In five states and nine cities — including California, New York, Oregon and Washington, D.C. — voters and lawmakers will consider proposals in 2016 to gradually raise minimum wages to $15 an hour.
The ballot initiatives and pending legislation will build on momentum from this year, in which 14 states and localities used laws, executive orders and other procedures to lift wages for all or part of their work forces to $15 an hour.
In New York City, for instance, the minimum wage for workers in fast food and state government will rise to $10.50 on New Year’s Eve, and to $15 by the end of 2018. In the rest of New York, the minimum for those workers will reach $15 an hour in mid-2021. In Los Angeles County, including the city of Los Angeles, the minimum wage for most workers will rise to $10.50 by mid-2016 and to $15 by mid-2020. Seattle and San Francisco are also phasing in citywide minimums of $15 an hour, while five other cities — Buffalo and Rochester in New York; Greensboro, N.C.; Missoula, Mont.; and Pittsburgh — are gradually raising their minimums to $15 for city workers.
Minimum-wage raises are examples of states and cities leading in the absence of leadership by Congress, which has kept the federal minimum at $7.25 an hour since 2009. State and local increases are also potent shapers of public perception. It was only three years ago that a walkout by 200 or so fast-food workers in New York City began the Fight for $15, now a nationwide effort to raise pay and support unions. Two years ago SeaTac, Wash., home to an international airport, voted in the nation’s first $15-an-hour minimum for some 6,500 workers in the city, on and off airport property. Since then, $15 an hour has gone from a slogan to a benchmark.
Whether you still have holiday shopping left or you're looking for some good reads for the new year, here are some books about worker justice and faith that you might enjoy:
by Joe McCartin
Collision Course, written by Joseph McCartin (Oxford University Press, 2011), tells the story of a labor union that tangles with the President of the United States. The air traffic controllers who confronted President Reagan seeded not only their own demise, but put in jeopardy the whole labor movement. Brilliantly told, this story is pivotal to understanding the current situation of working people, the shrinking middle class, and union organizing in America’s 21 Century.
There Shall Be No Needy
by Rabbi Jill Jacobs
There Shall Be No Needy makes a powerful argument for participation in the American public square from a deeply Jewish perspective, while deepening our understanding of the relationship between Judaism and such current social issues. Confront the most pressing issues of twenty-first-century America in this fascinating book, which brings together classical Jewish sources, contemporary policy debate and real-life stories.
No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam
by Reza Aslan
Though it is the fastest growing religion in the world, Islam remains shrouded by ignorance and fear. What is the essence of this ancient faith? Is it a religion of peace or war? How does Allah differ from the God of Jews and Christians? Can an Islamic state be founded on democratic values such as pluralism and human rights? A writer and scholar of comparative religions, Reza Aslan has earned international acclaim for the passion and clarity he has brought to these questions. In No god but God, challenging the “clash of civilizations” mentality that has distorted our view of Islam, Aslan explains this critical faith in all its complexity, beauty, and compassion.
Blue Collar Jesus
by Darren Cushman Wood
Blue Collar Jesus: How Christianity Supports Workers Rights offers the most thorough analysis to date of workers rights from a religious perspective. The book reveals biblical and ethical principles for justice in the work place, and explores the vast and diverse tradition of labor activism among the major Christian factions. From the Roman Catholic Church to the Southern Baptists Convention, Cushman analyzes the history and beliefs that support labor unions. With rich historical and theological insights, Cushman argues persuasively that labor unions are legitimate instruments of God’s will for creating a just society. Never before published interviews and archival information makes Blue Collar Jesus a fascinating study of the relationship between labor and religion.
The Francis Effect
by John Gehring
The Francis Effect explores how a church once known as a towering force for social justice became known for a narrow agenda most closely aligned with one political party, and then looks at the opportunities for change in the “age of Francis.” Pope Francis has become an unlikely global star whose image has graced the covers of Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Time, and even the nation’s oldest magazine for gays and lesbians. The first Latin American pope, the first Jesuit, and the first to take the name of a beloved saint of the poor, Francis is shaking up a church that has been mired in scandal and demoralized by devastating headlines.
Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid And What We Can Do About It
by Kim Bobo
In what has been described as “the crime wave no one talks about,” billions of dollars worth of wages are stolen from millions of workers in the United States every year—a grand theft that exceeds every other larceny category. Even the Economic Policy Foundation, a business-funded think tank, has estimated that companies annually steal an incredible $19 billion in unpaid overtime. The scope of these abuses is staggering, but activists, unions, and policymakers—along with everyday Americans in congregations and towns across the country—have begun to take notice.
NORTH PARK — The United States is one of only three countries in the world — and the only industrialized nation — that doesn't offer paid maternity leave to its citizens.
It's a policy, or lack thereof, that filmmaker Ky Dickens didn't need to research before tackling the subject in her latest documentary, "Zero Weeks," because she lived it.
Pregnant with her first child in 2013, Dickens, who lives in North Park, approached her employer about taking time off after her daughter's birth.
She was told she could have two weeks, a far cry from the 12 she was hoping for, given that she'd spent 11 years at the company.
"I couldn't believe it," Dickens said. "I got angry."
For most people, that's where the story would end. But Dickens has a habit of using her personal life as inspiration for her documentaries.
Her 2009 film "Fish Out of Water," which examines the relationship between homosexuality and the Bible, was sparked by her experience of coming out during her senior year of college at Vanderbilt.
"Sole Survivor," which aired in 2013 on CNN, has as its roots the death of a friend, who was killed in an auto accident after Dickens gave up her place in the car.
With "Zero Weeks," Dickens, 37, quickly realized her own story was just the tip of the iceberg.
"I met a woman who had to go back to work right after a C-section. I met a bus driver who had to bring her newborn on the bus with her," Dickens said.
"Every other country recognizes you're a worker, but you're also a human and a family member," she said. "Here we have this mentality, 'You just deal.'"
The deeper she investigated the subject, the more disturbed she became.
Though the Family and Medical Leave Act allows for 12 weeks of unpaid leave, the law only applies to full-time workers who've been employed for at least 12 months, at a company with 50 or more employees.
"Only two in 10 Americans even have unpaid options," Dickens said. "It's all based on the luck of where you work — there's no rhyme or reason to it."
I have always struggled with the label evangelical. Since I set foot in this country and attended an Evangelical Christian college, I have always gone back and forth about this identity. Many have labeled me an evangelical Christians, and many more a liberal progressive mainliner.
Don’t you love labels?
Once again, I’ve been pushed to think about my faith identity in recent days because of the suspension of Dr. Larycia Hawkins by my alma mater, Wheaton College.
Dr. Hawkins offense? A statement she made on Facebook.
What’s ironic to me is the Dr. Hawkins’ statement seemed more like a political statement than a theological one. Nevertheless, Wheaton College is punishing her for conveying a false representation of Wheaton College’s theological identity.
However, I am not at all surprised by actions taken by Wheaton College Administration.
After all, this is an administration that fired a professor when he converted to Catholicism. So we should be alarmed by Wheaton’s actions, but we should not be surprised.
Every time Wheaton is in the news for some discriminating act, whether it’s against Catholics, LGBTQ persons or a person who may seem like a universalist, it reminds me that Wheaton is more interested in defending its faith identity rather than living it out.
And of course, this is very consistent with my experience while I was at Wheaton. The college’s discriminant and judgmental attitudes towards anyone who thinks, acts, or even looks differently made me question if I was really an evangelical Christian. The Christ I grew up to know is not one who discriminates and judges, but who loves you regardless of who you are. This discord led me to a lot of soul searching during my time at Wheaton.
I believe that the transformative power of Jesus Christ calls me to love people, to do justice and show mercy as a way of living out my transformation and honoring my faith. That faith in action is core to being an evangelical.
An ideal evangelical higher educational institution would welcome people of different backgrounds and create a safe haven for intellectual dialogue and growth. An evangelical institution secure in its faith and identity in Jesus Christ would not live out of fear that someone is ruining their reputation on social media. They would embrace difference. I’m not saying they have to agree with Dr. Hawkins or even endorse what she said, but they should embrace it.
That’s why Dr. Hawkins’ reinstatement of her position at Wheaton is the evangelical thing to do. I believe that my alma mater can do better. We, the evangelical community in America have to be better.
Further, I believe that Dr. Hawkins embodies Wheaton College’s statement of faith by standing in solidarity with Muslims in America. Wheaton’s faith statement implores us to act so that we are “seeking the good for EVERYONE, especially the needy.” Muslims needed Dr. Hawkins’ solidarity and she boldly answered the call.
I’ll end with this story about Australian outback ranchers:
A visitor to an Australian outback cattle ranch was intrigued by the seemingly endless miles of farming country with no sign of any fences. So he asked the rancher how he keeps track of his cattle. The rancher replied, “Oh that’s no problem. Out here we dig wells to bring the cattle back instead of building fences to keep them in.”
I believe that Jesus is calling for us to dig wells instead of build fences.
We are called to make disciples in all the nations. If we want to attract people the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have to be more like Dr. Hawkins and less like the Wheaton College administration.
Dr. Hawkins is digging a well while Wheaton College is building a fence.
During this season of Advent, a time where Christians all around the globe gather together to celebrate, remember and share with the world, hope, love, joy and peace, it is my prayer that Wheaton College will return to being a beacon of evangelical faith through love and embrace. Not through hate and discrimination.
Rev. Sung Yeon Choimorrow is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Interfaith Worker Justice where she lives out her calling by seeking justice for workers in America. Sung Yeon is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Expanding and deregulating the H-2B visa program (a temporary foreign worker program that allows U.S. employers to hire low-wage guestworkers from abroad temporarily for seasonal, non-agricultural jobs, mostly in landscaping, forestry, seafood processing, and hospitality) has been a top goal for business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ImmigrationWorks USA, landscaping and seafood employers, and the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (EWIC)—lobbyists representing employers claiming they can’t find U.S. workers willing to mow lawns, plant trees, or pick crabmeat.
These lobbyists have never presented a credible case regarding labor shortages in H-2B jobs. But H-2B employers have spent millions of dollars on litigation, lobbying, and campaign contributions; anything it takes to keep wages from rising and to prevent their access to low-paid indentured foreign workers with few rights from ever being restricted.
And it’s happening again. To avoid a government shutdown, Congress has to pass appropriations legislation soon to fund the entire federal government. Whenever that happens, members of Congress attempt to insert “riders,” legislative provisions tucked into appropriations bills that amend the law in substantive ways that have nothing to do with appropriations. Thanks to the aforementioned corporate lobbyists, the current 2016 fiscal year appropriations negotiations have included discussions about riders to remake the H-2B program. The omnibus bill introduced in the House on the evening of December 15 included riders that would: 1) vastly increase the size of the H-2B program, 2) eliminate protections that keep workers from being idled without work or pay for long periods of time, and 3) prevent U.S. workers from having a fair shot at getting hired for job openings by preventing enforcement of the rules that require employers to recruit workers already present in the United States before they can hire an H-2B worker. Finally—and worst of all—if the House appropriations bill becomes law it will also dramatically lower the wage rates employers are required to pay, which would permit employers to pay their H-2B workers much less than American workers employed in the same jobs and local area. Needless to say, the lower wages H-2B workers will be paid create a huge incentive to hire temporary foreign workers instead of the local U.S. workers who reside in communities where the jobs are located.
In addition, legislation in the House and Senate has been introduced that would permanently implement these changes, including reducing H-2B wage rates, expanding the size of the H-2B program to about 200,000, and repealing all of the protections for foreign and American workers that the Obama administration just implemented in April 2015, after fighting opposition to them from corporate lobbyists and Congress for the past five years.
Most employment sectors in and around Durango do not provide enough income to meet the basic needs of a family of four, forcing renewed discussions about livable wages.
Not surprisingly, Durango remains the most expensive community in the region, according to the 2015 Southwest Colorado Index. The recent report was compiled by examining housing and child care costs specific to each community in the region.
A family of four in Durango would need to earn $28.45 per hour to make a so-called “livable wage.” The high cost of housing is the largest contributor.
“People end up moving out (of Durango) because they can’t make it,” said Maureen Maliszewski, director of La Plata County Thrive! Living Wage Coalition, a group that fights for “fair and just wages.”
With the 2015 Colorado minimum wage standing at $8.23 per hour – $17,382 per year – a family of four in Durango would have to hold more than three minimum-wage jobs to be economically self-sufficient, according to the report, which used estimates from the “Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado 2015.”
The Southwest index measures the economic, social and environmental health for Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties.
Democrats in the last legislative session fired the first shot in an attempt to raise the minimum wage, or at the very least, empower local governments to do so.
The legislation would have repealed a 1999 law that gave the state control over minimum-wage issues. With passage of the bill, local governments would have been allowed to establish minimum wages commensurate with the local cost of living.
A separate resolution would have sent a ballot question to voters asking them to gradually raise the minimum wage from $8.23 to $12.50 per hour by 2020.
Both efforts failed in the Legislature, with much of the opposition coming from Republicans and business interests.
Recent reports have documented the growing rates of impoverishment in the U.S., and new information surfacing in the past 12 months shows that the trend is continuing, and probably worsening.
Congress should be filled with guilt -- and shame -- for failing to deal with the enormous wealth disparities that are turning our country into the equivalent of a 3rd-world nation.
Half of Americans Make Less than a Living Wage
According to the Social Security Administration, over half of Americans make less than $30,000 per year.
That's less than an appropriate average living wage of $16.87 per hour, as calculated by Alliance for a Just Society (AJS), and it's not enough -- even with two full-time workers -- to attain an "adequate but modest living standard" for a family of four, which at the median is over $60,000, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
AJS also found that there are 7 job seekers for every job opening that pays enough ($15/hr) for a single adult to make ends meet.
Half of Americans Have No Savings
A study by Go Banking Rates reveals that nearly 50 percent of Americans have no savings. Over 70 percent of us have less than $1,000. Pew Research supports this finding with survey results that show nearly half of American households spending more than they earn. The lack of savings is particularly evident with young adults, who went from a five-percent savings rate before the recession to a negative savings rate today.
Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman summarize: "Since the bottom half of the distribution always owns close to zero wealth on net, the bottom 90% wealth share is the same as the share of wealth owned by top 50-90% families."
About five years ago, one of the nation’s largest corporations, Tyson Foods, drew a bullseye on the official who oversaw Iowa’s system for compensating injured workers.
As workers’ compensation commissioner, Chris Godfrey acted as chief judge of the courts that decided workplace injury disputes. He had annoyed Tyson with a string of rulings that, in the company’s view, expanded what employers had to cover, putting a dent in its bottom line.
So when Republican Terry Branstad ran for governor in 2010, vowing to make Iowa more business-friendly, Tyson hosted an event for him at its headquarters and arranged another meeting for him to hear from large companies who were frustrated with the workers’ comp commission.
Within weeks of his victory, Branstad demanded Godfrey’s resignation. When Godfrey refused, the new governor did the harshest thing in his power: He cut Godfrey’s salary by more than 30 percent.
Amid the fallout, Tyson drafted and hand-delivered 14 pages of talking points criticizing Godfrey to help Branstad defend his decision.
Godfrey quickly grasped just how much sway Tyson and other big companies can have over workers’ comp. “It’s just chilling that someone would go to that level to try to influence the system,” said Godfrey, who is now the chief judge of the federal employees’ workers’ comp appeals board.
Tyson’s tactics, pieced together from depositions and documents in a lawsuit Godfrey filed — many of which have never been released — are far from unique to the Hawkeye State. Over the past 25 years, as the Arkansas company grew to be one of the world’s largest meatpackers, Tyson has taken a lead in reshaping workers’ comp, often to the detriment of workers, a ProPublica investigation has found.
Tyson’s story also tells a broader one about American politics: How time after time, one determined company, facing a challenge to its profits, can bend government and the law to its will.
Using its economic leverage — combined with time-honored wining-and-dining and behind-the-scenes arm-twisting — Tyson has helped steer legislative changes through several states in the South and Midwest. It has urged officials, often successfully, to remove or appoint workers’ comp judges. And the company’s lawyers have crafted novel legal arguments for limiting the rights and benefits of injured workers.
Rather than advocating for benefit cuts outright, Tyson has often pushed for subtle changes, such as giving employers more say over medical care, raising workers’ burden of proof or limiting the scope of activities judges have deemed work-related.
These changes have had a comparable effect to cutting benefits, excluding people whose doctors say have legitimate work injuries — especially the costly musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome that poultry workers are prone to.
Tyson declined to make company officials available for interviews. In response to written questions, the company denied its involvement in workers’ comp was out of the ordinary.
“Like other major companies,” Tyson wrote in an email, “it’s important for us to monitor state regulations that affect how we make sure workers hurt on the job get the care and benefits they deserve.”
Tyson, which supplies chicken, beef and pork to supermarkets and fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s around the world, employs about 113,000 workers at more than 400 facilities and offices.
With job titles that describe a worker’s place in the processing chain, like “live hang” and “throwing jowls,” meat plants like Tyson’s pose an array of risks. Workers face everything from crippling hand injuries from repetitive cutting motions to catastrophic amputations in grotesquely named machines like fat suckers and neck breakers.
Curbing the expense of such injuries is important to Tyson, whose former chairman Don Tyson developed a storied cost-cutting reputation as he built his father’s company into an empire. The company spends about $105 million on workers’ comp every year, according to court documents, making it among the top corporate payers. It’s an amount equal to more than 10 percent, and sometimes nearly 20 percent, of the company’s annual profits.
Over the past year, ProPublica and NPR have examined how many states have been quietly dismantling their workers’ comp systems, leading to cataclysmic consequencesfor injured workers. The cutbacks, often driven by business, have landed workers on public assistance and forced them to fight insurers for medical care their doctors recommended.
Every state has its own history and politics. Businesses large and small complain about the cost of workers’ comp. Unions lobby to increase benefits and doctors fight cuts in medical fees. Bo Pilgrim, the founder of rival chicken giant Pilgrim’s Pride, once handed out $10,000 checks on the floor of the Texas Senate during a debate over a workers’ comp bill. Even in Iowa, Tyson was far from the only business bending the governor’s ear.
But unlike most companies, Tyson has asserted an unusually high level of control over its workplace-injury program, giving it a nitty-gritty perspective on issues other employers leave to insurance companies.
Tyson self-insures, meaning it pays nearly all of its claims from its own pocket. When workers are injured, they’re usually sent to a Tyson nurse at the plant. Their claims are processed by Tyson adjusters. And in many states, the company even has its own managed-care unit, handpicking the doctors that workers can see and advising those doctors on light-duty jobs injured employees might be able do.
Tyson said the system allows it to provide better medical care for its workers and help them get back on the job.
Worker advocates say Tyson’s approach allows it to deny workers necessary medical care and force them back to dangerous jobs before they’re ready.
A look back on the past quarter-century reveals that Tyson has influenced workers’ comp much in the same way it reshaped the poultry industry, famously steering every step of production from the breeding of the birds to the Chicken McNugget.
The Seattle City Council voted unanimously to approve a bill allowing drivers for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing apps to form unions.
Council members voted 9-0 in favor of the ordinance, the first legislation of its kind in the country. The decision was greeted with cheers in a City Council chamber packed with supporters holding placards that read “Driver Unity.” The measure is likely to be challenged in court.
The vote is a victory for the App-Based Drivers Association, or ABDA, of Seattle, an organization of on-demand contract workers that lobbied with the local Teamsters union for the legislation. It is a fight that other drivers around the country have watched closely; union organizers in California have said that the outcome of the Seattle vote could influence actions taken in their own cities.
One member of the City Council, Nick Licata, called the vote “history-setting in what we’re attempting to do here in terms of advancing the rights of drivers.”
The ordinance is also the latest headache for Uber, which is in battles about employment issues across the country. The company faces a class-action lawsuit in California on behalf of some drivers who wish to be considered full-time employees, not contractors. Uber has consistently resisted that effort, underscoring the flexibility its service affords those who drive for the company.
El grupo conocido como 100 Mujeres 100 Millas que se formó con la visita del papa Francisco a Estados Unidos, sigue su peregrinaje en diferentes partes del país en busca de igualdad para la comunidad inmigrante.
María Lira una de las integrantes y quien participó en la caminata de 100 millas para encontrarse con el papa Francisco en Washington en septiembre pasado, dijo que las actividades han continuado el día 11 de cada mes, en diferentes ciudades del país.
"El 11 es simbólico porque recuerda a los 11 millones de inmigrantes indocumentados", expresó.
En este mes de diciembre las acciones fueron encaminadas a pedir igualdad para la comunidad de refugiados Sirios, especialmente luego de que varios estados como Texas buscan bloquearles ingreso.
Por eso caminaron desde la co catedral en el centro de Houston a las oficinas del senador Ted Cruz ubicadas en un área cercana a esta zona.
"Vamos de manera pacífica, no se trata de protestas, no vamos a gritar por nuestros derechos, simplemente tratamos de mover conciencias, de hacer presencia física y que vean que estamos allí pidiendo por todas estas familias, dijo a su vez Mitzy Ordoñez, de la organización Fe y Justicia.
Esta misma actividad se llevó a cabo en otras ciudades del país donde los congresistas y senadores están impulsando el rechazo a los refugiados, expresó Ordoñez.
El grupo busca cambios en las leyes migratorias e igualdad para toda la comunidad.
by Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza, and Esther Htusan
SAMUT SAKHON, Thailand (AP) — Every morning at 2 a.m., they heard a kick on the door and a threat: Get up or get beaten. For the next 16 hours, No. 31 and his wife stood in the factory that owned them with their aching hands in ice water. They ripped the guts, heads, tails and shells off shrimp bound for overseas markets, including grocery stores and all-you-can-eat buffets across the United States.
After being sold to the Gig Peeling Factory, they were at the mercy of their Thai bosses, trapped with nearly 100 other Burmese migrants. Children worked alongside them, including a girl so tiny she had to stand on a stool to reach the peeling table. Some had been there for months, even years, getting little or no pay. Always, someone was watching.
