic Airways management and mechanics, which we pray will yield a fair contract which honors the mechanics hard work, skills and professionalism.

Join people of faith from Indianapolis, Indiana and the Midwest and pray for workers at Republic Airways. IWJ cannot advocate for workers without supporters like you! In a special way this month, honor the Republic Airways workers, and consider a gift to IWJ.


The Rev. Felipe N. Martinez is a member of Whitewater Valley Presbytery is Indianapolis where he serves as an Associate Executive Presbyter. Felipe is a member of the IWJ Monitoring Committee that advocates on behalf of mechanics at Republic Airways.

Honor workers this Labor Day

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FWThis Labor Day, many of us across the country will enjoy a day off. We might even pause and celebrate work and labor with our families and neighbors. Unfortunately, some low-wage workers will still be working, and it is those workers we should be celebrating and whose concerns we should be lifting up.

Employers are constantly finding new ways to cut costs, often at the expense of the very workers who help sustain their business. Workers suffer from low-wages that don’t provide adequate income and force families to go without necessities. They struggle with no health benefits, no paid sick days, and stolen wages. Since the economic crisis of 2008, many Interfaith Worker Justice-affiliated worker centers have reported a sharp increase in cases where employers were stealing wages from their workers.

Read the rest of the article at Busted Halo, an online magazine for people of faith and seekers.

On Labor Day, honor a worker with a gift to IWJ. Throughout the month of September, IWJ will feature honorees on our website.