No names were ever used, only numbers given by their boss — Tin Nyo Win was No. 31.
Pervasive human trafficking has helped turn Thailand into one of the world's biggest shrimp providers. Despite repeated promises by businesses and government to clean up the country's $7 billion seafood export industry, an Associated Press investigation has found shrimp peeled by modern-day slaves is reaching the U.S., Europe and Asia.
The problem is fueled by corruption and complicity among police and authorities. Arrests and prosecutions are rare. Raids can end up sending migrants without proper paperwork to jail, while owners go unpunished.
More than 2,000 trapped fishermen have been freed this year as a result of an ongoing Associated Press investigative series into slavery in the Thai seafood industry. The reports also have led to a dozen arrests, millions of dollars' worth of seizures and proposals for new federal laws.
Hundreds of shrimp peeling sheds are hidden in plain sight on residential streets or behind walls with no signs in Samut Sakhon, a port town an hour outside Bangkok. The AP found one factory that was enslaving dozens of workers, and runaway migrants led rights groups to the Gig shed and a third facility. All three sheds held 50 to 100 people each, many locked inside.
As Tin Nyo Win soon found out for himself, there's no easy escape. One woman had been working at Gig for eight years. Another man ended up peeling shrimp there after breaking free from an equally brutal factory.
"I was shocked after working there a while, and I realized there was no way out," said Tin Nyo Win, 22, who has a baby face and teeth stained red from chewing betel nut.
"I told my wife, 'We're in real trouble. If something ends up going wrong, we're going to die.'"
Last month, AP journalists followed and filmed trucks loaded with freshly peeled shrimp from the Gig shed to major Thai exporting companies and then, using U.S. customs records and Thai industry reports, tracked it globally. They also traced similar connections from another factory raided six months earlier, and interviewed more than two dozen workers from both sites.
U.S. customs records show the shrimp made its way into the supply chains of major U.S. food stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden.
It also entered the supply chains of some of America's best-known seafood brands and pet foods, including Chicken of the Sea and Fancy Feast, which are sold in grocery stores from Safeway and Schnucks to Piggly Wiggly and Albertsons. AP reporters went to supermarkets in all 50 states and found shrimp products from supply chains tainted with forced labor.
European and Asian import and export records are confidential, but the Thai companies receiving shrimp tracked by the AP all say they ship to Europe and Asia as well.
The businesses that responded condemned the practices that lead to these conditions. Many said they were launching investigations when told their supply chains were linked to people held against their will in sheds like the Gig factory, which sat behind a gate off a busy street, between railroad tracks and a river.
Inside the large warehouse, toilets overflowed with feces, and the putrid smell of raw sewage wafted from an open gutter just outside the work area. Young children ran barefoot through suffocating dorm rooms. Entire families labored side-by-side at rows of stainless steel counters piled high with tubs of shrimp.
Tin Nyo Win and his wife, Mi San, were cursed for not peeling fast enough and called "cows" and "buffalos." They were allowed to go outside for food only if one of them stayed behind as insurance against running away.
But escaping was all they could think about.
Shrimp is the most-loved seafood in the U.S., with Americans downing 1.3 billion pounds every year, or about 4 pounds per person. Once a luxury reserved for special occasions, it became cheap enough for stir-fries and scampis when Asian farmers started growing it in ponds three decades ago. Thailand quickly dominated the market and now sends nearly half of its supply to the U.S.
The Southeast Asian country is one of the worst human trafficking hubs on earth. It has been blacklisted for the past two years by the U.S. State Department, which cited complicity by Thai officials. The European Union issued a warning earlier this year that tripled seafood import tariffs, and is expected to decide next month whether to impose an outright ban.
Consumers enjoy the convenience of dumping shrimp straight from freezer to skillet, the result of labor-intensive peeling and cleaning. Unable to keep up with demand, exporters get their supply from peeling sheds that are sometimes nothing more than crude garages adjacent to the boss's house. Supply chains are so complicated that, on any given day, buyers may not know exactly where the shrimp comes from.
The Thai Frozen Foods Association lists about 50 registered shrimp sheds in the country. However, hundreds more operate in Samut Sakhon, the country's main shrimp processing region. Here the humid air hangs thick with the smell of dead fish. Refrigerated trucks with seafood logos barrel down streets straddled by huge processing plants. Just as ubiquitous are the small pickups loaded with migrant workers from neighboring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar being taken to gut, fillet, de-vein and peel the seafood that fuels this town's economy.
Abuse is common in Samut Sakhon. An International Labor Organization report estimated 10,000 migrant children aged 13 to 15 work in the city. Another U.N. agency study found nearly 60 percent of Burmese laborers toiling in its seafood processing industry were victims of forced labor.
Tin Nyo Win and his wife were taken to the Gig Peeling Factory in July when they made the long drive from Myanmar across the border, crammed so tightly into a truck with other workers that they could barely breathe. Like many migrants, they were lured from home by a broker with promises of good-paying jobs, and came without visas or work permits.
After being sold to the Gig shed, the couple learned they would have to work off what was considered their combined worth — $830. It was an insurmountable debt.
Because they were illegal workers, the owners constantly threatened to call police to keep them in line. Even documented migrants were vulnerable because the boss held onto identification papers so they could not leave.
Under the U.S. government's definition, forced labor and debt bondage are considered slavery.
In the Gig shed, employees' salaries were pegged to how fast their fingers could move. Tin Nyo Win and his wife peeled about 175 pounds of shrimp for just $4 a day, less than half of what they were promised. A female Thai manager, who slapped and cursed workers, often cut their wages without explanation. After they bought gloves and rubber boots, and paid monthly "cleaning fees" inside the trash-strewn shed, almost nothing was left.
Employees said they had to work even when they were ill. Seventeen children peeled alongside adults, sometimes crying, at stations where paint chipped off the walls and slick floors were eaten away by briny water.
Lunch breaks were only 15 minutes, and migrants were yelled at for talking too much. Several workers said a woman died recently because she didn't get proper medical care for her asthma. Children never went to school and began peeling shrimp just an hour later than adults.
"We had to get up at 3 in the morning and then start working continuously," said Eae Hpaw, 16, whose arms were a patchwork of scars from infections and allergies caused by the shrimp. "We stopped working around 7 in the evening. We would take a shower and sleep. Then we would start again."
After being roughed up one night by a supervisor, five months into their captivity, Tin Nyo Win and his wife decided they couldn't take the threats anymore.
"They would say, 'There's a gun in the boss's car and we're going to come and shoot you, and no one will know,'" he said.
The next morning, the couple saw an opportunity when the door wasn't being watched.
Less than 24 hours later, Tin Nyo Win's wife was captured at a market by the shed manager. He watched helplessly as she was dragged away by her hair, terrified for her — and the baby they recently learned she was carrying.
The Chicago Teachers Union has overwhelmingly voted to authorize a teachers' strike if the city doesn't meet its contract negotiation demands.
Over 96 percent of the union's 27,000-some members voted in favor of a strike, with a 92 percent voter turnout, CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey announced in a Monday morning press conference. Thousands of public school teachers voted last week to determine whether the union would be able to hold another strike, and the union needed at least 75 percent of its members to vote yes on a strike.
The union held a massive, historic strike in the fall of 2012 when contract negotiations with the city broke down. With its contract expiring again, union leaders say they will threaten a strike if the school board doesn't acquiesce to their demands, which include preventing layoffs.
The union has been negotiating a new contract with the city and trying to stave off thousands of potential job cuts, looming in part because of the state's seemingly unending budget impasse. Just because a strike has been authorized doesn't mean teachers will be flooding the streets in red shirts at any moment. The Teachers Union House of Delegates must now set a strike date for sometime in the future.
"Members of the Chicago Teachers Union do not want to strike, but we will if you do not listen to us," Sharkey said, echoing the vote's message to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and public schools chief Forrest Claypool. "Do not cut our schools, do not layoff our staff to solve the budget problem on the backs of educators."
by Rudy López, Interfaith Worker Justice, Executive Director
Recent weeks have seen an escalation of both physical and verbal violence against Muslim-Americans and Muslim immigrants, particularly refugees fleeing the war in Syria. Preying on people's misguided fears for their own political gain, some politicians have clothed themselves in the language of morality and patriotism while flagrantly disregarding the meaning of both. This week, Donald Trump took the attack on human dignity to another despicable level by calling for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. This bigotry, hatred and lack of common decency defies some of the most basic tenets of all faith traditions and of American democracy. It must stop.
To be clear: these outlandish policy prescriptions are racist and ignorant and have no place in our political discourse. To even entertain these ideas is poisonous to the Constitution of the United States and ruinous to the tradition of religious freedom as old as our nation itself.
The United States is one of the most vibrant and diverse nations on the planet. The countless identities and experiences that comprise the people we call neighbors, friends and coworkers are our greatest strength. Our nation’s founding documents codify our welcoming tradition, regardless of who you are, what you believe, or where you come from. The greatest symbol of our nation reiterates this pledge in verse, saying, ‘Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.’ It mandates us to extend a hand to those in need.
Our faith traditions are crystal clear about our duty to welcome all of our brothers and sisters ‘because the Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.’
Victory against fear and intolerance can only be achieved by embracing love and inclusion. In the coming weeks and months, the Interfaith Worker Justice network will do all we can to reinforce and remind all Americans of our nation's long history of religious freedom and solidarity with oppressed communities. More importantly, we will continue to push back against the inhumane treatment of many of our brothers and sisters in our nation's workplaces, on our streets and borders.
More than half of the nation’s governors declared their state’s borders closed to Syrian refugees after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. But some churches and faith-based agencies are defying such orders, saying their faith tells them to open their doors to the stranger.
Here are some of them:
1. Georgia: Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch north of Atlanta, has helped resettle a Syrian family, despite an order from Gov. Nathan Deal that the state would not accept Syrian refugees.
Bryant Wright, the church’s pastor and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told CNN Dec. 9 he understands the governor is “concerned about the security of the citizens of the state. But as Christians and as a church, we want to reach out with the love of Christ to these folks.”
He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his church had been planning to help the family before the recent attacks in France.
2. Indiana: The Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis defied Gov. Mike Pence by welcoming a Syrian family that arrived in the city on Dec. 7.
Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin said the day after the family arrived that he had “prayerfully considered” the governor’s request to defer their arrival until Congress approved new legislation regarding immigrants and refugees, but went ahead as planned.
Pence disagreed with the archdiocese’s action but said he would not block food stamps and other state aid for the family, the Indianapolis Star reported.
3. Ohio: Westminster Presbyterian Church of Wooster, Ohio, has volunteered to accept up to three refugee families from Syria or elsewhere.
“As Christians and as part of the human family, we are moved to put our faith into action when we see the unfathomable need of our siblings,” said the Rev. Andries Coetzee, pastor of the church in a Nov. 30 announcement.
An overwhelming majority of non-tenure-track faculty at the University of Chicago have voted to join the Service Employees International Union Local 73 — becoming the first faculty at a Chicago-area institution to embrace that union’s 2 1/2-year-old national “Faculty Forward” movement.
“It is in everyone’s interest to reverse the trends that have marginalized our profession,” said U of C lecturer Darcy Lear.
“I’m glad that our success today may help empower other part-time and full-time faculty to change the status quo for their families and students. We are thankful for the support of hundreds of tenured faculty, students and alumni who stood with us every step of the way.”
U of C spokesman Jeremy Manier said the university will begin negotiations with SEIU for a collective bargaining agreement governing terms and conditions of employment for the 169 faculty.
U of C Provost Eric D. Isaacs also sent messages to all faculty on Wednesday, saying, in part: “I greatly value the contributions of every member of our community to our shared mission of intellectual engagement, teaching, and research, and I thank you for your dedication to our students and to the University.”
The U of C faculty filed a petition on Oct. 29 with the National Labor Relations Board, seeking to unionize. “Faculty Forward” seeks better pay and job security for nontenured faculty, who make up the majority of the nation’s higher education workforce.
Some five years ago, between Thanksgiving and Christmas—the holiday season we are celebrating now--three distraught mothers came to see me about the chance of helping to free their children from a prison in Iran. They were the mothers of three young American hikers. The State Department has suggested to them that a religious channel might be helpful, as political channels had failed.
Working with several other religious leaders—Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish—over time we were able to influence the Supreme Leader of Iran to eventually release the Americans and reunite them with their parents. It was evidence that faith communities must stick together in defending the rights of human beings, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Five years since those mothers visited me, we now see that some Americans want to close our doors to Syrian families—some who are trying to reunite with loved ones in the United States but all who are fleeing for their lives.
The strong opposition to Syrian refugees coming to the United States is an expression of the fear Americans justifiably feel from the horror of the Paris attacks. In times such as these, we must be careful not to let our fear cloud our judgment as to the best way forward, and, in so doing, sacrifice our values as a nation.
Since 2011, when the Syrian conflict began, the United States has resettled a little over 2,000 Syrians—predominately women and children. This is a tiny fraction of the 4 million Syrian refugees who have fled their country for safety. Accepting 10,000 more next year, as the Administration has proposed, would send a signal to the world that we are willing to share the burden of protecting the refugees, until the conflict in Syria can be ended.
Syrians, like other refugees, go through several interviews by U.S. officials and multiple security clearances over a two-year period---more scrutiny than any other arrival to the United States. According to the State Department, if the process does not garner enough information to ensure a refugee applicant is not a security threat, then that person is not admitted to the United States.
Moreover, they know well about terrorism, as they have been victims of it. They have experienced the violence of Paris in their own homeland, but on a more frequent basis. In the end, they simply want what all Americans want: for them and their children to live in security, without fear.
Some have suggested that the United States should only accept Syrians and Iraqis who are Christian. Of course, Christian minorities, including Chaldean Catholics, from the region deserve our support and protection—ideally in the region so Christian communities there can survive, but also in other countries, if necessary. The large majority of Syrians fleeing religious and other forms of persecution are, in fact, Muslim, targeted by extremists in their own faith tradition. Is it Christian to deny them protection because of their religious beliefs?
The late Cardinal James Hickey, archbishop of Washington, D.C., summed up this conviction from a Catholic perspective: “We serve others not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.”
Our nation was founded by those who were escaping religious persecution in England. Since our inception, we have offered refuge to millions of persons from around the world. It is a record of which we should be proud. However, we have made mistakes, as well, having incarcerated Japanese during World War II and turned back Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.
This is another time where history will judge what we do. In his message to Congress, Pope Francis urged us to apply the Golden Rule—not only because it was the right thing to do, but because it would ensure that others would treat us the same way. “The yardstick by which we measure others is the yardstick by which time will measure us,” he said. If we close our doors to these refugees, we are not only sacrificing our moral influence globally, we also are giving those who want to hurt us more power and influence to do so later.
In this holiday season it’s especially appropriate to acknowledge how many Americans don’t have steady work.
The so-called “share economy” includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.
It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will be in such uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.
Already two-thirds of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck.
This trend shifts all economic risks onto workers. A downturn in demand, or sudden change in consumer needs, or a personal injury or sickness, can make it impossible to pay the bills.
It eliminates labor protections such as the minimum wage, worker safety, family and medical leave, and overtime.
And it ends employer-financed insurance – Social Security, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, and employer-provided health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
No wonder, according to polls, almost a quarter of American workers worry they won’t be earning enough in the future. That’s up from 15 percent a decade ago.
Such uncertainty can be hard on families, too. Children of parents working unpredictable schedules or outside standard daytime working hours are likely to have lower cognitive skills and more behavioral problems, according to new research.
What to do?
Courts are overflowing with lawsuits over whether companies have misclassified “employees” as “independent contractors,” resulting in a profusion of criteria and definitions.
We should aim instead for simplicity: Whoever pays more than half of someone’s income, or provides more than half their working hours should be responsible for all the labor protections and insurance an employee is entitled to.
Much of the news over the past few days has centered on the amount of retail sales on Black Friday and through the weekend. Economists measure the health of our nation, in part, based on how much we buy in the days following Thanksgiving.
But we know that the true reflection of our values as a nation of generosity and love is not how much we spend on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
For those of us committed to worker justice, the spirit of our nation is embodied by how much of ourselves we give away, not by how many things we buy.
Will you give to IWJ this Giving Tuesday?
This year, you’ve given by fasting for our sisters and brothers who work in low-wage service jobs and deserve a living wage and a union. You’ve given time and resources to help victims of wage theft recover tens of thousands of dollars. You’ve given money to help build a brand-new wage theft website to help workers and organizations put a stop to this multi-billion dollar epidemic. You’ve given your voice to call out unscrupulous businesses who don’t provide a safe place to work or retaliate against workers for organizing.
This Giving Tuesday, would you be willing to give a little more?
We have a lot of exciting campaign work to look forward to in 2016 and your support will help realize these plans. From pushing the biggest poultry producers in the country to improve worker safety conditions to continuing to add interactive features to our new wage theft website, your financial backing will provide a sustainable financial plan for the IWJ network to push boldly forward in the fight for worker justice.
Right now, we are just $4,378 away from our Giving Tuesday fundraising goal.
Whether your issue is winning a living wage and a union for low-wage workers, improving workplace safety, or ending wage theft in America once and for all, your generous contribution will help move all of this campaign work and more.
If everyone on this list gave just $20, IWJ would have the resources to implement our 2016 campaign plan in full before the calendar year even turns.
Pity the married working mom, who barely has time to do the dishes or go for a run at night, much less spend a nice evening playing Boggle with her husband and kids.
But if married working parents are struggling with time management these days, imagine the struggles of low-income single parents. Single-parent households (which by and large are headed by women) have more than tripled as a share of American households since 1960. Now, 35 percent of children live in single-parent households.
But while the numbers are growing, the amount of help available to single mothers is not. Ever since the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Law (generally referred to as welfare reform) placed time limits and work requirements on benefits in an effort to get welfare recipients back into the workforce, single-parent families have had a harder time receiving government benefits. Some states have made it more difficult for low-income single-parent families to get other types of assistance too, such as imposing work requirements and other barriers for food stamps. According to a recent New York Times column, between 1983 and 2004, government benefits dropped by more than a third for the lowest-income single-parent families.
So how do they manage? How do single moms with few resources and little income survive?
“They trade, they bargain, they strategize, they give each other daycare help, they share housing and food—women learn to strategize their way through all of these resources,” Suzanne Morrissey, a professor at Whitman College who has studied these families, told me.
Research suggests that while two-parent families may be isolated islands of efficiency, single parents—even poor ones—rely on an ever-expanding social network to get by. That social network has become even more important in the wake of welfare reform, when women who couldn’t find work could no longer count on cash assistance, and had to depend on their families and friends.
“It was really piecing together help from family and friends, letting bills stay unpaid, and in some of the more dire situations, they doubled up with friends and other family members because housing is such a big cost,” said Kristin Seefeldt, a professor at the University of Michigan who recently released a study about the strategies used by low-income parents in the wake of welfare reform.
According to the paper, published last month by Seefeldt and Heather Sandstrom with the Urban Institute, many women did move off the welfare rolls and into jobs after welfare reform went into effect. But as the economy took a turn for the worse and women weren’t able to find jobs, a number of families became “disconnected,” meaning they were neither in the formal labor market nor the welfare system. About one-fifth of all low-income single mothers were“disconnected” in 2008, up from 12 percent in 2004, and these mothers had a median annual income of $535, Seefeldt said.
Davis has been able to find minimum-wage work over the years at fast-food restaurants and grocery stores, but the money is barely enough to feed five kids, pay the rent, and put gas in her car. Improving her opportunities through education, a key idea behind welfare reform, was nearly impossible with the jobs available to her and the time constraints she faced because of motherhood. A few years ago, she tried to go back to school, but the only classes that fit her schedule were online. It was tough to attend online classes and do school work while raising five kids and working part-time, so Davis ended up failing two semesters and quitting.
Economics and Finance Opinion Piece by Tim Worstall
This is actually an interesting problem that the new gig economy of Uber, TaskRabbit and the rest is throwing up. How do we provide those usual employment protections to people who are, legally and for the moment at least, working as independent contractors, not employees? Those benefits and protections being the usual difference between employee and contractor. And the really interesting thing about this is that the answer might well be, well, we just don’t. This is not certain by the way: it’s only a possibility. But there is indeed that possibility that the workers themselves say that they don’t want to have the protections, they’d rather have the cash. And if that’s so then there’s near a century of progressive legislation at risk here. But, if the people don’t want it then there’s nothing wrong with dismantling the structure.
This is brought on by Laura Tyson’s piece on worker protection in the gig economy. Entirely sensible points and suggestions are made:
New policies are needed to provide workers in contingent employment relationships access to benefits, and new institutions are needed to deliver them. There is growing support for the view that benefits should satisfy at least three conditions. They should be portable, attached to individual workers rather than to their employers. They should be universal, applying to all workers and all forms of employment. And they should be pro-rated, linking employer benefit contributions to time worked, jobs completed, or income earned.
I’ve certainly no objection to such individual security accounts. Sounds like a sensible way of dealing with the problem in fact. Except for one point. If you ask people whether they’d like sick pay they say yes. If you ask them whether they’d like to pay for sick pay, as opposed to be paid for it, they’re, at minimum, a lot less sure. If you ask them whether parental leave should be included in an employment contract most do say yes. Ask them to pay for it and support drops rather dramatically. And so it is for most of the components that make up the standard benefits package. Sure, there’s bits that employers have to give (paying their share of your Social Security pension for example) and there’s bits they’re tax privileged in providing (health insurance) and bits that some of them provide to produce a nice package (paid maternity leave for well paid staff). But economically all of these come directly from the cash wages of the employees. There’s always a choice here: pay more money or provide more in the benefits package. The employer is going to craft whatever mixture she thinks will best captivate those she wants to employ but all employers get this.
The sad fact is that not all employees do quite get this. That those benefits come at the cost of their cash income from the same work. And that’s a problem for this idea of individual security account. Because inevitably such accounts will make those costs highly visible. And those costs are high:
This is because most individuals who find work through digital job platforms operate as independent contractors, leaving them without the benefits and protections provided in standard employment contracts for full-time and part-time workers. The difference between the cost of a full-time employee with benefits and an independent contractor can be 30% or more, so there is a strong incentive for companies to replace workers on standard full-time employment contracts with independent contractors as long as companies can attract the talent they need.
The point being that the number of things in that package has grown over the decades. As has the cost of financing them. Social Security taxation started out at 2%: it’s now over 12%. And the whole package has never really been challenged on the grounds that it has just accreted. But now we come to a change, one that makes instantly obvious to the people paying into such an individual fund, quite how much that whole package is costing them. What? I can get a 30% pay rise just by saving for my own retirement and vacations?
I’ll do that then: that will be the answer of some significant number offered such a choice. And that, to talk politics for a moment, is why I think that the idea isn’t going to get very far. Because there’s people who insist that that package must be extended and more who insist that it should never be reduced. And yet if the workers are able to see directly, in each and every paycheck, how much it does cost them then there’ll be a lot of pressure to walk back on those rights.
It is actually economically sensible that everyone, whatever their employment status, should have such individual accounts. As such I support it as a policy idea. But I do fear it won’t happen, once people realize quite how many people are likely to say they’d prefer to have the money please, not the protections they’re supposed to want.
Katey Zeh was working as a global maternal health advocate for the United Methodist Church when she gave birth to a baby girl in 2014. It wasn’t until she was pregnant that she realized she would not be eligible for any paid maternity leave, the same policies she had been advocating for on behalf of the denomination.
The UMC provides 18 days of paid leave for agency employees, but Zeh did not receive any leave under the denomination’s policy because she was a contractor. She gave birth on a Monday, was answering work e-mails that Friday, and went back to work the following Monday.
“I was still bleeding,” she said of her recovery after giving birth. “I had these pictures [in my head] that the baby would sleep so much and I could be on e-mail and on phone calls. The reality was so different from that.”
Religious organizations that are also pro-life, pro-family and pro-justice provide a wide range of family leave policies, including some that offer no paid options. There are no consistent family leave policies between religious institutions. Many women like Zeh, however, are raising the issue within their own organizations.
“We talk about family a lot in the church,” said Zeh, who lives in Cary, N.C. “How can we say that we value family and not do the hard thing to make sure that families have what they need to be healthy and thriving?”
Pro-business vs. pro-family
Paid family leave has also become a topic in the presidential race, coming up in GOP and Democratic debates. Politically, attitudes about paid family leave tend to fall between those who believe the government should mandate some kind of paid leave, those who believe the government could provide tax credits to businesses or those who believe the government should not change anything.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan drew scrutiny this fall when he said, “I cannot and will not give up my family time” as a condition of his speaker candidacy. Ryan, who is a devout Catholic, has opposed family leave measures proposed over the past several years. A spokeswoman for Ryan declined to share the office’s policy on family leave for its congressional employees.
U.S. employees of the Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse have another reason to be thankful on this post-holiday Monday. The firm announced today that it will be upping the length of its paid parental leave for primary caregivers to 20 weeks, making it among the longest paid leave benefits to be offered at a major bank.
The new policy, which goes into effect Jan. 1, will allow mothers or fathers who work at the firm to take up to 20 weeks of paid leave as long as they are the primary caregiver for the child. A similar benefit existed under the current policy, but it only allowed employees to take up to 12 weeks paid and eight weeks unpaid. Under the new benefit, the company also will now pay for an employee's nanny and infant to go along on business trips, and it will add "parental leave coaches" to help staffers and bosses manage the transitions in and out of these longer leave times.
Credit Suisse's policy is one of the longest paid leave policies at a major financial services firm. Many others, however, have also recently boosted the family-oriented benefits they offer in an effort to retain not only women but a generation of workers more interested in sharing parenting responsibilities between mothers and fathers.
Within the last year, for instance, both Goldman Sachs and Citigroup doubled their benefits for "secondary caregivers" to four weeks and two weeks, respectively. Blackstone Group upped its paid maternity leave to 16 weeks, and KKR also began paying for nannies this summer.
Meanwhile, Credit Suisse's move is also a reminder of the ripple effect that the generous policies being offered at Silicon Valley tech companies are having across Corporate America. Some major banks—particularly in an era of relatively smaller bonuses and greater interest by young recruits inworking elsewhere—are acknowledging that to compete far outside the canyons of Wall Street for talent, they have to offer more to keep up.
"We recognize that our competition for talent is no longer just with financial services firms," said Elizabeth Donnelly, Credit Suisse's head of benefits for the Americas, in explaining the bank's reasons for the longer paid benefit. In addition to hedge funds, she noted, banks are increasingly competing for talent with technology firms such as Google or Facebook, and need to offer benefits that are on par.
The 20 weeks of paid leave at Credit Suisse is open to birth mothers, adoptive parents, and fathers whose spouse or partner has had a child as long as they are serving as the primary caregiver. That means a father—as long as he doesn't first take the week of paid leave Credit Suisse offers for "secondary caregivers" after the birth of the child—could elect to take up to 20 weeks off after his spouse goes back to work. The benefit can be taken anytime within the first 12 months of the child's life.
Bishop Jesse DeWitt, the first Board President of Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), died on Thanksgiving evening, November 26, 2015, just nine days short of his 97th birthday. As Rev. Jim Sessions, a fellow United Methodist pastor and IWJ Board member, said, “It is the passing of an era.”
Bishop DeWitt was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. After high school, he worked on the assembly floor of the Packard auto factory, learning first-hand the importance of unions to workers. Eventually, he put himself through college at Wayne State University.
He attended seminary at Garrett Theological Seminary and was ordained a United Methodist pastor. He served congregations in Detroit and Illinois. He was elected to the episcopacy in 1972 and served both the Wisconsin and Northern Illinois conferences. His ministry always involved caring for both the spiritual and the physical components of people’s lives. Bishop DeWitt was part of the generation of clergy who grew up with the labor movement. He saw his ministry as intertwined with labor and justice. Throughout his life, he maintained and built strong personal ties with labor leaders and unions.
When the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues (later renamed to Arise Chicago) was first organized in 1991, Bishop DeWitt, who had recently retired, became one of its active leaders. As an active Bishop, he downplayed pomp and ceremony, but he acquiesced to purchasing and wearing a purple Bishop’s collar for labor support rallies throughout Chicago.
In 1994 and 1995, Bishop DeWitt helped organize interfaith groups to support labor in Milwaukee and his home city of Detroit.
When Interfaith Worker Justice was organized in 1996, Bishop Jesse DeWitt agreed to be its first board president and devoted the following six years to building the organization. He represented the organization at press and public events. He communicated regularly with owners who were engaged in long-term struggles with employers. He travelled with organizers and helped build new chapters.
As the new Executive Director of a start-up organization, I was guided and supported by Bishop DeWitt. He was wise, strategic and kind. He taught me how to lead prayer vigils outside factories and how to approach and diffuse anxious police officers. He showed me how to plan and lead a good board meeting. He talked through with me critical staffing and budget matters. And he modeled in his own life and then encouraged me in mine how to devote time and attention to my dear husband and twin sons.
Although I have hundreds of memories of my time with Bishop DeWitt, the most poignant memory is of September 11, 2001, when we were together at a board meeting in Washington, DC. Together with the rest of the Board members, we watched the second plane fly into the World Trade Center and we knew our world was changing. Bishop DeWitt immediately led the board in prayers for our nation and its leaders. The next day, with all the airports and railways closed, a group of staff and board members headed west from DC in a large passenger van. I sat wedged between Bishop DeWitt and Rabbi Robert Marx, the second President of the Board, who insisted that I stop making phone calls and kept up lively banter the entire way home.
When Bishop DeWitt retired to Ann Arbor to be near his daughters, he focused on rebuilding the Detroit Metro Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice and participated actively until his late eighties.
Within the last year, when he knew he was dying, Bishop DeWitt asked his long-time friend, and recently retired United Methodist colleague, Rev. Ed Rowe to devote time and attention to the Detroit Interfaith chapter, which he has been doing faithfully and effectively.
The last time I saw Bishop Dewitt was in late May. He was bedridden and being served by his daughters and HOSPICE nurses, but he was as sharp as ever and still focused on others. He wanted to know how I and my kids were doing. He asked if he could pray for me. I was there visiting him, and he was praying for me.
Bishop DeWitt was grateful for his beloved wife Annamary (who died in 2010), his daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was thankful for the opportunities he was given in life. He particularly appreciated his time in the factory and the opportunity to attend seminary. How fitting that he died on Thanksgiving Day. He was a man of God who regularly gave thanks.
Bishop DeWitt was ready to die. His family and loved ones will miss him, but, like the Apostle Paul, Bishop DeWitt can say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
Thank you Bishop DeWitt for all you gave to me and the movement for worker justice.
A celebration of his life will be held on December 12 at 2 p.m. EST at the First United Methodist Church of An Arbor, MI.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year, workers at 15 major U.S. airports are planning a day of fasting, vigils and rallies, aiming to galvanize the traveling public’s support for their fight for better wages.
The workers— a mix of cleaners, baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants and security officers— will wear buttons that say “Ask Me Why I’m Fasting” and pass out petitions and flyers illustrating their campaign for a $15-per-hour minimum wage, the Service Employees International Union said.
Besides pushing for $15 minimum hourly wages, the workers want health care, sick leave, retirement benefits and job protections. They’re also protesting threats against their efforts to unionize.
Last week, as many as 2,000 workers went on strike at seven major hubs, including New York’s Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. The walkout didn’t disrupt air travel, but workers and union leaders say they are planning to step up their efforts as the busy holiday season takes off. Their goal is to put pressure on airports, airlines and, most importantly, the contractors that hire the workers.
“These used to be good jobs 20 years ago, but with subcontracting the jobs have really gone down,” said Valarie Long, executive vice president of SEIU International. “Some people are making as little as $7.25 an hour, some less because they are considered tipped employees. It is clear that something needs to change and the workers are going to use this holiday season to make sure that the public knows this.”
The 24-hour fast, along with vigils and rallies, are being organized at San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Chicago O’Hare, Cleveland, Columbus, Minneapolis, Denver, Boston, New York’s Kennedy and LaGuardia, Newark, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale and Reagan National airports.
At National, at least 300 workers pledged to participate in the fast from noon Tuesday to noon Wednesday, workers and SEIU leaders said.
“I believe it’s the right thing to do,” said Alex Aram, 24, a fulltime baggage handler at National making $8.50 an hour through the facility service and management company Eulen America. “We all come from the same struggle, we all have the same thing in common and want it to get better.”
The national campaign mirrors that of fast-food restaurant workers who have been organizing in cities across the U.S. in their “Fight for $15″ campaign. The airport workers have gained steam, expanding from just a handful of airports three years ago to 15 major hubs, where workers have held strikes and protests, and in the process have won some concessions.
In Philadelphia, city leaders in June forced airline contractors to raise wages to $12 an hour. In Seattle, a state court ruled in August that a $15-an-hour minimum wage law applies to airport workers. And in South Florida, Broward County officials last month voted to extend a living-wage ordinance to contract airline workers, upping salaries by more than $3 an hour for some workers.
Members of the clergy and high profile politicians including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have also pledged support.
“Airport jobs should be good jobs,” Clinton said in a letter last month. “Too many workers are living on the brink, struggling to make ends meet. We need you out there saying loudly and clearly—no one who works an honest job in America should have to live in poverty.”
In Washington, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) was one of several members of Congress who last week spoke in solidarity with the workers strike outside the Capitol. Connolly bashed the workers’ salaries and conditions.
“Airports should be economic drivers, not sweatshops,” he said. “These men and women shouldn’t have to juggle multiple jobs and still struggle to pay the bills or support their families.”
The low-wage airport workers are employed by private contractors that are free to pay the minimum wage. Some workers, including wheelchair attendants are paid $3.77 an hour because they are considered to be tipped employees, workers said. In some markets, there is a push to be get the workers included under living-wage ordinances that cover employees working directly for the airports.
At National, where some workers began to organize over the summer, they are working to garner support from the travelers as well as urging more workers to join the effort. Some say they plan walkouts, rallies, and protests that could cause disruptions if no concessions are made. This week, however, they say they will focus on fasting and prayer to bring awareness of the labor struggle during one of the year’s busiest travel days. AAA Travel estimates that nearly 47 million Americans will travel this Thanksgiving and 3.6 million of them will fly. Tuesday is traditionally the busiest travel day before the holiday.
“A lot of people think that we make a lot of money because we work at the airport. But they don’t know that we work for contractors who don’t pay their employees that much money,” said Tranden Baccus, 33, an Alexandria, Va. resident who makes $8.25 an hour as a baggage handler. “There’s no benefits, not sick leave, no paid vacation. Nothing.”
By: Melissa Burden, Michael Wayland and Michael Martinez
An estimated 142,000 American autoworkers, including 60,000 in Michigan, will receive retroactive pay and $3,000-$10,000 signing bonuses before Christmas, following contract ratifications between Detroit’s Big Three and the United Auto Workers.
Collectively, contract bonuses from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV are estimated to put more than $400 million, before taxes, into the pockets of hourly union members in this state. In addition, they’ll get retroactive pay from mid-September, when the previous contract expired.
Retailers across Metro Detroit and in plant communities across the U.S. are gearing up for the potential influx of buyers. Some businesses are soliciting autoworkers with special offers.
“Detroit’s retail fate and the auto industry are one and the same,” said Rachel Tronstein, president of Auburn Hills-based furniture retailer Gardner White. “We plan everything around it.”
At Gardner White furniture, autoworkers can receive about $500 cash back on purchases if they pay up front with bonus money. That offer can be combined with Black Friday deals.
GM and Ford contracts became effective Monday, following ratification Friday.
Fiat Chrysler workers rejected their first tentative contract before passing a second, more lucrative deal. The automaker’s 36,600 U.S. hourly workers received ratification bonuses Nov. 6, according to a compensation time line obtained by The Detroit News. Entry-level, or in-progression, workers received $3,000; veteran workers received $4,000.
Fiat Chrysler-UAW workers are expected to get retroactive pay to make up the difference in wages from the time the former contract was extended until approval of the new contract — a period running from Sept. 15 through Oct. 25. Checks are expected Dec. 4.
GM’s 52,700 U.S. hourly employees will receive lump-sum ratification payments of $8,000 for most hourly workers, and $2,000 for temporary workers. Those payments will come in Dec. 4 paychecks. The payout could total more than $420 million nationally, with more than $150 million going to GM’s Michigan workers.
Retroactive pay for GM hourly employees for the period of Sept. 15 through Nov. 23 is expected to be paid in lump sums in the second or third pay period of 2016. A $500 annual quality bonus payment will be made Dec. 11.
GM retirees, about 240,000 in all, will receive $500 checks that will be printed and mailed beginning Dec. 15.
Ford workers will receive $8,500 ratification bonuses Dec. 4, followed by $1,500 advances in profit sharing on Dec. 11 and $250 annual competitive bonuses on Dec. 13. Workers will receive retroactive pay for the period from Sept. 15 through Nov. 23; those checks will be available by Dec. 20.
Workers at all three of the automakers will have to wait until February or March to receive profit-sharing bonuses based on how the each company’s North American operations performed in 2015.
Over the four years of the former contract, most Fiat Chrysler workers received about $16,500 in bonuses and profit sharing before taxes. Over the same four years, Ford hourly employees received up to $43,200 in bonuses and profit sharing before taxes, and GM workers received $39,250 pre-tax.
Angeline Eimers, an hourly worker at GM’s Pontiac’s Customer Care & Aftersales plant, said the payments over the next few weeks will come at a perfect time around the holidays. However, she isn’t planning a big shopping spree.
“I have nothing big planned for my bonus,” said Eimers, 25. “I’m just going to put it in the bank for now.”
William Sellers, a 56-year-old worker at Ford’s Ohio Assembly Plant, plans to use the money to help his two children pay their college tuition.
“It isn’t about buying a new Harley or a boat; it’s about taking care of your family,” he said. “Years ago, when the economy was robust, I think you could go out and buy a new car for five or six grand. Now, it’s more about building a foundation and saving.”
Susan Hiltz, a spokeswoman for AAA Michigan, said the bonus payments will help people to book vacations as the holidays and winter approach.
“It stands to reason we’ll see more people visiting our travel offices and booking trips,” she said.
For workers with their sights on new cars or trucks, retirees under the UAW-Fiat Chrysler deal receive $1,000 vouchers; GM retirees receive $500; and Ford retirees receive $250 during each year of the contract.
At least one Metro Detroit auto dealer is offering a special deal for UAW-Fiat Chrysler workers: Parkway Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram will match up to $1,750 on a down payment for UAW members and their families. The deal includes $750 from the company and $1,000 from the Clinton Township dealer.
“This is an unprecedented down-payment match,” said Mike Riley, Parkway general manager. “It keeps gaining momentum. We’re seeing more and more deals.”
Riley said a “few dozen” people have taken advantage of the deal, which started around the time workers were awarded their bonuses. It is expected to continue until the end of the year. Riley said the dealership could offer it again for union profit-sharing or other bonuses.
“It seems to be working,” he said. “So if it helps them and helps us, we will be doing it again.”
As the annual "season of giving" dawns, a new study finds that stark income inequity -- a dramatically rising trend in the United States -- makes the "haves" less generous toward others.
Higher-income people were less inclined to be generous both when they came from states where income inequality is high and when they were made to believe that there was a sharp divide between rich and poor, a new study found. And they were less charitable in both cases than were low-income people.
Since the 1980s -- the end of a 30-year period during which the middle class flourished in the United States -- wealth has grown increasingly concentrated at the top of the economic ladder, while low-income Americans have commanded a smaller and smaller share of the nation's wealth.
In 2013, the top 0.1% of households received approximately 10% of the pretax income, versus approximately 3%-4% between 1951 and 1981. The Congressional Budget Office reckoned that between 1979 and 2007, households controlling the top 1% of the nation's wealth increased their incomes 275%, while the incomes of those in the economy's lowest tier picked up a mere 18%.
A study published in the PNAS on Monday compared the giving patterns of rich and poor two ways. Using results from a nationally representative survey that included a donation opportunity at the end, researchers looked at how patterns of giving corresponded to wealth distribution in donors' home states.
Of the 1,498 people who participated in that survey, donation by those with household incomes above $125,000 was more prevalent among those who lived in states in which income inequality was low. Among wealthier survey-takers from states with higher income inequality, fewer took the opportunity to donate.
The authors also conducted an experiment in which 704 people were presented with simulated information portraying their home states as having either high or low income inequality, and then given the opportunity to bestow raffle tickets on another participant.
When they were prompted to believe they lived in a state with high income inequality, those with household incomes above $125,000 were less generous than when they believed incomes in their state were more equitably distributed.
The authors found no such difference in donor behavior among people whose household income was below $15,000.
The new findings may actually somewhat improve the view of wealthy Americans among social science researchers. A wide range of recent studies had suggested that wealthy Americans are, across the board, less generous than less wealthy Americans. This study suggests that that stinginess is, at least, more prominent where the rich are richer and the poor are poorer.
The researchers, led by Stanford University sociologist Robb Willer, surmised that wealthy people embedded in a milieu where rich and poor live in starkly different circumstances may feel more entitled to their moneyed status, or more threatened by the prospective loss of privilege that would come if resources more evenly distributed. They may feel that the system whereby wealth is apportioned is fairer because they so rarely come into contact with the poor.
And the authors of the study do not shrink from its obvious implications: progressive taxation policies and social services that lift up the poor might not only lift their boats. They might also make the rich more generous about pitching in a penny or two to do so.
This Thanksgiving, New Yorkers will be asked to “Remember the Needy.” But for millions of households, that starts with thinking about themselves. The latest statistics on hunger in the city tells the proverbial Tale of Two Cities as a Tale of Two Pantries.
New York’s abysmal wealth gap is evident in many indicators: unemployment rates, rent hikes, surveys showing heavy economic anxiety. The scourge of hunger is more elusive, often masked by shame and hard-nosed resilience. But well over a million New Yorkers have trouble securing their next meal, surviving on a precarious latticework of charities, government subsidies, and informal social networks.
Altogether, according to the latest annual report by the charity network Food Bank for New York City, roughly “1.4 million New York City residents rely on emergency food programs, including soup kitchens and food pantries, each year.” This includes nearly 340,000—about one in five—children, one in five seniors, and nearly one in three veterans. About the same number, 1.3 million New Yorkers, are food insecure, meaning they lack a stable, adequate everyday source of food.
While hunger has always been a pernicious fixture on New York’s landscape, today’s food insecurity reflects rising economic precarity at many social levels, from unaffordable housing to unstable jobs: One in every six people on a crowded subway car may be returning from work to an empty fridge, or beg for a rent extension to pay for groceries, or skip dinner to ensure their children eat their fill, or quietly add extra oatmeal to beef up an otherwise skimpy meatloaf.
Hunger patterns follow neighborhood segregation lines. About one-fifth of Bronxites and Brooklynites are food insecure, compared to just 11 percent of Staten Islanders.
Reflecting nationwide racial disparities in food security,according to a 2012 Food Bank survey, nearly 40 percent of Latino New Yorkers and over a third of blacks “report buying less food to save money,” compared to the (still stunningly high) 23 percent of whites. Similar proportions report eating smaller meals to make do.
And a paycheck is no guarantee of food security, since many jobs often fall short of a living wage: nationwide, Latino households with children depend on food aid at a higher rate than the general population, yet these families are still “more likely to have one or more members working” compared to the general population, according to Feeding America.
In perhaps the most paradoxical illustration of the city’s food insecurity, the restaurant workforce, running on tipped wages and unstable schedules, is one of the hungriest in the region:According to Restaurant Opportunities Center-NY, about a third of restaurant workers suffer food insecurity, with even higher rates among undocumented immigrants and workers of color.
Besides outright scarcity, variety and nutritional value is often lacking. Many of the families surveyed by Food Bank reported trading quality for quantity by purchasing cheaper, apparently more filling pastas and rice. About a fifth of low-income residents reported they struggled “to provide adults in their household with healthy, nutritious foods.” A larger proportion of blacks and Latinos than whites reported buying less healthy foods and “less fresh fruits and vegetables” because of economic hardship.
Over the last few months, especially the last few weeks as the weather has started to turn cold, Syrian and Iraqi refugees arriving at the shores of Greece have been weighing on my heart and mind. The pictures of little children being taken off rafts or pictures of children sleeping in the forest in Serbia as they make their way to Hungary with their families.
When I look at these images and hear the stories, I hear parents, a grandfather, an uncle or a widow desperately trying to find safety and refuge for their loved ones. I hear a longing for normalcy, a longing for peace. A longing for a better future for their little ones.
Yesterday some of our political leaders demonstrated, yet again, how disconnected they are to people and their realities. There is no way that you could hear and see these heartbreaking stories and vote to exclude Syrian and Iraqi refugees from coming to the United States. Their Islamophobia masked in national security has not fooled anyone.
This narrative of exclusion and oppression isn't a new one. It is one that has repeated and continues to repeat itself in history. The lawmakers' attitude towards these refugees are not that different from their attitude towards millions of immigrants who live in the U.S. contributing to the society, who just don't happen to have the right papers. Their attitude towards these refugees are not that different from their attitude towards the poorest of the poor in America who work for minimum wage (also known as poverty wages) and cannot put a roof over their family's heads and provide regular meals for their children.
Our country is facing a crisis of leadership because our elected leaders refuse to believe that their job is for the common good. They refuse to believe that it is their responsibility to work for and fight for the most vulnerable- Syrian and Iraqi refugees, immigrant families and low-wage workers. Our leaders are driven by fear- fear of not being reelected, fear of losing large campaign donors and ultimately, the fear of losing power and control.
Fear does not win. When people who live in hope and fight for justice work together, we can and do drive out fear. We, the people of faith must act on our convictions to stand up against Islamophobia that is driving our legislators to pass a bill that would stop women and children fleeing war from coming to our shores. We, the people of faith must act on our convictions to stand up against splitting up families due to deportations. We, the people of faith must act on our convictions to stand up against poverty wages and corporate greed that puts profits before people.
As we go into our Thanksgiving week, it is my prayer that the spirit of hospitality and generosity will rule this nation. It is my prayer that we give thanks that we get to partner with our creator in this journey of seeking justice and peace.
Sung Yeon is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Interfaith Worker Justice and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church.
Earlier this week, one analysis suggested that the growth of American women’s wages had stalled this year. While it’s important not to put too much emphasis on data from a single year, it does seem that some decades-long trends—including an increase in the percentage of women who are part of the workforce—seem to be leveling off.
On Thursday, the World Economic Forum published its 10th annual report on the gender inequality around the world, and the findings were similarly discouraging. The report analyzed data from over a hundred countries, and assessed women's progress in the categories of the economy, education, health, and politics. On the economic front, the gap shrunk only 3 percent in the last decade, with “progress towards wage equality and labor force parity stalling markedly since 2009 to 2010.” If the rate of change for the last decade stayed constant, the report estimated that it would take 118 years—until 2133—for the gender pay gap to fully close.
“While the world as a whole and most countries have made a lot of progress on closing the gap in health and education overall, we’re still a long way from parity on economic participation,” says Saadia Zahidi, the head of employment and gender initiatives at the World Economic Forum. Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden top the WEF’s list in having the smallest gender gaps in the world, but, Zahidi reiterates, they still haven’t eliminated their gaps entirely.
In the WEF report, the U.S. dropped eight spots from last year, coming in at 28thfor gender equality overall. A good amount of this slide can be attributed to the disappointing gains in economic equality between genders. Meanwhile, the countries that have made significant strides in increasing female labor participation include Nepal, Botswana, and Nigeria—not coincidentally, places where there was a lot more improvement to be made 10 years ago than in most countries.
One persistent question that researchers have yet to conclusively answer about the gender wage gap is why women tend to have jobs, such as teaching or nursing, that tend to pay less. Zahidi sums up the debate: “Are they lower paid because women are primarily occupying them, or is it just coincidence that women happen to be going into these professions?” It’s not clear what it is that drives some women to go into lower-paying industries, as many do in the U.S., it’s important to bear in mind that women earn less even when it comes to high-paying jobs.
How might the gap be closed sooner than 2133? The Economic Policy Institute recently released a “Women’s Economic Agenda,” which includes 12 recommendations that would help align men’s and women’s pay. The agenda is mindful of the fact that low-wage jobs are held disproportionately by women, and so prescribes many of the things that are often proposed to support lower-paid workers in general: raising the minimum wage, strengthening unions, and instating family- and sick-leave policies. Hopefully, some of these policies will work and women won’t have to wait more than 100 years until equal pay becomes a reality.
Several bishops are saying we must resist the temptation to scapegoat all Middle Eastern refugees, since they themselves are fleeing violence similar to what happened in Paris last Friday.
“We cannot and should not blame (refugees) for the actions of a terrorist organization,” Bishop Eusebio Elizondo Almaguer, auxiliary bishop of Seattle, said Nov. 17 during the United States bishops' general assembly.
“These refugees are fleeing terror themselves—violence like we have witnessed in Paris. They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives,” said the bishop, who is chair of the bishops' committee on migration.
Coordinated gun and bomb attacks linked to militants of the Islamic State killed 129 people in Paris Nov. 13, and wounded some 350 others. Officials have identified one of the suspected terrorists as a Syrian national who they believe posed as a refugee to gain entry into France. Several other suspected attackers, however, are French nationals.
Bishop Elizondo condemned the Paris attacks, saying, “I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the November 13 attacks in Paris, France and to the French people. I add my voice to all those condemning these attacks and my support to all who are working to ensure such attacks do not occur again – both in France and around the world.”
Chalk up another win for parents at tech companies. Spotify, the Swedish music streaming service, just announced a new, global paid parental leave policy that will apply to all its full-time employees worldwide.
According to a statement from Spotify’s chief human resource officer Katarina Berg, the benefits are effective immediately and include:
Up to six months’ parental leave with 100% pay; inclusive of birth, adoption, or surrogacy.
Parents will be able to take their leave up to the child’s third birthday, with all Spotify employees who had children from the beginning of 2013 also eligible for the benefit.
Mothers and fathers are encouraged to take the full time off, with the added flexibility of splitting their leave into separate periods.
A one-month "Welcome Back!" program, allowing returning team members to ease back into their job with the ability to work from home, on a part-time schedule, and with flexible hours.
"This policy best defines who we are as a company, born out of a Swedish culture that places an emphasis on a healthy work-family balance, gender equality, and the ability for every parent to spend quality time with the people that matter most in their lives," Berg wrote.
Spotify is the latest company to announce a more generous parental leave policy. Others have included Netflix, Adobe, and Amazon. This is the first time a company has extended the leave through the child’s third birthday and included surrogacy among those eligible for the benefit.
The owner of several Papa John's franchises in New York City will serve 60 days in jail for failing to pay his workers the minimum wage and overtime, New York's attorney general announced Monday.
Two months isn't a particularly long time in the hoosegow, but any jail time at all is notable in a wage theft case. Although unscrupulous business owners are often forced to shell out backpay, it's rare that they spend any time behind bars.
In addition to serving 60 days, Abdul Jamil Khokhar has agreed to pay $230,000 in restitution to the workers. He and his company, BMY Foods, together ran nine Papa John's locations in the Bronx, according to the attorney general's office. Khokar pleaded guilty to failing to pay wages under New York law, which is a misdemeanor, while BMY pleaded guilty to falsifying business records, which is a felony.
"Wage theft is a crime and a Papa John's franchisee is now going to jail for cheating his employees and trying to cover it up," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement Monday. "My office will do everything in its power to protect the rights of New York's workers and make sure that all employers -- including fast food restaurants -- follow the law."
Recent wage-theft cases in Rhode Island have involved food workers, construction workers and garbage collectors. Among them:
Protesters targeted the popular Providence deli and take-out restaurant owned by Chung Cho at its downtown Providence store on Weybosset Street last December. A Gourmet Heaven store on College Hill had closed abruptly two weeks before.
Workers who were among the dozens of demonstrators alleged they had not been paid overtime or minimum wage. In claims filed with the Rhode Island Department of Labor against Cho, some alleged "physical abuse by lower-level management," and said they'd been injured on the job. Two other protests followed, including one outside Cho's Connecticut home.
The Rhode Island Center for Justice subsequently filed a federal court lawsuit against Cho on behalf of three former Gourmet Heaven employees in February; five others subsequently joined the case. They are seeking back wages and more than $140,000 for alleged violations of state and federal wage laws.
The suit alleges Cho violated state minimum wage law — in some cases paying $360 to $400 for as many as 84 hours of work per week — and violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act by denying overtime wages.
In court documents, Cho denies the workers' claims. Barring a settlement, the case is set to go to trial in 2016.
The lawsuit notes Cho's legal troubles in Connecticut, which overlapped the Rhode Island workers' wage dispute. After Cho violated the terms of a settlement agreement requiring him to pay $150,000 in back wages to employees at his two New Haven stores, a judge spared him criminal prosecution and possible imprisonment, but he must pay the back wages by year's end.
Cilantro Mexican Grill
The Rhode Island restaurant chain was ordered to pay $100,417 in back wages and damages to 32 restaurant workers in May after federal investigators found that it violated federal wage and hour laws by failing to pay overtime.
The company was also ordered to pay a civil penalty of $2,325 for allowing three minors to use their own cars to deliver food.
The case marked the first in an ongoing U.S. Department of Labor restaurant enforcement initiative here and in Connecticut.
Four of the eight Republican presidential contenders in the prime-time debate on Tuesday were asked their views on raising the federal minimum wage.
Donald Trump, who went first, set the tone when he said that the current minimum of $7.25 an hour was already too low when it took effect in 2009 and should be doubled.
Here’s what the candidates really said and why they’re all wrong.
Mr. Trump said that American businesses can’t compete because “wages too high” and, for that reason, he would keep the minimum wage where it is.
If American businesses can’t compete – a dubious assertion in itself – it is not because wages are too high. Most working people can’t remember their last raise. And the minimum wage is certainly not too high. Raising it to $12 an hour would simply bring it into line with historical wage-and-price benchmarks. Raising it to $15 an hour would bring it closer to where it would be if it had kept up in recent decades with productivity gains.
All of which makes a higher minimum wage, what’s the word . . . fair? Sensible?
Workers have filed dozens of lawsuits against Tyson Foods alleging millions of dollars in "wage theft" for its failure to keep wage and hour records and to properly pay workers for overtime as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). On Tuesday, Tyson came before the US Supreme Court and argued that the justices should make those lawsuits go away. Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo is truly a David-versus-Goliath lawsuit, with about 3,000 low-income, often immigrant workers going up against the world's second-largest meat processor, which has more than $30 billion in annual sales.
Tyson has asked the nation's highest court to throw out a lawsuit that resulted in a $6 million jury verdict against the company in Iowa for cheating its workers out of earned overtime. Tyson doesn't just want the case thrown out, though. The verdict at issue amounts to peanuts for the multinational corporation—a little more than two hours' worth of Tyson's annual profits. The company also wants the court to issue a broad ruling that would effectively immunize it against future class actions for wage and hour theft, and make it much harder for workers everywhere to join together to bring such claims. If it wins this case, Tyson could have it both ways: It could effectively continue to violate the FLSA and escape liability for it in court.
This Veterans' Day, here are five charities that you can support veterans and their families.
Building For America's Bravest "builds Smart Homes for our most catastrophically injured service members returning home. Each home is custom designed to address the unique needs of each individual. Energy efficient, automated and easily accessible—these homes use "adaptive technology" to help our most severely injured heroes live better, more independent lives."Learn more >>
Operation Homefront "connects the American donor community to our military families through a robust array of valued and life-changing programs that address the specific short-term and critical assistance, long-term stability and recurring support needs they experience, Operation Homefront is able to help military families overcome many of the challenges inherent in military life. The result: stronger, more stable and more secure military families."Learn more >>
Home For Our Troops builds "specially adapted, mortgage-free homes nationwide for the most severely injured Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of these Veterans have sustained injuries including multiple limb amputations, partial or full paralysis, and/or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). These homes restore some of the freedom and independence our Veterans sacrificed while defending our country, and enable them to focus on their family, recovery, and rebuilding their lives." Learn more >>
Fisher House Foundation "is best known for a network of comfort homes where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment. These homes are located at major military and VA medical centers nationwide, close to the medical center or hospital they serve. Fisher Houses have up to 21 suites, with private bedrooms and baths." Learn more >>
The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund "is a leader in supporting the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families. Begun in 2000 and established as an independent not-for-profit organization in 2003, the Fund has provided close to $150 million in support for the families of military personnel lost in service to our nation, and for severely wounded military personnel and veterans." Learn more >>
Before you put together your Thanksgiving dinner shopping list, check our list of union-made in America food and other items that are essential to a traditional family Thanksgiving feast. Speaking of thanks, a big “thank you” to the Union Label and Service Trades Department (ULSTD), Union Plus and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor's resource site, Labor 411, for compiling their extensive catalogs of union-made products.
Here are some of the best union-made Thanksgiving eats and cookware from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM); Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers (GMP); Machinists (IAM); United Steelworkers (USW); and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).
Nabisco (Mondelez) crackers—BCTGM
Keebler (Kellogg) crackers—BCTGM
Ocean Spray whole berry cranberry sauce—IAM
Birds Eye vegetables—UFCW
Pillsbury crescent rolls, frozen and ready to bake rolls/breads—BCTGM
Amazon’s one-hour delivery option launched in the Bay Area this week, but the workers behind the scenes of the “Prime Now” service say they’re paying a steep price to make the super-fast turnaround a reality.
Prime Now drivers are suing Amazon over pay that amounts to less than the California minimum wage. Drivers in the Los Angeles market make $11 an hour, but buy their own gas, insurance, and auto maintenance service. Drivers who cover 120 miles in a day without being reimbursed at the standard per-mile rate “make $88 in pay for eight hours with $69 in expenses, and are left with $19,” attorney Beth Ross, who is representing the Prime Now drivers, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The lawsuit alleges that the company is illegally treating the drivers as independent contractors rather than employees when the circumstances of their work fit the legal definition of an employer-employee relationship. The lawyers representing the four drivers are hoping to expand the case to a class action representing everyone who’s driven for the company’s Prime Now service in California.
President Obama's call to increase the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour was one of the more significant proposals he laid out in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. But $9 an hour is still a far cry from what workers really deserve, a 2012 study finds.
The minimum wage should have reached $21.72 an hour in 2012 if it kept up with increases in worker productivity, according to a March study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. While advancements in technology have increased the amount of goods and services that can be produced in a set amount of time, wages have remained relatively flat, the study points out.
Even if the minimum wage kept up with inflation since it peaked in real value in the late 1960s, low-wage workers should be earning a minimum of $10.52 an hour, according to the study.
Between the end of World War II and the late 1960s, productivity and wages grew steadily. Since the minimum wage peaked in 1968, increases in productivity have outpaced the minimum wage growth.
The current minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour. In 2011, more than 66 percent of Americans surveyed by the Public Religion Research Institute supported raising this figure to $10.
The last time the federal minimum wage increased was in 2009. Currently observed in 31 states, the federal minimum wage translates to an annual income of about $15,000 a year for someone working 40 hours per week.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, to coincide with the national "Fight for $15" strikes and marches today, issued an executive order that will require city employees to be paid at least $15 an hour.
The order, which will be phased in over five years, will affect about 300 city employees, ranging from laborers to clerical workers, the city said today in a news release. That's about 10 percent of the city workforce. Most city employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements.
"This city was built by working people," the mayor said, flanked by several dozen fast-food and other service workers at a news conference. "Nobody who puts in 40 hours should have to live in poverty."
The dignity of workers was at the center of an address by Pope Francis on Saturday, during which the pontiff reflected on the connection between the right to employment and the right to leisure.
This “right to rest,” Pope Francis said, above all, refers to a “dimension of the human being which does not lack the spiritual roots and which, even you, for your part, are responsible.”
In a Nov. 7 audience in St. Peter's Square with employees of Italian National Social Security Institute the Holy Father acknowledged the organization's commitment to protect rights relating to work, which form the foundation of the “transcendent dignity” of human nature.
Leisure is not merely an “extension of fatigue and ordinary responsibilities, but an occasion to live one's own creatureliness, elevated to filial dignity by God himself,” he said.
He cited the Scripture account of creation, in which God calls man to rest on the seventh day, concluding that “rest, in the language of faith, is therefore at once a human and Divine dimension.”
Pope Francis stressed the Italian National Social Security Institute members' responsibility in promoting a true sense of rest. This is a particular challenge today owing to factors such as insufficient employment opportunities and lack of job security.
“And if we live like this, how can we rest?” the Pope asked.
“Rest is the right which we all have when he have work,” but this right is challenged in the face of unemployment, social injustice, and hazardous work.
Pope Francis underscored the importance of protecting the rights of women in the workplace as well. He added that it should be a priority to give particular attention to women workers, especially by offering support to mothers.
It’s hard to believe but the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal is worse than we imagined, when it comes to working families. As it stands the TPP deal is made by corporations, for corporations, at the expense of working people and our democracy.
Here are five things in the TPP that are worse than we’ve been promised:
1. The auto rules of origin are so low that a car or truck could be majority “Made in China” and still qualify for TPP tariff benefits. The 45% nominal TPP car and truck content requirement has loopholes so large you could drive a truck through them. Loopholes such as lower content requirements for certain important car parts. The TPP is an outsourcing deal—not a trade deal.
2. Popular “Buy American” purchasing rules will be watered down. This means the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of State and even the Department of Homeland Security will be required to treat bidders from every TPP country as if they were U.S. bidders when making many purchasing decisions. This will send more jobs overseas.
3. More than 9,000 foreign companies will be empowered to bypass U.S. courts and access a private justice system called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). This system allows companies to file suit over U.S. federal, state, and local government policies they think are “unfair.” There is no limit on taxpayer funds that can be won by foreign companies in these cases. They get to play the lottery with our democracy and possibly take home billions.
Advocates of better parental leave policies have a new ally as of last week: Pope Francis. Speaking to the Christian Union of Italian Business Executives, Francis declared that working women “must be protected and helped in this dual task: the right to work and the right to motherhood." Francis went on to outline the responsibilities businesses have to their female employees, emphasizing that “the challenge is to protect their right to a job that is given full recognition while at the same time safeguarding their vocation to motherhood and their presence in the family.”
Francis’s emphatic support of maternity leave comes on the heels of a debate about state leave mandates partly prompted by House Speaker Paul Ryan’s insistence on family time for himself, and simultaneous rejection of leave mandates for others. On a recent installment of Meet the Press, Ryan, a practicing Catholic, explained that he opposes paid leave mandates because loving his own children does not require “taking money from hardworking taxpayers to create a brand new entitlement program.” Paid leave for those who can afford it, in other words, and no help from the government for those who can’t.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis’s position reflects not only a disagreement on policy particulars with Ryan and his supporters, but an entirely different way of imagining society.
“It sounds like Pope Francis was specifically talking about the responsibility of businesses to offer family leave,” Julie Rubio, professor of Christian Ethics at St. Louis University, explained in email to the New Republic. “However, he is echoing statements of other popes that have a broader context.” Rubio, whose research focuses on Christian family ethics and policy, noted that Francis’s remarks strongly resembled those of Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote in 1981 that:
“There is no doubt that the equal dignity and responsibility of men and women fully justifies women's access to public functions. On the other hand the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other professions. Furthermore, these roles and professions should be harmoniously combined, if we wish the evolution of society and culture to be truly and fully human.”
Maternity leave, in other words, guarantees that women will not be forced to choose between work and family, but will rather be allowed to value both equally: this much is usually advanced in favor of fair leave policies. What Francis and his predecessor note is that businesses are not only wise to offer generous leave, but obligated to do so by their role in society.
Childcare is really expensive. In some states the costs can top 15 percent of the median income for a married couple. And when looking at single-family households, that burden can easily pass 40 percent of the median income.
One place all that money is not going: the pockets of the workers doing all that childcare. On average, these women (it’s almost entirely women) are paid significantly less than the average American worker and are twice as likely to live in poverty, a new study released by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found. The median hourly wage for childcare workers in the U.S. is $10.39, nearly 40 percent below the median hourly wage of workers in other occupations. Even when accounting for the demographic makeup of the childcare industry—workers are more likely to be minorities, much more likely to be women, and less likely to have a bachelor’s or advanced degree—their earnings were still 23 percent lower than in other occupations. Childcare workers also had less access to benefits, such as health insurance and retirement funds, than people employed in other fields.
Elise Gould, a senior economist at EPI and the author of the study, says that often people think of childcare workers as somewhat similar to elementary-school teachers, since they are providing care and enrichment for children all day (albeit with fewer required credentials). But the compensation for childcare workers more closely mirrors that of a cashier or a food-service worker than a teacher, she says.
As a part of her analysis, Gould tried to determine if these workers could afford childcare services for their own kids. “The exercise to see whether or not childcare workers can afford childcare might sound cute, but it’s actually distressing,” she says. That’s because the answer was by and large, no. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for childcare to be considered “affordable” it should cost no more than 10 percent of a family’s income (a figure that will surely seem like a bargain to many readers). Gould found that, on average, childcare would cost childcare workers closer to one-third of their salary.
Make sure you support union workers when choosing your Halloween candy.
Here's a list of union-friendly snacks courtesy of Labor 411:
5th Avenue Abba-Zaba Baby Ruth Big Hunk Butterfinger Cadbury Caramello Clark Bar Dum Dums Ghirardelli Chocolates Hershey's Kisses Hot Tamales Jawbreakers Kit Kat Laffy Taffy LOOK! Mike and Ike Necco Rocky Road Rolo See's Candies Smarties Sour Patch Kids Toblerone Tootsie Rolls Zagnut
Last month, my mother told me she was receiving food stamps. When she told me, my first reaction was one of embarrassment—what was my mother doing wrong that she wasn’t able to provide for herself? Then frustration—why didn’t she tell me that this was how she was surviving, since I am very fortunate to have a well-paying job at the moment? Shouldn’t I have saved her from the shame of having to ask for a hand-out? Then disorientation—only a few weeks before, in my capacity as a board member of a non-profit, the Executive Director had asked me for a $10,000 multi-year donation. What world was I living in that one moment I was being asked to be a major donor, and the next I was hearing all about my mom’s trip to the food shelf, how she was starting to volunteer there, how the available food was shrinking, and how one weekend she got a bushel of heirloom tomatoes?
Then I took a step back and asked my mom about the experience of getting food stamps. Here’s part of what she told me about waiting in line to apply:
Sitting there, watching the people in the line, I focused on many people but mainly the older women. Quite a few older white women probably in similar situations as I am in. Lots of older women with their daughters and often young grandchildren. They came as support for their daughters, I presume. I wonder what they had gone through with their daughters to get them here. And what are their lives like? I gained strength by imagining their lives and just looking at them. People in line had such dignity. No complaining, no pushing and shoving, some visiting among us. Beautiful people. Some young fathers with kids, also old men. Our world would be a better place if everyone had a chance to stand in this line.
Comparing my reaction with hers, I recognized with surprise how much I had internalized the dehumanizing rhetoric directed at poor people, a group that now includes members of my family. Asking for help to put food on the table should not be a cause for shame. However, instead of merely ignoring people who need help feeding their families, political leaders like Paul Ryan, who claims to be Catholic, are actively blaming them for the problems of our economy that excludes so many. The prophets of old attributed Israel’s tribulations to how it ignored the widows, the orphans, and the strangers. The demagogues of today blame the widows, the orphans, and the strangers for asking for basic sustenance. Far from embracing the preferential option for the poor, these politicians are advocating an active preferential scapegoating of the poor.
Imagine going to work but not getting paid. NBC 5 Investigates has found an alarming number of workers in the private sector who claim their past or current employers are stealing their wages.
Thousands of complaints are being filed with the Illinois Department Labor from employees reporting they are either not being paid for hours worked, not receiving overtime compensation or earning less than the minimum wage.
Workers call it wage theft.
“It became a constant battle of just getting my tiny bit of money,” said Alexandra Lipman, a former Chicago restaurant manager who claims her hours drastically increased at her old job but her paychecks did not.
Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) statistics show 3,220 wage complaints were filed between 2014 and mid-2015, resulting in claims totaling $15,473,500 in lost or stolen wages. What’s more: experts who study wage theft said the damage could be much worse, as workers may be too afraid to report their lost or stolen wages for fear of losing their jobs.
“These are jobs that are sort of more hidden, more informal in some respects,” said Jacob Lesniewski of Dominican University. “I think there’s a lot of fear of retaliation.”
Noemi Hernandez said she remained at her job at a bridal store for months even though she was not earning the minimum wage. She said her former employer owes her $9,700.
“I needed the money. I needed to work and I found that to be stable,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez filed a complaint with the IDOL but said her employer eventually closed the business.
While the IDOL recovered nearly $3,000,000 in unpaid vs. lost wages for workers in fiscal year 2014, workers who file wage claims could face a time-consuming process with just a 32% success rate.
According to IDOL data based on complaints filed in 2014 and 2015, the average worker in Illinois waited 162 days – nearly five and a half months – for the IDOL to resolve his or her claim for lost wages. And out of the 3,220 claims filed, less than one-third of the workers won their case and received a check.
NBC 5 Investigates also found 144 cases where workers had to wait more than one year for the IDOL to get them the lost wages they were due.
Seattle labor activists scored a major win last year when the city became the second in the country to pass a $15 minimum wage law. But working conditions for many local service workers remain poor, in part due to lax enforcement, according to a new survey by a group representing Seattle restaurant employees.
Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) Seattle — part of ROC United, a national labor group that campaigns on minimum wage issues — found in its survey of 524 Seattle-area restaurant employees that low wages and illegal labor practices persist in the industry, despite the minimum wage law and other legislation meant to improve conditions for low-wage workers.
The survey found that 42.7 percent of respondents earned “poverty wages,” or wages below a threshold the group set at $12.25 per hour. Seattle’s $11 an hour minimum wage will gradually increase to $15 for all employers by 2021.
“Many restaurant jobs in the Seattle area are low-road jobs characterized by few benefits, low wages, and poor workplace conditions,” ROC Seattle said in a statement issued Tuesday. "Our report also unearths a range of serious problems related to the availability of benefits, hiring and promotion practices, workplace discrimination, and job-specific training opportunities."
Wage theft was also widespread, the survey report said. More than one-fifth of respondents said they had worked off the clock without pay in the past year. And 38.8 percent of those who had worked more than 40 hours per week at some point during the year said they had not received the time-and-a-half overtime compensation required by federal law.
The supply chain workers that bring us Amazon’s goods deserve better. They are an integral part of what makes Amazon successful. Amazon should hold its contractors accountable and stop profiting from the cheating of American workers.
Workers and supporters march to the Vegas Auto Spa, a car wash that has become a focal point for labor and union rights, during a rally on March 4, 2015, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Through boom and bust, the American worker has been faced by two trends over the past few decades: the percentage of workers that are members of labor unions has decreased and the American middle class has slowly been hollowed out.
According to four researchers — Richard Freeman at the National Bureau of Economic Research, Eunice Han at Wellesley College, and David Madland and Brendan V. Duke at the Center for American Progress — the two trends are closely connected.
"The evidence in this paper shows that parents' unionism has a significant relationship with their offspring's well-being," wrote the researches in a paper from the NBER.
The correlation, the study said, could have serious implications in the way that the public thinks about unions.
"A strong union movement is not simply sufficient for high levels of intergenerational mobility and middle-class membership, but it could be necessary," wrote the researchers.
"If that is the case, it will be difficult to meaningfully increase intergenerational mobility and rebuild the middle class without also rebuilding unions or some comparable worker-based organizations."
Back in the day, factory workers at the Chicago-based Republic Windows and Doors were simply told what to do. That wasn’t unusual. Workers might have seen ways to improve the production process, but at Republic their supervisor wasn’t interested, said former employee Armando Robles.
“Whatever the bosses want, we do it. We’d say, ‘Look, this is a better way,’ and they say, ‘No, we say you have to do it this way.’ Even when they make a mistake, they just continue,” Robles explained.
Things are very different today. Employees of what is now called New Era Windows and Doors are also the owners. And their ideas matter. Any of them can propose improvements, and if they can convince a majority of their co-workers, things can change quickly.
“If we make a mistake, we talk to each other and we find a solution,” Robles told me when I visited the factory in late September. “We try to do the best for everyone. We work harder because we’re working for ourselves. But it’s more enjoyable. We work with passion.”
It was a long journey to becoming a worker cooperative, and it was not a journey anyone had planned. In 2008, Republic’s owners closed the factory and laid off the work force without the required 60-days notice. Workers occupied the factory and refused to leave the premises until they were paid what they were owed. The story went nationwide. Pressure from the union, area activists, and even President Obama led to a victory. The workers were paid, and instead of shutting down, the factory was sold to California-based Serious Materials.
The workers kept their jobs, though the experience radicalized them. Some visited Argentina where they learned that other workers facing the same situation had occupied their factories and eventually became worker-owners.
So Robles and his co-workers were prepared when, three years later, Serious Materials announced they would shut down and liquidate the factory. Once again, the workers occupied. With a nationwide petition drive, support from United Electrical Workers, financing from The Working World (an organization that helps establish worker cooperatives), support from the local Occupy movement, and the memory of the previous occupation still fresh in the minds of the Chicago power elite, the protest turned into a buyout.
The New Era Windows and Doors Cooperative has been in operation since 2013. It hasn’t been easy, but the worker-owners have learned together how to operate their own business. And then there were the meetings: “It was difficult to make decisions together,” Robles said. “But it’s kind of fun, because at the end of the day it’s for the benefit of everyone.”
SunTrust Banks in Atlanta is laying off about 100 IT employees as it moves work offshore. But this layoff is unusual for what the employer is asking of its soon-to-be displaced workers: SunTrust's severance agreement requires terminated employees to remain available for two years to provide help if needed, including in-person assistance, and to do so without compensation.
Many of the affected IT employees, who are now training their replacements, have years of experience and provide the highest levels of technical support. The proof of their ability may be in the severance requirement, which gives the bank a way to tap their expertise long after their departure.
The bank's severance deal includes a "continuing cooperation" clause for a period of two years, where the employee agrees to "make myself reasonably available" to SunTrust "regarding matters in which I have been involved in the course of my employment with SunTrust and/or about which I have knowledge as a result of my employment at SunTrust."
The employees were informed of their layoff at the end of September, and the last day of work for some is Nov. 1. This is according to several of the affected employees, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.
The severance is seen by affected employees as a requirement to provide ongoing technical assistance as needed. The severance agreement itself says that this assistance from former employees "will be requested at such times and in such a manner so as to not unreasonably interfere with my subsequent employment." An employee shared the severance clause with Computerworld.
This assistance can be by telephone or in-person meetings, and it may be provided without "additional consideration or compensation of any kind," the clause says.
"How do they think this is acceptable?" said one affected IT worker about the clause. He said he couldn't fathom how the bank can cut its IT staff and yet insist that former workers be available to fix problems.
SunTrust, with about $189 billion in assets, declined to discuss the severance deal, and a spokesman said the company isn't commenting on its "HR policies or procedures."
Jan. 18, 2013, as the sun went down, Jeff Lockhart Jr. got ready for work. He slipped a T-shirt over his burly frame and hung his white work badge over his broad chest. His wife, Di-Key, was in the bathroom fixing her hair in micro-braids and preparing for another evening alone with her three sons. Jeff had been putting in long hours lately, and so the couple planned a breakfast date at Shoney’s for when his shift ended around dawn. “You better have your hair done by then,” he teased her.
As he headed out the door, Jeff, who was 29, said goodbye to the boys. He told Jeffrey, the most rambunctious, not to give his mom a hard time; Kelton, the oldest, handed his father his iPod for the ride. Then Jeff climbed into his Chevy Suburban, cranked the bass on the stereo system he’d customized himself, and headed for the Amazon fulfillment center in nearby Chester, Virginia, just south of Richmond.
When the warehouse opened its doors in 2012, there were about 37,000 unemployed people living within a 30-minute drive; in nearby Richmond, more than a quarter of residents were living in poverty. The warehouse only provided positions for a fraction of the local jobless: It currently has around 3,000 full-time workers. But it also enlists hundreds, possibly thousands, of temporary workers to fill orders during the holiday shopping frenzy, known in Amazon parlance as “peak.” Since full-timers and temps perform the same duties, the only way to tell them apart is their badges. Full-time workers wear blue. Temps wear white.
That meant Jeff wore white. He’d started working at the warehouse in November 2012, not long after it opened. It was the first job he’d been able to find in months, ever since he’d been laid off from his last steady gig at a building supply store. By January, peak season had come and gone, and hundreds of Jeff’s fellow temps had been let go. But he was still there, two months after he'd started, wearing his white badge. What he wanted was to earn a blue one.
At the warehouse, Jeff was a picker, fetching orders to be shipped to Amazon customers. A handheld scanner gun told him what he needed to pull and the exact aisle and shelf where he would find it. Since the Chester facility covers 1.1 million square feet, the equivalent of roughly 18 football fields, the right shelf might be just around the corner, or it might be 100 yards away. Once he pulled the item, his scanner would give him his next assignment, and off he'd go, wherever the gun took him next. He got a kick out of this peculiar window into the desires of the American consumer. Once, he stumbled on a small soccer set and made a note to buy it for Jeffrey when spring arrived. Another time, he filled an order for a mysterious item that turned out to be a butt plug kit. "I'm telling you," he later told Di-Key, laughing as he showed her the listing online, "this thing was as big as my fist."
Being a picker was a demanding job for a man of Jeff’s size. He was built like an offensive lineman—6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, with a flowing, dirty-blonde beard, wire-rimmed glasses and a head shaved almost completely bald. Since workers at the Chester facility were typically expected to pull 100 items or more per hour, a picker could expect to walk more than 12 miles over the course of a shift. The handheld scanners allowed managers to track precisely how long it takes workers to fulfill an order, and those who failed to "make rate" could lose their jobs. Jeff moved quickly up and down the aisles alongside men and women half his size, earning the nickname "Tornado.” “If I gave him a directive, he took care of it,” said Tim Taylor, a supervisor at the warehouse. “You didn’t have to explain it—he just knocked it out.”
“He liked it, and it exhausted him,” says Jeff's father, Jeff Lockhart Sr. “He’d come over here on the weekends when he could. He wouldn't sit there long and he'd fall asleep.” As a big guy, Jeff was mindful of his weight—he didn’t want to develop diabetes later in life. He’d taken up jogging and was eating better at home. After he started working at the warehouse, his family noticed that he was shedding pounds. “He dropped two, almost three pant sizes,” Di-Key says.
Sometime around 2 a.m. that January morning, Jeff took his 30-minute “lunch break.” Most days, he would clock out and go out to his Suburban in the parking lot. He would pull his lunch from his cooler and grab his phone, which, under warehouse policy, wasn't allowed on the floor. He always at least texted Di-Key, who found it hard to sleep while her husband was away at work. On this particular morning, he called her. He asked how her braids had come along, told her that he loved her and that she should get some sleep. Then he said he needed to get back to work.
Less than an hour later, a worker found Jeff on the third floor. He had collapsed and was lying unconscious in aisle A-215, beneath shelves stocked with Tupperware and heating pads.
I am so pleased to participate in this discussion about Pope Francis’ visit to the United States and how we who are involved in the labor and religion movement and the promotion of social justice can continue to promote his vision at the local, national and international levels.
I was privileged to be with Pope Francis both in Washington, DC when he met with the US bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and later at the Shrine Basilica at the Catholic University of America where he celebrated the first canonization ever conducted in the United States, that of Juniper Serra, the 16th Century founder of the Missions in California.
In New York City, I participated in the evening prayer at which Pope Francis presided in the beautifully renovated St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in the Interfaith Memorial Celebration at the 9/11 Museum and at the Mass held in Madison Square Garden.
The sense of joy, enthusiasm and support for the Pope and his message were palpable at all of these events and his humility, sincerity, integrity and simplicity in tone and style came shining through.
I found the Memorial Service at the 9/11 Museum the most moving. It was held in the battered and scarred bowels of the former World Trade Center edifice and representatives from the Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian communities prayed for the employees, visitors and the first responders who were killed in this dastardly attack, the ripple effects of which continue to shape government policy and the national mood.
It was when the Pope exited this service that I had the opportunity to greet and thank him for his leadership on behalf of the poor and marginalized.
It should be noted that in addition to his civic and religious events, the Pope visited an inner city school, a shelter for the homeless, a catholic charities agency serving the addicted, mentally ill and developmentally disabled, and prisoners at the largest Correctional Facility in the City of Brotherly Love.
This afternoon, I would like to reflect on two key issues that Pope Francis has addressed in his presentation in Washington and to the United Nations: Income inequality and Climate Change.
Speaking to the members of the House of Representatives and the US Senate, the Pope cited 4 American heroes: President Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, who engaged in interfaith activity, especially with the Buddhist community.
Dorothy Day stands as a symbol for Francis’ commitment to those suffering from poverty and income inequality.
She lived a bohemian lifestyle before converting to Catholicism where she became a staunch advocate for non-violence and a vocal critic of capitalism’s excesses. She co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement’s soup kitchens and its newspaper in 1933. She lived in voluntary poverty among the poor and practiced civil disobedience as a pacifist.
Pope Francis praised her for “her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed which were inspired by the Gospel and her faith. Today, Catholic Worker Houses of hospitality which feed and shelter the poor number over 200 across the United States and about 30 abroad.
Her cause for canonization is presently being considered by the Church, which she would adamantly oppose. “Don’t make me a saint” she used to say. She didn’t want to be put on a pedestal, but rather to serve as an example of what each of us can do to make the world better.
Dorothy Day was highlighted by Pope Francis because her life is an antidote to the runaway capitalism, greed and income inequality that he spoke about both in Congress and the United Nations.
Francis clearly teaches that alleviating the grave evil of poverty must be at the heart of the church’s mission. It is neither optional nor secondary.
Who are the poor today? They are many: the 37 million of our fellow Americans who live below the federal poverty line; the 800 million people globally who suffer from persistent hunger and malnutrition, or those in places like Nigeria, the Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, the Ukraine and the Holy Land, who are threatened daily by the wanton savagery of warfare and mindless terrorism.
In particular, I would mention the 12 million immigrants who are living in our country without documentation, hiding in the margins of society, often exploited by employers and others, and lacking a clear path to citizenship. They have become the scapegoats for our nation’s socio-economic woes, the focal point for our irrational fears, and the objects of our hatred and prejudice, when all they really want is a better life for their families and themselves – just as our immigrant ancestors did.
And, of course, there are the growing number of refugees from the Mideast, Asia and Africa fleeting hunger, persecution and genocide, many drowning as the result of overcrowded and unsafe sea vessels or from the lack of food and shelter once they arrive on land, finding themselves unwanted, shunned, vilified and rejected.
Further, Pope Francis not only speaks to the centrality of addressing poverty as an imperative but calls all to look anew at the common good and how we are to achieve it.
In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, Francis says, “I exhort you to generous solidarity with the poor and toward a return of economics and finances to an ethical approach which favors human beings.”
Pope Francis asks, “Can we stand by while food is thrown away and people are starving? “Some people”, he notes, “continue to defend trickle down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, inevitably will succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness to the world. "This opinion”, Francis notes, “which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing system. Meanwhile, the excluded remain waiting.”
He notes “that domestic welfare and international aid projects that meet certain urgent needs should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of the markets and financial speculation, and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solutions will be found for the world’s problems, or, for that matter, for any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.”
That is why in his exhortation Pope Francis rails against the growing gap in income inequality between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots, adding that “the culture of prosperity deadens us…thus, in the name of Christ the rich must help, respect and promote the poor.”
Indeed, Francis reminds us,” not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away from their livelihood. It is not our goods we hold but theirs.”
Now some have severely criticized Pope Francis’ economic analysis calling it Marxist or disguised socialism. But Pope Francis explains, “If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond I speak them with affection and with the best intentions apart from any personal interest in political ideology.”
In other words, Pope Francis speaks to us not as an expert on economics, but with the firm conviction that God has created a world of abundance and that there are more than enough resources to insure that all can live a humane and fruitful life. Therefore, we must make economic arrangements which enable everyone to benefit from the fruit of the earth and not just close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table.”
Hence, Francis has made clear that the present economic slowdown worldwide must lead to “a new stimulus for international activity on behalf of the poor, inspired by something more than mere goodwill, or worse yet by, promises which too often have not been kept.”
Bishop Robert McElroy, the newly appointed Bishop of San Diego, has suggested this exhortation of Pope Francis should lead us in the United States to address three false cultures we find within our society: the culture of comfort that makes us think only of ourselves; the culture of waste that seizes the gifts of the created order only to savor them for a moment and then discard them; and the culture of indifference that desensitizes us to the sufferings of others; no matter how intense, no matter how sustained.”
In Pope Francis own words “without the preferential option for the poor, the proclamation of the Gospel, which itself is the prime form of charity risks being misunderstood or submerged by an ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass media.
In sum, Pope Francis posits that the globalized economy, where the 85 richest individuals in the world have more wealth than the 3.5 billion poorest, is a gross injustice and is supported by a “throw away culture” where policies and social behaviors have made money, not people, the focus.
A big part of the problem Francis is concerned about, is a loss of the social contract. We so easily fall into lines that can view political and economic systems as mere mechanisms that operate without reference to values and morality. Markets and public policies churn out and distribute benefits in ways that respond to power, talent, and perhaps luck. But they need not serve ultimate ends. There is no particular moral meaning to the taxes we pay or to the wages our corporations offer. Ethical principles like progressive taxation and a living wage are nuisances at best, serious liabilities in international competition at worst. In a world governed by nothing more enlightened than the bottom line, there is scant room for social concern.”
Unfortunately, today we often fail to understand and appreciate the central purpose of our economy,: namely, to meet the basic human needs of all the members of society. Needs should take preference over wants, necessities over luxuries. Insisting on a fairer sharing of social burdens and benefits may not be popular but it is the right thing to do.
Sadly, over the past 50 years we seem to have lost the words – and with them the ideas – to frame our situation appropriately. Can we talk about this?”
Indeed we must! For the new question needing to be asked, of the economy, specifically, and of political arrangements generally, is about the dispositions necessary for a healthy society, one in which everybody flourishes since the economy cannot be measured only by the maximization of profits but rather in accord with the common good. Some call this the search for a “human ecology”.
This is the corporate contract we need in America and throughout the world. We must seek to create a society and world in which hard-working people can be safe and prosper, and they in turn reinvest a fair share of that prosperity back into society for posterity.
I would emphasize that one of the most effective ways to address income inequality and to serve as an antidote to the powerful forces of capitalism is the promotion of unions and worker centers that can defend their rights.
During the last 30 years, the minimum wage in our country has fallen to a fifty year low. It now pays a worker $15,000 a year, not nearly enough to keep a family of 4 above the official poverty level of $23,000.
Meanwhile union membership has been cut in half, falling to a new low of 12 percent of the overall workforce and only 7 percent of private sector workers.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, since the beginning of the Reagan Revolution in 1980, Americans have seen their hourly wages stagnate or decline. While the real gross domestic product has grown by nearly 150 percent and net productivity by 64 percent in this same period, more and more of the jobs Americans hold today come without reliable living wages or benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, training and job security.
Hence, I believe, Charles Wheelan, an economist from the University of Chicago, is right when he states, “we need some kind of labor relations 2.02 which calls for a model that tries to protect some of the leverage that comes from collective bargaining.”
During the present Supreme Court session, the Court will hear the challenge to the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. For decades, public-sector unions have been allowed to charge non-members for the costs of collective bargaining on their behalf, but not fees for the unions’ political and lobbying activity, which are paid only by members.
This arrangement, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1977, strikes a reasonable balance — allowing workers to opt out of paying for political activities they may disagree with while avoiding the “free rider” problem, where non-members benefit from the higher wages and better working conditions achieved through collective bargaining without paying their fair share.
The anti-union movement, which this suit represents, wants to weaken and destroy public unions by shrinking their coffers. But the current law is sensible and has been repeatedly upheld by the court. There is no reason to overturn this principle in the California case. This case should be a major focus for those concerned about labor rights.
So should wage theft, of which Rudy Lopez is well aware and discussed with President Obama recently.
The second issue I will mention is climate change. The Pope’s pleas to our nation and the UN about Climate Change stem from his recent encyclical on the environment, entitled Laudato Si, the Care of Our Common Home.
The encyclical draws its title from “the Canticle of Creation” authored by the Pope’s namesake and role model, that renowned 13th century saint,. Francis of Assisi.
The timing of the Pope’s encyclical is crucial, as it comes before the United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris this coming December, in which world leaders will seek to set concrete goals to address the issue of climate change or global warming.
Let me attempt to summarize the contents of this encyclical from a theological, scientific, moral and social perspective.
Theological perspective – Concept of Dominion
It has been at the heart of Judeo-Christian teaching that God created the universe and gave to Adam and Eve and to the members of the human family dominion over the earth.
Through the course of the centuries, the church’s eyes have been fixed primarily on the next world and the ethic of dominion which focuses little on non human creatures and the environment as a whole. This seemed to give scriptural authority for human beings to take the earth for granted and to do with it what we pleased.
In more recent years, however, theologians have sought to replace this ethic of dominion with a new ethic of the caring stewardship of God’s creation. Pope Francis has placed himself clearly in accord with this new line of thinking. For example, he states emphatically, “Nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute dominion over creatures.” In other words, in this encyclical Pope Francis places himself firmly in the tradition of Francis of Assisi, telling the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and anyone who will listen, that the caring stewardship of creation, suddenly and dramatically is at the heart of the church’s mission and that we have a passionate reason to love the earth and respect it, now more than ever when it is being threatened so mortally. Our planet is truly the work of our Creator and it is to be treasured accordingly.
In short, Pope Francis strongly rejects any interpretation of the Scriptures that would find men and women as “dominators” over nature.
Thus, in addressing previous interpretations of the Genesis stories that give full license for humans to be domineering and destructive, Pope Francis stresses, “this is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church. Although it is true that we Christians at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures… In our time, Pope Francis says, “the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings as if they have no worth and can be treated as we wish.”
While Pope Francis’ predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, affirmed the intrinsic value of non human creatures and exhorted us to respect the grammar of creation, in his encyclical Pope Francis incorporates respect for and protection of the whole of creation into the core of a Catholic approach to ecology (236).
b) Scientific Perspective
At over 37,000 words, Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ is one of the longest encyclicals in the church’s history. This encyclical covers a lot of ground. Among the topics addressed are: banking regulation, gender theory, urban planning, Sabbath observances, Trinitarian theology, and the saying of grace before meals.
But Laudato Si’ will be read and remembered primarily from a scientific perspective as Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical. The sentences everyone was looking for arrive near the beginning, carefully qualified but unambiguous: “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.... It is true that there are other factors contributing to this phenomenon (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle, etc.), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants) released mainly as a result of human activity.”
The research shows that virtually every piece of land ice on earth is melting, the sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, droughts and other weather extremes are intensifying, the global food system is showing signs of instability, and, if left unchecked the effects on agriculture, sea levels and the natural world will be devastating and impact on the poor disproportionately.
Third, for Francis, climate change is just one part of a larger ecological crisis that also involves the extinction of plant and animal species and the accumulation of waste. And this ecological crisis, he believes, is part of a larger ethical or moral failure that also involves the way we treat the poor, the disabled, and the future generations who will inherit the world we’re destroying. Extending a basic element of the church’s social teaching, Francis calls for “intergenerational solidarity,” as well as solidarity with other creatures. He calls on people in the developed world to put down their digital devices long enough to consider the effect of our choices—as consumers and citizens—on fellow creatures thousands of miles or hundreds of years away.”
The most important thing is to recognize the urgency of the problem, and to accept that the only way to solve it is “by our decisive action, here and now.” We cannot wait for the magic of markets or new machines to save us from our predicament. We will have to face it head on, by means of political engagement at every level—local, national, and international. Historically, democracies have been better at dealing with emergencies than with long-term problems like climate change. We must somehow correct that tendency, and learn to look beyond the next election, as well as the next profit report. Francis remains hopeful: human beings, he reminds us, are "capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.” That is all that is required, yet nothing less will be enough.
Hopefully, Pope Francis’ encyclical will be seen as an invitation to dialogue. He is inviting economists, business people, public officials, environmentalists, inventors and religious leaders to come together for a conversation on how to protect the environment. Anyone with a good idea is welcome.
The encyclical can also be a source of inspiration and ideas for activists, teachers, preachers, theologians and authors to echo, to critique and to develop the Pope’s urgent message.
Further, Pope Francis’ encyclical must be seen as a call to change in human behavior and human reason in a way that will require sacrifice from everyone, especially those who are benefitting from the fruits of the status quo: Big Business, Wall Street Financial Capitalism and The Industrial Complex dependent on fossil fuels: for example, car manufacturers, oil companies and coal-based electrical generation.
The Pope’s encyclical also demands personal sacrifices like cutting back on our own consumerism, recycling, using buses or car shares, turning off unnecessary lights, cutting back on heating and air conditioning, etc.
Doing what the Pope asks will require an extraordinary change in human vision and behavior to accomplish the peaceful resolution he calls for. It will require sacrifice from everyone, especially those who are enjoying the fruits of the status quo. Yes, doing what the Pope asks will not be easy but Francis encourages us to trust in a loving God and a powerful Spirit who can renew the face of the earth.
Let me cite 2 challenges involving climate change which we must monitor closely. The first is at the Paris Conference. Six years ago in Copenhagen, a promise of 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 was made to help the world’s poorest nations, especially, in places like Bangladesh and sub-Sahara Africa to adapt to the fallout from global warming. But to date, as Christiana Figureres, the executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has noted, “there is no credible roadmap to the 100 billion. Nations are having a hard time putting their money where their mouth is.
To be sure there is some progress. France promised 5.6 billion by 2020 in climate-related assistance, up from 3.4 billion presently, and Britain has pledged to increase its budget for climate related development finance and the United States has contributed 12.8 billion between 2012-14. So we’re at about 50 billion but something like 30-40 billion will still have to be realized between now and 2020.
There is also the danger that richer nations will repurpose or relabel other downpayment and assistance that happen to have climate related side effects. But as a prominent UN official has pointed out, “while there is a lot of overlap in climate and development aid, they are not the same thing. How will the 100 billion climate goal be reached! This is something we must be prepared to monitor.
I would note in conclusion that Pope Francis has proclaimed September 1 to be an annual “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” – and has expressed the hope that this day would also involve other religious denominations – both ecumenical and interfaith – similar to the Days of Prayer for Peace at Assisi and last month’s Interfaith memorial Service at the 9/11 museum. I would suggest this is something we could do locally or statewide as well.
Finally, as the Jesuit commentator Thomas Reese observes, “the Pope’s encyclical is remarkable in that it does not depend primarily on fear to motivate people to care for the earth. Rather, Francis emphasizes love as a motivating force. He invites everyone to get involved for the long haul. Environmental change is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It will require the participation of each of us, motivated by the environmental crisis we embrace and our desire to protect future generations from an environmental catastrophe.
May all of us, then, in our own sphere of influence do what we can to insure that this potential devastating catastrophe never becomes a reality. May it be so!
Have you noticed how often conservatives who disagree with a policy proposal call it a “job killer?”
They’re especially incensed about proposals to raise the federal minimum wage. They claim it will force employers to lay off workers worth hiring at the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour but not at a higher minimum.
But as Princeton University economist Alan Krueger pointed out recently in the New York Times, “research suggests that a minimum wage set as high as $12 an hour will do more good than harm for low-wage workers.”
That’s because a higher minimum puts more money into the pockets of people who will spend it, mostly in the local economy. That spending encourages businesses to hire more workers.
Which is why many economists, like Krueger, support raising the federal minimum to $12 an hour.
What about $15 an hour?
Across America, workers at fast-food and big-box retail establishments are striking for $15. Some cities are already moving toward this goal. Bernie Sanders is advocating it. A national movement is growing for a $15 an hour minimum.
Yet economists are nervous. Krueger says a $15 an hour minimum would “put us in uncharted waters, and risk undesirable and unintended consequences” of job loss.
Yet maybe some jobs are worth risking if a strong moral case can be made for a $15 minimum.
That moral case is that no one should be working full time and still remain in poverty.
People who work full time are fulfilling their most basic social responsibility. As such, they should earn enough to live on.
A full-time worker with two kids needs at least $30,135 this year to be safely out of poverty. That’s $15 an hour for a forty-hour workweek.
Flu season is here. And when the flu strikes, the luckier victims may call in sick without getting punished or losing pay.
But many American workers, including those who handle our food, aren't so fortunate.
Fifty-one percent of food workers — who do everything from grow and process food to cook and serve it — said they "always" or "frequently" go to work when they're sick, according to the results of a survey released Monday.An additional 38 percent said they go to work sick "sometimes."
That's a practice that can have serious public health consequences. For instance, as The Salt reported last year, the vast majority of reported cases of norovirus — the leading cause of foodborne disease outbreaks and illnesses across the country — have been linked to infected food industry workers.
But it's not as if these sick food workers are careless. Nine out of 10 workers polled in the new survey said they feel responsible for the safety and well-being of their customers. Yet about 45 percent said they go to work sick because they "can't afford to lose pay." And about 46 percent said they do it because they "don't want to let co-workers down."
The study was commissioned by Alchemy, a firm that works with companies across the food chain to improve safety and productivity. Alchemy CEO Jeff Eastman tells The Salt that the survey was designed to help his firm learn more about the experience of food workers. Alchemy asked the Center for Research and Public Policy, a consulting firm, to conduct the research with more than 1,200 food workers in the U.S. and Canadain July.
Though some people might be tempted to point a finger at the workers for going to work sick, the reality of their situation helps explain why they do it, says Jose Oliva, co-director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. "A lot of these workers actually depend on every single one of the days that they work for money," Oliva says. "So if you don't go to work, you don't get paid."
Indeed, a 2012 studyfrom Oliva's Food Chain Workers Alliance and the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that 79 percent of food system workers did not have paid sick days or did not know whether they did. Similar to the current study, the 2012 report also found that 53 percent of workers had worked when they were sick.
Over the past few years, thousands of students have waved picket signs and chanted slogans in support of raising the minimum wage for people who toil in fast-food restaurants and other low-paid professions. Now that advocacy has expanded to another class of worker: college-goers themselves.
Students at nearly 20 schools, including the University of Maryland at College Park, Columbia University, Northeastern University and San Francisco State University, are mounting campaigns demanding better pay for part-time work. The University of Washington's recent decision to raise its wage floor to $15 an hour has encouraged student leaders elsewhere — but many are running into administrators reluctant to fatten payrolls as they struggle to contain costs.
The campaigns are largely independent of national labor organizations, such as the union-backed Fight for $15 movement that has helped boost minimum wages in a number of cities, but they share the aim of providing workers with enough to pay the bills.
"Students are inspired by fast-food workers speaking out, home-care workers speaking out, their adjunct professors speaking out," said Beth Huang, a coordinator for the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), an initiative of a labor union and foundation-funded group called Jobs with Justice. "Tuition, housing, textbooks are increasing in price while student wages have largely stayed stagnant."
The call for higher wages also comes at a time when many students who provide services for schools, such as graduate student teaching assistants and student athletes, have pushed to unionize -- with varying degrees of success. Previously, undergraduate student activism had focused more on improving conditions for campus staff.
"Students don't think of themselves as workers, even when they're working two part-time jobs to stave off mounting debt," said freelance writer George Joseph, who helped found a student group at Columbia University that is pushing the administration to raise wages to at least $15 an hour. "So I think that's part of the campaign, making students realize the value of their labor."
Forty percent of undergraduates attending college full time were employed in 2013, mostly in part-time jobs requiring less than 34 hours a week of work, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Just 8 percent of students work on campus, either directly for the school or through the federal work-study program.
Martin Hernandez was moving heavy boxes of merchandise at a Brooklyn warehouse belonging to the electronics superstore B&H Photo Video in late August, he said, when he felt a sudden stab of pain in his left leg.
“I felt my knee crack, and I just couldn’t get up,” he said on Tuesday, through a Spanish-English interpreter. “The pain was so intense, I couldn’t feel my foot.”
Mr. Hernandez, 48, said he had been taken by ambulance to the Brooklyn Hospital Center. He eventually learned he had a damaged ligament, and has not worked or received a paycheck since the injury. He said his meager savings were nearly exhausted.
On Tuesday, an organizer with the United Steelworkers union filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking for a vote among warehouse workers — including Mr. Hernandez — on whether they want the union to represent them. Workers had complained that they had been forced to work long hours in unsafe environments without proper training, while subject to discrimination.
“This is an employer who had been negligent and unconcerned about unhealthy working conditions and health problems,” said Arturo Archila, the union organizer. He said he expected a vote to take place within 25 or 26 days.
New census data shows that more women than men have college degrees. However, this may not be translating to their bank accounts.
The American Association of University Women showed that there is a 7% wage gap between male and female college graduates a year after graduation, despite similar background, age and location.
One expert says when it comes to the difference in pay between men and women, $500 here or $1,000 there a year can add up over time.
"Those salary differentials over time could equal probably between $1 million and $1.5 million for your average white collar professional woman that's not available to her in retirement that is available to her equally qualified male colleague," said Janine Parry, University of Arkansas professor and author.
Parry says some of the reasons for the difference: women are less likely to negotiate and salaries are kept private. Many woman are not even aware they may be making less than their male co-workers.
"It may just be that at especially privately held big companies salary can't be discussed, women are hired at a lower wage, men are hired at a higher wage and they're not allowed to discuss it so nobody knows," Parry said.
A Pew Research Center Reports shows that moms are now breadwinners in 40% of U.S. households. However, Parry says there is not just a wage gap, but a parenting gap as the difference in pay tends to get bigger as women get older.
According to Parry: "Women's income tends to go down per each child that they bring into their lives. Men's income conversely tends to go up on average per each child."
Solving an issue with deep roots is not easy. In fact, Parry says improvement has been in a static state as of late.
"It would be a mistake to think that the equal pay act of 1963 solved these issues... The reality is that women are the sole bread maker or an important contributor to lots of families in Arkansas and elsewhere and it's in everyone's interest to make sure they're compensated fairly for their labor," Parry said.
Staff attorney for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said two Honduran men arrested in Louisiana should not be deported because they were detained by local police on the basis of their ethnicity, according to an internal email obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
The case highlights the ongoing concern among some senior leaders in the Homeland Security Department that local police are making arrests based on appearance and then calling immigration agents to check immigration status.
An attorney with the DHS’ Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties recommended Sept. 21 that the two men, who are in the country illegally, be released because they pose no threat and should not have been arrested in the first place.
“Detention based on ethnic appearance … is not an appropriate form of police custody for Border Patrol or ICE to use as a foundation for an enforcement action,” wrote Megan H. Mack, a lawyer with the civil rights and civil liberties office.
Her internal report, intended for ICE Director Sarah Saldana and other officials in the department, was inadvertently sent to lawyers for the two men.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials chose not to follow her recommendation and say they are following department guidelines in deporting the men. They say the two men, Jose Adan Fugon-Cano and Gustavo Barahona Sanchez, both had been removed from the U.S. before, and thus are still priorities for deportation under the department’s new guidelines. The men are now being held in the Alexandria Transportation Center in Louisiana, the last stop for many unauthorized immigrants who are flown from the U.S.
According to the lawyers, it also shows that the agency is still using arrests by local police to round up low-level offenders in the country illegally, in spite of a new plan to target only priority cases.
“I think at the end of the day they do have targets to meet and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to meet those quotas,” said Julie Mao, a lawyer with the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, who represents the two men. “This is a precise example of an agency with no transparency.”
ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a number of new measures to fight worker exploitation Wednesday.
Among them include instituting the Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation which will coordinate outreach and education with workers and employers, investigations, prosecutions, data collection and compliance efforts.
Additionally, the Governor has created an Anti-Retaliation Unit and a Mediation Unit within the State Department of Labor to eliminate retaliation against workers who assert their rights.
A new website (www.ny.gov/EndWorkerExploitation) has been launched to provide workers, employers and the public with information about the program and how they can combat worker exploitation.
Over 200 B&H Photo warehouse workers organizing with Laundry Workers Center and United Steelworkers stood up last weekend and demanded an end to incredibly dangerous working conditions, discrimination, and wage theft.
Workers collaborated with community allies to make a great video about their campaign for change at B&H--the largest non-chain photo store in the country and a major source of equipment for video and photo professionals. Now we're asking for your help to launch their video into the stratosphere.
Join today's "Twitter Storm" from 2pm-4pm by tweeting with #BHexposed and let the world of professional photo & video know about the workers who are leading the fight against the horrific safety conditions at B&H warehouses.
In a sweeping victory for California workers, Governor Jerry Brown on Sunday signed into law a wage theft bill that will prevent companies from evading court orders pertaining to wage theft cases and give the California Labor Commission the power to impose liens on the property of business owners who commit wage theft.
“With the Governor’s signature on SB 588 we are sending a message to employers around our state and around the country, California is setting the standard on protecting workers and hacking at the roots of income inequality,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, who wrote the legislation.
“Stealing the pay of workers is unconscionable. It takes food off their tables and makes it difficult – if not impossible – to provide for their families. A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is one of the cornerstones of our economy, and of our values as a nation.”
A UCLA study recently found that in Los Angeles alone, workers are victims of wage theft to the tune of $26.2 million every week. Even when workers file formal complaints, 87% of stolen wages are never recovered.
Alexandra Suh, Executive Director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA), a key member of the alliance which advocated for SB 588, said, “Not only is it almost impossible to live on less than the minimum wage in California, it is very difficult for honest employers to compete with companies that ignore the law. This bill sends a strong message that California supports companies that play by the rules.”
As the nationwide campaign for a $15 hourly minimum wage gains traction, some labor groups have set their sights on an even higher number: $16.87 — a demand that could help push the $15 figure closer to the mainstream of American politics.
A new report, published Tuesday, from the Alliance for a Just Society, a coalition of labor organizations, argues that $15 an hour is less than a living wage in most states. A single, childless adult earning $15 per hour would still not be able to make ends meet in 34 states and the District of Columbia, Alliance for a Just Society researcher Allyson Fredericksen found.
She estimated that the true nationwide living wage for a single adult — based on a weighted average of wages in each state — is $16.87 per hour. At the low end of the spectrum, the report found Arkansas to have a living wage of $14.26 an hour; D.C. was had the highest living wage, $21.86 an hour.
The estimates in this report are significantly higher than those of the frequently cited MIT Living Wage Calculator, largely because of Fredericksen’s more expansive assumptions regarding what workers need as a minimum living standard. (MIT assumed that a studio apartment is the minimum housing requirement for a single adult, for example, while Fredericksen assumed a one-bedroom.)
But the alliance’s demand for a $16.87 minimum may serve a political purpose, by positioning $15 as a compromise.
While unimaginable in most parts of the country until a few years ago, $15 minimum wage legislation has spread across the country. In 2013, SeaTac, Washington, became the first city in the nation to approve a law gradually raising its minimum wage to $15 per hour; Seattle followed in 2014.
Various other cities have stepped up since then, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing for the first statewide $15 minimum legislation.
In the wild west of North Dakota's hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," industry, worker safety protections are virtually nonexistent.
According to their own data, it would take the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) years to inspect every fracking well to ensure that working conditions are safe. Even Texas has a more stringent set of safety regulations.
On HBO's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver exposed the deadly side of an industry that operates with layers of sub-contractors, little to no federal oversight, and a singular eye towards profit above anything else.
Watch the clip below. Some language may not be suitable for the workplace:
It’s a safe bet that most working people would like a pay raise. They are also often reluctant to ask for one, let alone demand a doubling of their hourly rates.
Low-wage Americans—the 42 percent of workers making less than $15 an hour—know all too well that they don’t just want more; they need more simply to survive at the lowliest version of the American standard of living. Increasingly, they are pressing their demands more forcefully, possibly inventing a new form of unionism as they persevere, organizers suggest.
This week, as the White House entertains a discussion of “worker voice,” there is new evidence from public opinion polls, legislative proposals, public testimony and activity from Congress to city halls that the fight to empower and properly pay the workers in low-wage service jobs continues to grow.
And increasingly, these workers say, they want and need a union. They also want—and say they are willing to register and to vote for—political candidates who will fight for their needs.
From the beginning, the Fight for $15 has included a demand for the right to form a union without intimidation, but the demand for $15 an hour pay stole the limelight. Now some workers who have been active in the Fight for $15 movement realize they already have an organization, even if it’s not the standard model union.
The National Employment Law Project, a pro-worker advocacy and research group, recently commissioned a survey of low-wage workers that showed strong support for both thrusts of the Fight for $15, including increased interest in registering and voting if their wage and union rights were clearly supported by at least one presidential candidate.
NELP executive director Chris Owens was impressed by the survey’s findings that half of low-wage workers had heard of the Fight for $15 and that workers were more willing to engage in politics with the right candidate message. “What I feel that’s really different,” she said, “is the heightened awareness that unions could make a difference, and there is also heightened awareness when people see workers like themselves put themselves on the line, take risks for higher wages and a union, there will be more interest in forming unions.”
Sixty-nine percent of low-wage workers favor raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the same fraction thinks it should be easier for them to form a union, while 72 percent approve of unions in general. That’s a higher approval than among the general public, despite an increase in generic approval of unions revealed in an August Gallup poll to 58 percent, up 5 points from last year. Black workers (87 percent approval) showed the strongest support for unions, followed by young workers (82 percent), then Latinos (79 percent), but strikingly 77 percent of low-wage workers in the South, long considered a region hard to organize, favored unions.
Fight for $15 national organizing director Kendall Fells is impressed not only with the strong interest in a union but also with workers’ sense that they already have a union. “If you’d asked me three years ago before the first strike, I would have been surprised [at the current level of support for a union], but it’s been clear that they already see it [Fight for $15] as their organization and call it a union. Low-wage workers now see belonging to an organization is the way to defend themselves on the job.”
“I would say these workers are already in a union,” he continued. “What will be needed is a mechanism to fund it, once we get McDonald’s to talk, and I think that will happen soon.” McDonald’s is under pressure from workers and governments around the world, he noted, and “they’re going to have to come to the table” to solve their problems. Fells believes that McDonald’s will ultimately see the value of workers being organized as it struggles to dig out of its difficulties.
This is a new form of “21st century unionism,” unlike the unions of the 20th century organized at workplaces from auto plants and steel mills to nursing homes, Fells says. “The tangible difference is the size of the organization, and the scale of the movement. The scale is so broad and varied. Then there is the difference of workers being in the streets, willing to risk their jobs to get what they need, and the gelling of progressive movements around the low-wage workers.”
Now that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal has been finalized, the Obama administration is telling anyone who will listen that it has the strongest protections for workers of any trade agreement in history. But nothing we know now about the TPP gives me any confidence that workers will end up with the good jobs and protections they deserve.
There’s been a lot of talk about winners and losers in various aspects of this deal. Spoiler alert: Corporations seem to win at every turn at the expense of working people. As my friend Steelworker President Leo Gerard said, “TPP may be the final blow to manufacturing in America. Our producers and workers are under siege from other nations’ massive overproduction, foreign currency devaluation, our own lack of long-term infrastructure investment and the strong dollar.”
Consider the following:
1. Omitting currency rules from TPP will undermine all of its touted market-opening benefits. Currency manipulation has already caused thousands of U.S. factories to close and millions of workers to lose their jobs. A TPP without currency rules turns a mighty river of offshoring into a tsunami.
2. The inclusion of corporate courts (for investor-to-state dispute settlement) is a win for global business. Giant firms who use the U.S. as a flag of convenience but produce little here can now invest in Australia, Japan and Malaysia, then sue over laws and regulations they don’t like. They will be able to collect billions from taxpayers to compensate for lost profits.
3. It could hurt U.S. automakers. Japanese auto manufacturers are thrilled with the new rules because TPP will reduce U.S. tariffs on cars and trucks Japan sends to the U.S. Those cars may have a Japanese name on the outside, but everything that actually makes it a working car could be Chinese. I don’t know how U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman can look at any auto supply chain worker in the U.S. (or Canada or Mexico for that matter) and tell them with a straight face that TPP is a good deal.
Some North Carolina companies took in tens of millions from Medicaid but didn't pay workers' wages last year. The News & Observer in North Carolina investigates wage theft with a new series, "The Reluctant Regulator," coming Sunday, Oct. 11.
Minimum-wage jobs are meant to be the first rung on a career ladder, a chance for entry-level workers to prove themselves before earning a promotion or moving on to other, better-paying jobs. But a growing number of Americans are getting stuck on that first rung for years, if they ever move up at all.
Anthony Kemp is one of them. In 2006, he took a job as a cook at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Oak Park, Illinois. The job paid the state minimum wage, $6.50 an hour at the time, but Kemp figured he could work his way up.
“Normally, a good cook would make $14, $15, $17 an hour,” Kemp said. “I thought that of course I’d make a better wage.”
He never did; nine years later, the only raises Kemp, 44, has seen have been the ones required by state law. He earns $8.25, the state’s current minimum wage.
Stories like Kemp’s are becoming more common. During the strong labor market of the mid-1990s, only 1 in 5 minimum-wage workers was still earning minimum wage a year later.1 Today, that number is nearly 1 in 3, according to my analysis of government survey data.2 There has been a similar rise in the number of people staying in minimum-wage jobs for three years or longer. (For a more detailed explanation of how I conducted this analysis, see the footnote below.)3
Even those who do get a raise often don’t get much of one: Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in 2013 were still earning within 10 percent of the minimum wage a year later, up from about half in the 1990s. And two-fifths of Americans earning the minimum wage in 2008 were still in near-minimum-wage jobs five years later, despite the economy steadily improving during much of that time.4
The trend partly reflects the recession and slow recovery, which has broughtweak wage growth for nearly all workers. But it also likely reflects longer-run shifts in the economy that have eroded workers’ bargaining power, particularly for the less-educated. That sense of stagnation may be part of what is fueling the nationwide push for a higher minimum wage, which hasgained significant momentum in recent years. Voters in five states, including Illinois, approved minimum-wage increases last November,5 and several cities, including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have passed significant wage hikes. Kemp has joined fast-food workers across the country in demonstrations demanding higher pay as part of the union-backed “Fight for $15” movement.6
IWJ Executive Director Rudy López accepts the Bradford O’Neil award for Social Justice from Dominican University.
Good afternoon everyone. It is a real honor to be here with you today. I know it’s a Tuesday but I want to take us to church for a minute.
From Malachi 3:5 — “I will be a swift witness against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages," says the Lord.
From Leviticus 19:34 — You shall treat the stranger who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself; for you too were once strangers in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.
And from James 5:4 — Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord...and he is not pleased!
I added that last piece to it. I can go on and on with verse after verse that speaks to the just and fair treatment of the worker and our immigrant brothers and sisters. The bible is very clear about what the Lord demands, but unfortunately we don’t always live up to how we should be treating one another. These are just a couple examples of how a bible speaks to us and in truth; all major faith traditions have similar messages in their own books of faith that show us how faith and values are intimately linked. It is powerful when scripture is transformed into action and where the spirit is strong, transformation happens. I can feel that the spirit is strong here at Dominican and the fruits are all around us.
I am deeply humbled to receive the Bradford O’Neil award for Social Justice on behalf of Interfaith Worker Justice. We are a national organization dedicated to worker justice through a worker lead movement that engages diverse faith communities into action through grassroots organizing to shaping policy at the local, state and national levels. We organize, educate and advocate for a just and fair economy where an honest days work, deserves and honest days pay.
I accept this award on behalf of our network as a whole and the tremendous work they have done over the past 19 years and as a down payment for the work to come. There is so much yet to do and our network of faith and labor groups and worker centers look forward to working with those who share our common values.
I’ve been in the social justice movement for nearly 20 years but have been the head of IWJ for less than a year. How did I get into this type of work? When I first started I didn’t know that organizing existed let alone that there was an entire movement connected to it. I did what today’s symposium “Caritas et Veritas in a Life’s Work” is asking you to do. I followed my heat and values in order to seek love and truth in my life. It’s been an ongoing journey that hasn’t been easy but I have to say it’s certainly been worth it. One of the key pieces to all this is taking the time to listen to what God is saying. When we take time to listen to what God is calling us to do, each one of us can do incredible things when we are aligned with our purpose of our life’s work.
Why do I believe in this? I believe this because I have seen time and time again that when we are connected to our passion and purpose; we are in sync with our own vocation no matter what it may be and it leads to good things. It’s important to remember that a vocation is not just about what kind of job we have but how are we living our life according to a set of values and sharing them with those around us. You can be successful and have lots of things, but if not aligned with your vocation does it really make you whole? What’s missing? We long for meaning and we long for purpose. It’s in our nature.
Now let me be clear, alignment with your vocation doesn’t mean you wont have hard times and struggle. In fact, if you don’t have to struggle you should be asking why not.
My own journey toward my vocation began where I grew up in a small scrappy little steel town called East Chicago, Indiana where my dad worked for nearly 40 years in the mill. Everyday I saw him work hard and I saw how proud he was to be able to provide for his family. I also grew up seeing family members in low wage jobs that would work just as hard, but sometimes not get paid what was owed to them. This is what we now know as "Wage Theft:" the deliberate and illegal underpayment or non-payment of wages which affect millions of workers across the country.
I also have felt the pain due to our broken immigration system. My cousin Martin crossed the border through Eagle Pass, TX in August of 2005 in search of a better life for his family. He and a group of 20 crossed, like so many others do, with the paid assistance of a "Coyote," a human smuggler. My cousin became sick along the way and was abandoned by the Coyote and left with two things: a gallon of water and a promise to return for him. That promise was never kept.
Several days later I received a call from the local sheriff at 2:30 in the morning informing me that they had found the decomposing remains of my cousin. He was left to die cold, hungry, and alone.
These aren’t the values that we have as people of faith. These aren’t the values that we have as Americans. Allowing senseless oppression and death like this is not who we are as a nation. Pope Francis reminds us that we are “the land of the free and home of the brave” and a place of dreams and high ideals. For those of us who are people of faith those values and ideals are rooted in our faith. It is through our life experience we find ways to give shape and life to it in the real world. Pope Francis gave us an example of this in the opening of his speech before Congress:
I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society.
He reminds us of the need to look beyond the mechanics of our economy and remember its essence . . . the people who create it. The workers who are giving of themselves everyday deserve an economy that serves them and their families.
During his amazing trip, the pope also reminded us several times of the need reflect on our own history as a nation of immigrants and to see the humanity in each other.
We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants . . . We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.
He challenges us to look at the face of each person and see his or her humanity. He also asks us to go deeper and see the divinity in each one of us. This is important because only seeing the human side of a person can lead us to charity — but does it lead us to equity? The kind of equity that is essential for the dignity of each person? As children of God, respect and dignity are the right of ever person no matter who they are.
The pope’s values laden statements give us a clear idea of how deeply held feelings can be beautifully amplified in a way that others can connect their own values. For the students present here today, I am very excited for what’s in store for you and honestly a little envious as well. You are at an incredible time in your lives and in our nation’s history. A time in which your journey towards your own vocation allows you to fulfill the promise of who you are, a beautiful child of God called to do good in the world.
Brothers and sisters, let me tell you, we have much good to do together. Each in our own way according to the vocation we are called. It is indeed our Life’s work to share God’s love, which can be seen in many forms: justice, compassion, charity, empowerment, healing and much more. Whatever way you choose, we have a responsibility to share it with others. We all have tremendous gifts and if we work together to move a set of common values, rooted in faith or in our life’s experience, we can do incredible things and make incredible changes.
Thank you again for this honor and may God bless you all.
In the days leading up to Pope Francis's arrival in the United States, 100 women marched 100 miles to renew calls for comprehensive immigration reform and an end to the deportation crisis that has torn apart hundreds of thousands of families.
One reason the U.S. lags the rest of the world when it comes to paid parental leave and other family-friendly policies: Many companies have not yet been convinced that providing generous—and, yes, expensive—benefits will ultimately improve their bottom lines.
A new initiative from Nestlé may help make that argument.
Tuesday, at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, the company announced that it is launching a study that will collect data on the number of employees who use its parental leave and protection policy and how many of those employees remain at Nestlé six, 12 and 18 months after returning from leave.
Why is that significant? According to the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, the average cost of replacing an employee is 21% of their salary. What’s more, that percentage gets even larger when you zero in on executives and other highly-skilled workers.
With a workforce of 51,000 in the United States and over 300,000 around the world, Nestlé says it can provide a significant sample size to determine the impact that parental leave policies have on employee retention. The company plans to release its initial findings by the end of 2016.
“Right now, I think many companies are just looking at this as a cost, and they don’t have a lot of data to see it from a different vantage point,” says Paul Bakus, president of Nestlé corporate affairs. “We’ll be looking at whether or not the retention rates have changed over time, which we hope to be a positive outcome, and that success would encourage other companies to pile on and do this.”
The death of unions turns out to be greatly exaggerated, at least in Indiana.
Union membership has surged in the past two years in Indiana since the passage of a right-to-work law in 2012, confounding expectations of many.
Indiana had 299,000 union members last year, up from 249,000 union members in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union membership, which dipped as low as 9.1 percent of the workforce in 2012, was back to 10.7 percent of the workforce in 2014.
And the number of Indiana workers who are represented by unions in their workplace, but not necessarily dues-paying members, rose to 335,000 last year, which is 12 percent of the total workforce.
The rhetoric is that unions – which represented a quarter of all American workers as recently as 1980 – are dying, a relic of a bygone age. But Northwest Indiana and much of the state remain bastions of the labor movement.
Storefronts along 119th Street in downtown Whiting were filled with signs supporting the striking United Steelworkers earlier this year when BP refinery workers hit the picket lines. Thousands of union members have turned up to recent rallies outside steel mills in East Chicago, downtown Gary and Burns Harbor. As steel contract talks have dragged on, steelworkers have maintained solidarity to defend health care benefits even after the import-battered steel companies handed out thousands of pink slips nationwide.
A recent Gallup poll found 58 percent of Americans support unions, a dramatic increase of five percentage points over the 2007 level, when unions only enjoyed support from 53 percent of the public. And Indiana's "right-to-work" legislation, which unions characterized as "right to work for less," has failed to put a dent in union membership since it was passed in 2012.
The state's right-to-work law prohibits union security agreements that make paying union dues a condition of employment. Unions say it was a union-busting move meant to harm them financially.
However, union membership skyrocketed in Indiana by nearly 18 percent between 2012 and 2014.
Calling on Congress to heed Pope Francis’s message of taking on economic inequality and ending the cycle of poverty that so many Americans suffer under, Interfaith Worker Justice today delivered hundreds of prayers to Congressional leadership, urging swift action to address injustices suffered by working people, including poverty wages, no paid leave, and rampant wage theft nationwide.
Here are just two of the hundreds of prayers sent to Congress today:
For the dignity of work and for all persons in need of work; for those who can provide work for those without; for safe and healthy working conditions for all who labor; for just laws and just wages for all workers; for just relationships among workers, among employers and workers, and among workers' families. For all these intentions, I pray to the Lord. Lord, hear my prayer.
I am praying for justice for workers, in pay, working conditions, health and for set schedules so they can be with their families. I am praying for mother earth, for reduction in fossil fuels and increase in solar and wind power. I pray for Pope Francis to have a safe and productive trip to the United States. May he change hearts and minds.
“The interfaith prayers sent to Congress today signify the deep commitment to the fundamental values of decency, dignity, and respect for all workers that Americans across the nation share,” said IWJ Executive Director Rudy López. “Polls consistently show that an overwhelming majority of Americans want a living wage, paid leave, and the promise that workers will be paid for every hour they work. We hope that Congress hears these prayers and takes swift action in accordance with these values that we share as a nation.”
The 500+ prayers were sent to Senator Mitch McConnell, Senator Harry Reid, Representative John Boehner, and Representative Nancy Pelosi. The prayers were accompanied by a short note on behalf of the IWJ network, asking the Congressional leaders to take immediate action to enact a national living wage, a mandate on paid leave, and a national law to put an end to wage theft.
While money might not be the single most critical ingredient in child rearing, the ability to provide basics such as food, shelter, healthcare, and education can make a significant difference in a child’s overall well being. And a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that increased cash flow might be especially helpful when it comes to caring for children facing emotional or behavioral obstacles.
In 2011 7.5 percent of 6 to 11-year-olds were on prescription medication for emotional and behavioral problems such as ADHD, anxiety, and depression according to the paper. But that figure was 9.2 percent for children whose families fell below the poverty line
The study’s authors, Randall Akee of UCLA, Emilia Simeonova of Johns Hopkins, and E. Jane Costello and William Copeland of Duke, suggest that children’s well being may improve along with household income. In order to investigate the impact of an increase in household income—while omitting the positive impact that a change in career or education among parents might play—the study took a look at unearned income. Researchers looked at Native American families who started receiving an average annual payment of $4,000 per adult tribe member after a casino opened on tribal land. Prior to the casino opening, the average income of these households was $22,145. As a control group, they also included non Native American families who didn’t benefit from the new casino. They interviewed parents and children annually, from around the age of 9 until kids were 16 years old. They then followed up with the kids periodically to see how they were doing in adulthood.
They found that after casino payments started arriving, children who had displayed emotional or behavioral problems started showing significant improvements. Both conscientiousness and agreeableness increased significantly, as measured by their responses to questionnaires and personality assessments. The less favorable trait of neuroticism, (which they describe as a chronic level of emotional instability that can lead to psychological distress) also saw a slight uptick, but it wasn’t statistically significant.
These shifts may take place in part because of the positive effect that more money can have on parents. Increased household income can decrease individual and marital stress, lower reported drug and alcohol usage, and increase parental supervision and involvement.
That last point may be a key to understanding why an increase in household income can boost the overall health of kids. The financial health of a household impacts children in many ways. There are obvious ones, like the ability to put food on the table and to provide safe, clean housing. But household earnings also play a role in how parents invest in their children. Parents with more income can often afford to give their children better educational opportunities, they can pay for extracurricular activities, they can move to better neighborhoods, and they can spend more quality time with their kids. For example, additional income sometimes means that a parent can reduce work hours in order to care for children. Hourly workers can take on fewer shifts, or be more selective about employment, choosing schedules that coincide with school hours, so that they can spend time with children after school. These investments are especially important for children who were already struggling with emotional or behavioral problems. In the study, families who received casino cash reported better parent-child relationships, and that was especially the case in households where children had struggled with emotional and behavioral problems in the past.
At his speech before Congress on Sept. 24, Pope Francis listed Trappist monk Thomas Merton as one of four exemplary Americans who provide wisdom for us today.
Out on the National Mall, thousands cheered when the pope named two other exemplary Americans: Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fewer recognized Merton (or the fourth exemplar the pope mentioned, social activist Dorothy Day.)
The pope did not choose to hail anyone associated with the institutional Catholic Church as his models. Instead he chose a former president, a Protestant minister, a lay Catholic, and a monk.
That monk was significant because 10 years ago, when the first national Catholic catechism for adults was published in the U.S., Merton’s name was omitted as not Catholic enough.
The editors had included Merton in an earlier draft. In fact, the opening chapter told the story of Merton’s conversion. The editors understood that Merton’s story was quintessentially American and that he was central to 20th-century American Catholicism.
At the time, however, two influential conservatives involved in drafting the catechism described Merton as a “‘lapsed monk’ who in his last days went ‘wandering in the East, seeking consolations, apparently, of non-Christian, Eastern spirituality … ”
They were appalled that anyone would hold Merton up as a model of faith, according to Deborah Halter’s 2005 National Catholic Reporter essay, “Whose orthodoxy is it?”
When it was leaked that Merton was being excised from the new catechism, Catholics implored the bishops’ catechism committee to reverse its decision. Hundreds of letters flowed in. A petition was signed by 500 Catholic leaders.
The International Thomas Merton Society sent a letter to then-Bishop Donald Wuerl, chair of the committee charged with writing the catechism, and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president Bishop William Skylstad, saying they were “deeply disturbed” by the Merton exclusion.
“Merton,” they wrote, “has played a crucial role in the faith journeys of thousands upon thousands of Catholics (as well as other Christians and even non-Christians) both during his lifetime and since his death, and we believe his inclusion in the catechism can and should be a significant way to extend the powerful witness of his life and writings to a new audience.”
Now-Cardinal Wuerl — so prominent at the pope’s side this week in his current role as archbishop of Washington — stated that Merton was removed because young Catholics didn’t know who he was.
Even at the time, that was a weak excuse.
So the catechism was published with no mention of Merton.
And since then the popularity of Merton’s writings and spiritual wisdom has continued to grow.
His monastery in Kentucky is a place of pilgrimage for thousands each year. He is avidly read among the young as well as the old. He continues to provide opportunities for encounter and dialogue. The International Thomas Merton Society’s membership extends across the globe.
Yet the institutional church as it is embodied in diocesan bureaucracy and managerial bishops continues to shut doors rather than open them.
As recently as last week, the Northern California chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society attempted to host a talk by a Merton scholar and well-respected theologian on the topic of Merton’s interreligious dialogue. But the bishop asked the local Catholic Church to host it off-site.
What a missed opportunity.
When Francis chose to lift up Merton before the Congress as an exemplary Catholic American, he knew what he was doing.
Antico Foods LLC, owner of the popular Atlanta pizza restaurant, withheld overtime from dozens of employees over two years and has agreed to pay almost $330,000 to settle their claims, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday.
In a complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Labor Department lawyers accused Antico of intimidating and firing employees who the company believed were cooperating with the government’s wage-and-hour investigation. As a part a consent judgment reached Thursday, Antico and its managing partner, Giovanni DiPalma, agreed not to threaten any employees with termination or deportation if they talk to investigators.
Attorney Nathan Chapman, who represents DiPalma and Antico, said allegations that his client made such threats are “categorically false.”
He said Antico also disputes the government’s assertion that the company cheated employees out of overtime.
“We don’t believe there’s merit to those allegations, but we have compromised in good faith to make sure we are in compliance,” Chapman said of the settlement. “The company is pleased to have this matter behind it and pleased to be getting back to business, which is what they do, making great pizza.”
The government charged that DiPalma “routinely directed his employees to work as many as 30 hours of overtime per week” but did not pay them time-and-a-half for the work, as required by law, according to a Labor Department press release. Some employees, such as kitchen staff, were improperly classified as exempt from overtime, while others received straight time, the department said.
Cheating restaurant workers out of wages is “not only illegal, but it’s also unconscionable,” said David Weil, Wage and Hour Division administrator, in the Labor Department’s press release. “Restaurant employees are among the lowest-paid workers in the country and their struggles to pay the bills are made all the more difficult when they are cheated out of their pay.”
The consent judgment released Thursday said Antico Foods will pay $164,722.85 in back wages and $164,722.85 in “liquidated damages” to 56 employees for the period Feb. 5, 2013, through Feb. 5, 2015. The company agreed to pay within 60 days.
In addition, the judgment says that Antico Foods and DiPalma are enjoined for five years from “terminating or threatening to terminate, causing any employee to be deported or threatening to cause any employee to be deported; threatening to intimidate in any other manner; or retaliating or discriminating in any way against current and/or former employees” because they file a complaint with the Labor Department or cooperate with wage-and-hour investigators.
Thank you for your kind words. Once again, following a tradition by which I feel honored, the Secretary General of the United Nations has invited the Pope to address this distinguished assembly of nations. In my own name, and that of the entire Catholic community, I wish to express to you, Mr Ban Ki-moon, my heartfelt gratitude. I greet the Heads of State and Heads of Government present, as well as the ambassadors, diplomats and political and technical officials accompanying them, the personnel of the United Nations engaged in this 70th Session of the General Assembly, the personnel of the various programs and agencies of the United Nations family, and all those who, in one way or another, take part in this meeting. Through you, I also greet the citizens of all the nations represented in this hall. I thank you, each and all, for your efforts in the service of mankind.
This is the fifth time that a Pope has visited the United Nations. I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, in1965, John Paul II, in 1979 and 1995, and my most recent predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2008. All of them expressed their great esteem for the Organization, which they considered the appropriate juridical and political response to this present moment of history, marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power. An essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities. I can only reiterate the appreciation expressed by my predecessors, in reaffirming the importance which the Catholic Church attaches to this Institution and the hope which she places in its activities.
The United Nations is presently celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The history of this organized community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast-paced changes. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can mention the codification and development of international law, the establishment of international norms regarding human rights, advances in humanitarian law, the resolution of numerous conflicts, operations of peace-keeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavour. All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness. Certainly, many grave problems remain to be resolved, yet it is clear that, without all those interventions on the international level, mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities. Every one of these political, juridical and technical advances is a path towards attaining the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.
For this reason I pay homage to all those men and women whose loyalty and self-sacrifice have benefitted humanity as a whole in these past seventy years. In particular, I would recall today those who gave their lives for peace and reconciliation among peoples, from Dag Hammarskjöld to the many United Nations officials at every level who have been killed in the course of humanitarian missions, and missions of peace and reconciliation.
Beyond these achievements, the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.
The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.
First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good.
The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.
The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.
Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, even though they are a necessary step toward solutions. The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.
The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification. But this involves two risks. We can rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals – goals, objectives and statistical indicators – or we can think that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will provide an answer to all the challenges. It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.
To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.
At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.
For all this, the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.
The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”. Creation is compromised “where we ourselves have the final word… The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves”. Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman, and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions.
Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”, risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.
War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.
To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement. When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.
The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.
The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.
In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.
These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.
As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, “the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities” and to protect innocent peoples.
Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. A war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions.
I began this speech recalling the visits of my predecessors. I would hope that my words will be taken above all as a continuation of the final words of the address of Pope Paul VI; although spoken almost exactly fifty years ago, they remain ever timely. “The hour has come when a pause, a moment of recollection, reflection, even of prayer, is absolutely needed so that we may think back over our common origin, our history, our common destiny. The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never been as necessary as it is today… For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well, they can help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind. Among other things, human genius, well applied, will surely help to meet the grave challenges of ecological deterioration and of exclusion. As Paul VI said: “The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests”.
The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.
Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one which accepts transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful élite, and recognizes that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good. To repeat the words of Paul VI, “the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it”.
El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: “Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside”.
The contemporary world, so apparently connected, is experiencing a growing and steady social fragmentation, which places at risk “the foundations of social life” and consequently leads to “battles over conflicting interests”.
The present time invites us to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society, so as to bear fruit in significant and positive historical events. We cannot permit ourselves to postpone “certain agendas” for the future. The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.
The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organization and of all its activities, like any other human endeavour, can be improved, yet it remains necessary; at the same time it can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good. I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case, and I assure you of my support and my prayers, and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, that this Institution, all its member States, and each of its officials, will always render an effective service to mankind, a service respectful of diversity and capable of bringing out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual.
Upon all of you, and the peoples you represent, I invoke the blessing of the Most High, and all peace and prosperity. Thank you.
Fox News's Shepard Smith had some choice criticism for those who claimed that Pope Francis addressing poverty, immigration, and the environment was too "political."
Smith's response is pitch-perfect:
I think that we are in a weird place in the world when the following things are considered political. Five things, I'm going to tick them off. These are the five things that were on [the pope] and our president's agenda. Caring for the marginalized and the poor. That's now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment. Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that's political?
I mean, I don't know what we expect to hear from an organization's leader like the pope of the Catholic Church other than protect those who need help, bring in refugees who have no place because of war and violence and terrorism. These seem like universal truths that we should be good to others who have less than we do, that we should give shelter to those who don't have it. I think these were the teachings in the Bible of Jesus. They're the words of the pope, they're the feelings of the president. And people who find themselves on the other side of that message should consult a mirror, it seems like. Because I think that's what we're supposed to do as a people, whatever your religion.
Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker, Honorable Members of Congress,
I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.
Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.
Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.
Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.
I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.
My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.
I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.
All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.
Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.
The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience. In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.
Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.
Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.
In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.
Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).
This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.
This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.
In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.
How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.
It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).
In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.
A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.
From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).
Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade. Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.
Four representatives of the American people.
I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.
In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.
A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.
In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream. God bless America!
Sofi Cruz traveled with her family all the way from California to see Pope Francis' historic first visit to the United States. As the pope rode down Constitution Avenue to thralls of onlookers, Sofi managed to slip through the barricades at the side of the avenue. As she was being led away by security, Pope Francis saw Sofi and motioned for his security guards to let the child through.
Sofi was brought to the pope, who embraced her and accepted her gift of a tee-shirt and a letter, both of which urged Francis to do everything in his power to stop the deportation crisis. Sofi's parents are immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico.
Here's the letter Sofi gave the Pope:
Photos courtesy of ABC7 Los Angeles
And here is video of the exchange, courtesy of the Associated Press:
On Tuesday morning, as they have been doing on occasion for years now, low-wage workers from federal facilities in Washington — and scores of blue-shirted supporters — gathered with loud, stenciled signs to protest how little they’re paid to toil in the gilded halls of government.
This time, however, they protested in new surroundings: a church. One after another, religious leaders of all faiths sermonized next to a home-made altar with Pope Francis’s image on the front, along with people carrying beatified images of Cesar Chavez, Mahatma Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
“Remind all low-wage workers who are janitors and cooks at the U.S. Capitol and other federal buildings that they are not suffering alone as they seek to attain dignity and living wages!” prayed one robed speaker, from his pulpit a block from the Capitol. “Bless their struggle for justice and work so that they may provide for their families.”
The occasion for those entreaties, of course, was Pope Francis’s visit to Washington. It’s just one of several events planned by labor groups who are making an unprecedented show of unity with the Catholic church at a time when its leader is more focused on issues of inequality and economic justice than any other pope in recent memory.
“We are making efforts to amplify Pope Francis’s message because we think he speaks for a higher set of values that animate the labor movement,” says Damon Silvers, policy director of the AFL-CIO. “Worldwide, he’s the single most powerful voice for those values, and our goal is to have as many people listen to him as possible.”
Union-backed plans included a lecture last week where AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka spoke about the value of the pope’s message, a special Mass to which labor groups were invited on Wednesday morning, the presence of union leaders and low-wage workers at the White House ceremony welcoming Pope Francis, a pilgrimage of immigrant women walking 100 miles to Washington, and a banner wrapping the AFL-CIO’s downtown D.C. headquarters. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, recorded a video describing the importance of Francis’s teachings.
Of course, the relationship between the Catholic church and worker issues is deep and longstanding. Many of the issues Francis talks about were first articulated in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, who issued an encyclical on the right of workers to join associations. In America, advocates for the poor and working classes through the 20th century were often Catholic — many of the Irish, Italian, and later Mexican, immigrants — and both institutions share the concept of “solidarity.”
In recent years, however, the relationship has faded. As U.S. Catholics grew wealthier, they felt less of a need to make common cause with the labor movement. Through the 1990s and 2000s, many dioceses became distracted by sexual abuse scandals, and unions had their own problems with corruption and loss of membership. Meanwhile, Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II deemphasized the Church’s economic message in favor of social issues like abortion and gay marriage, where common ground with the labor movement is harder to find.
“One of the challenges, frankly, is labor has to decide who its allies are,” says John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. “If the labor movement is simply another faction in a movement that begins with culture issues and eventually gets to gets to workers, that’s going to be a hard bridge to build. If the labor movement looks to the Catholic community as an ally in standing up for workers, that’s a bridge you can build.”
From the very beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis started sending a clear message to labor groups that the church would be an ally. His speeches often dwell on the rise of income inequality and the dignity of work, and he’s spoken of the need for safe workplaces where people are paid fair wages — not just alms for the poor, as predecessors often emphasized.
“It’s not anything new in terms of what he’s saying,” says Rudy Lopez, director of Interfaith Worker Justice, which helped organize the protest and march on Tuesday morning. “What’s new is the position he’s giving it. The church for the first time is really looking at it in a different way.”
Before Pope Francis steps on to the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews military facility on Tuesday at the start of a five-day tour of the US, he will already have raised the hopes and quickened the pulses of American progressives who see in him a chance to rise from the partisan swamp of Washington to higher moral ground.
From the fight against economic inequality and climate change, to the plight of undocumented immigrants and the movement against mass incarceration in US prisons, advocacy groups see the pope’s first US visit as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to press their case beyond the arid stalemate of national party politics. While the TV screens will focus on the pontiff’s big set speeches before Congress and the United Nations, around the country thousands of progressive discussion groups and viewing parties will be held in an attempt to seize the moment.
One of the more dramatic of these events is a 100-mile “pilgrimage” that 100 women, many of them low-paid immigrant workers, is undertaking from an immigrant detention center in Pennsylvania to Washington. The women, who have timed the march to end just as Francis is landing, wrote an open letter to the US presidential candidates in which they decried the “rising tide of hatred toward migrants in the United States” and expressed their hope that the pope would issue a challenge to “elected leaders around the world to welcome migrants”.
Pro-immigration groups see the pope’s arrival as a possible balm for the wounds of America’s Hispanic communities amid the increasingly shrill anti-immigration rhetoric coming from Republican presidential candidates. As Maribel Hastings of America’s Voice put it, writing in Spanish: “Millions of undocumented people see in the pope a defender and intermediary who can change hearts … At least many people hope that the pope will somehow tackle the poisonous and prejudicial atmosphere that now grips the Republican race for the presidential nomination.”
Immigrant support groups have been working with the archdiocese of Washington and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to prepare for the papal visit. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Clinic, is hoping that the pontiff will specifically raise the ongoing detention of hundreds of undocumented mothers and children from Central America when he meets several unaccompanied teenage immigrants on Thursday.
“The pope has very broad appeal outside Catholics,” said Clinic’s advocacy director, Ashley Feasley. “That means he has the power to deliver a very strong message when he speaks out.”
Her point about the pontiff’s wide appeal is supported by a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that shows that while 86% of Catholics predictably view him favourably, so do 70% of all Americans and 65% of non-Catholics. Though some conservative critics have attempted to distance themselves from the pope’s visit – one Arizona Republican congressman, Paul Gosar, says he is boycotting the trip – they are out of step with the majority of US opinion, the poll suggests.
It found that 59% of all Americans, and 67% of US Catholics, think that it would be appropriate for Francis to address social, economic and environmental issues directly in his Congress speech.
In the wake of Francis’s June encyclical on climate change in which he told the world’s rich nations that they need to take action, environmental groups are confident he will speak out on the subject either in front of Congress or the UN, or both. Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant that combines 14 national organizations including the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the pontiff could take the debate to a more elevated moral level at a time when several leading Republicans continued to air sceptical views on the science of global warming.
“He appeals to people’s moral consciousness – he touches people. That’s very important as we have to stop seeing climate change in terms of economics where the prime discussion still is, and start seeing it as a commonsense need to move quickly away from fossil fuels towards sustainable energy.”
In a similar way, progressives working to close the increasing inequality gap between the rich and the poor in the US have no doubt that he will be expressing views on poverty that he has already made crystal clear. He has frequently lamented the “scandal” of so many hungry children amid so much wealth.
Pope Francis will arrive in the United States tomorrow, and the nation is abuzz with anticipation.
His three-city trip to Washington D.C., New York and Philadelphia is bound to spark a wide range of feelings and reactions, from hope and joy to curiosity and intrigue. Without a doubt, people will be talking about the Pope's visit for a long time.
Despite a packed itinerary, there is probably no event that will be met with greater expectations and viewed with greater scrutiny than the Pope's speech to Congress. What he will say and how will he say it?
Having a Pope who is as outspoken against inequality and systemic greed as Francis has been, you can only imagine the level of excitement that any individual who cares about social and economic justice is feeling right now.
Pope Francis will address a Congress that continues to debate the merits of paying workers a living wage; a Congress that still has not taken action to stop tearing apart immigrant families; a Congress that would rather debate the science behind climate change than taking meaningful action.
Both conservatives and progressives will be waiting to see how they can use the visit to further their own position on an issue or piece of legislation.
Viewing Pope Francis' as merely an opportunity to score political points will only neglect the deeper meaning of what his message contains. That's a big mistake.
Certainly, Francis' message will contain clear parallels with specific policy points that are important to both sides of the ideological spectrum. But relegating or even ignoring the deeper values behind the Pope's message points to a fundamental flaw in our political system.
Pope Francis's calls for justice transcend partisan agendas and seek to find common ground within the values all of us share. The Pope's message will challenge us to have the courage to together find that common ground.
This won't be easy. We are all deeply passionate about what we believe is right. I believe in worker rights and I know that there are many things that the Pope will say that will relate directly to this issue.
But in truth, the Pope's visit isn't about the justification of our own agenda.
Instead, we must embrace the Pontiff's message and together respond to his call for a common agenda. It's an agenda rooted in Catholic social justice teachings that Francis has been very vocal in elevating throughout his pontificate.
I'm hopeful that in this week and in the months ahead, that we all will heed the call to reflect deeply on the values of our nation and to ask ourselves if we are living up to our values.
Ultimately we all want a better life for our families. That doesn't have to be and it shouldn't be at the expense of others. No matter which faith tradition you hold, or if you have none, we should all remember, as the Pope implores us, that we are all our brothers and sisters keeper.
I am very excited, encouraged, and eager to hear what the Pope will share this week. No matter how much the spin-doctors will try to finesse and co-opt his message, I know that the core of what he brings is coming from the very best of places, his heart and his soul.
Pope Francis reminds us "the word 'solidarity' maintains its prophetic force today, even though some people may have thought the term had seen its day."
I'm confident that this visit can help guide us to a better place if we have the courage to listen with open ears and act according to where our own heart and soul are calling us to be: in solidarity with one another.
More than six years after their rescue from virtual servitude, in which they worked for little pay in a turkey processing plant while living in a decrepit Iowa schoolhouse, more than two dozen men with intellectual disabilities will share nearly $600,000 owed to them, after a federal court order issued Thursday in Dallas.
The ruling, by Chief Judge Jorge A. Solis of United States District Court, overrode a confidential arrangement that would have redirected hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to the men, in unpaid court judgments, to the heirs of their former employers, the owners of a Texas-based company called Henry’s Turkey Service.
“The court does not believe it is by accident that the settlement proceeds make their way to the children” of the owners of Henry’s Turkey Service, Judge Solis wrote. “This was an intentional scheme concocted solely to shield a substantial sum of money from the United States’ collection efforts.”
The ruling is belated but welcome news to 28 men who were victimized in one of recent history’s more notorious cases of workplace exploitation. It means roughly $25,000 for each man.
GLEN ROCK, Pa.—As the hundred or so women stood in a field here, some nursing blisters and others stretching hamstrings, they received a dose of encouragement to keep trudging.
“We’re well on our way!” Andrea Cristina Mercado told the group, before they stepped onto a nearby trail after lunch to resume marching in the sunshine.
They are headed from York, Pa., to Washington, D.C.—100 women walking 100 miles to push for a path to legal residency or citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
They expect to reach the nation’s capital Tuesday, the same day as Pope Francis, who has called for better treatment of immigrants. The pope will also visit New York and Philadelphia during his six-day U.S. visit.
March organizers are trying to raise awareness at a time when some Republican presidential candidates urge tighter immigration laws. Real estate mogul Donald Trump,for example, wants to deport all illegal immigrants, end birthright citizenship and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Republicans in Congress and across the country largely oppose President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which offered safe harbor for millions of people in the U.S. illegally. They argue Mr. Obama lacked the authority to change policy. Many Republicans also say it is misguided to allow people who are here illegally to stay, because it only encourages more illegal immigration.
“We’re becoming increasingly alarmed that the rhetoric is feeding an anti-immigrant sentiment in this country,” said Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which is part of the We Belong Together campaign under whose banner the women are walking.
“That’s part of the reason the pope’s arrival is so important and the timing is so important,” she said. “His message of inclusion, cooperation and compassion is just such a different contrasting message.”
The walk started Tuesday, which means marchers will have to cover roughly 12 miles a day for eight days. Their support includes a volunteer medic, a truck-pulled portable toilet and two large buses.
Among the walkers is a 4-year-old and several women in their mid- to late 60s. Most are Hispanic, and many work as housekeepers in states around the country.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lawmakers have rejected an effort to make Missouri the 26th right-to-work state.
The Republican-led House voted 96 to 63 for the right-to-work bill during a veto session Wednesday. The vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to overcome Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto.
The contested measure would have prohibited workplace contracts with mandatory union fees.
The Republican-controlled legislatures in Missouri's Midwestern neighbors of Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan have recently enacted similar policies with the help of GOP governors. Six of eight states bordering Missouri have the law.
The bill's failure is a national setback for the measure. Enacting it in a heartland state with a Democratic governor would have been a significant victory. But even with supermajorities in Missouri, Republican lawmakers couldn't muster enough support because of GOP division.
In early June, California labor regulators ruled that a driver for Uber, the app-based car service, was, in fact, an employee, not an independent contractor, and deserved back pay. The decision made national news, with experts predicting a coming flood of lawsuits. Two weeks later, FedEx agreed to a $288 million settlement after a federal appeals court ruled that the company had shortchanged 2,300 California delivery drivers on pay and benefits by improperly labeling them as independent contractors. The next month, the company lost another case in a federal appeals court over misclassifying 500 delivery drivers in Kansas. Meanwhile, since January, trucking firms operating out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have lost two major court battles with drivers who claim that they, too, have been robbed of wages by being misclassified as independent contractors.
If you think you notice a pattern here, you’re right. After years of inertia, courts and regulators are starting to take on companies that categorize employees as contractors in order to avoid wage and benefit costs. With inequality and the declining middle class becoming major issues in the 2016 presidential race, politicians (at least on the Democratic side) are now also vowing to do something about the plight of contingent workers. “I’ll crack down on bosses who exploit employees by misclassifying them as contractors or even steal their wages,” Hillary Clinton said in her big economic-policy speech in July.
The ranks of this “contingent workforce”—defined as temporary and part-time workers and independent contractors—have been growing for decades. From 2006 to 2010, their numbers swelled from 35.3 percent of the employed to 40.4 percent, according to data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. This trend isn’t altogether bad. Plenty of part-timers, freelancers, and contractors prefer the freedom that comes from itinerant and independent work. And such work is often the result of innovations that lower barriers to entry in otherwise closed markets—the way Uber’s app, for instance, allows amateurs with cars to compete with licensed taxi drivers and owners.
The problem is that such arrangements can lead to exploitation: In their winning lawsuit, for example, the California FedEx drivers complained that the company shifted hundreds of millions of dollars in costs onto them, from buying and maintaining their FedEx-branded trucks to following FedEx schedules that didn’t allow for meal breaks and overtime. Not surprisingly, contingent workers in general report lower job satisfaction, lower pay per hour, and fewer fringe benefits than workers in the same industries with more traditional employment, according to the GAO.
Less-skilled workers—truck drivers, hotel maids, office temps—typically bear the brunt of these contingent arrangements, but the practice is also moving into the professional classes. Thanks to a glut of law-school grads and a slumping legal business, the number of attorneys working part-time has grown from 2.4 percent in 1994 to 6.1 percent in 2013. Other educated professions, from architecture to mainstream journalism, have seen similar shifts.
Nowhere has the up-classing of contingency work gone farther, ironically, than in one of the most educated and (back in the day) secure sectors of the workforce: college teachers. In 1969, almost 80 percent of college faculty members were tenure or tenure track. Today, the numbers have essentially flipped, with two-thirds of faculty now non-tenure and half of those working only part-time, often with several different teaching jobs.
Whenever $15 minimum wage laws have been adopted anywhere in the United States, the increase is followed by a predictable course of events: Low-wage workers cheer, while the industries that employ them jeer, warning that their businesses will suffer.
In cities like Seattle and San Francisco, business interests have rallied against increasing the wage floor to $15, arguing that the hike will be devastating for their companies and force them to fire workers. In New York, leaders in the fast-food industry have vehemently opposed an increase of the sector's minimum wage to $15.
But on the outskirts of Detroit, where the minimum wage is $8.15, one fast-food restaurant has been voluntarily paying its workers $15 an hour for two years, and business is thriving.
Moo Cluck Moo was founded by Brian Parker, Harry Moorhouse and Jimmy Schmidt in the spring of 2013. They initially sought to pay above-average wages, and set their base pay at $12. But a few months later, when they saw the Fight for $15 — the national protest movement for a $15 minimum wage as well as stronger union rights — garnering national attention, the owners decided to bump their pay even higher. Since then, employees at their two restaurants in suburban Detroit have been paid a minimum of $15 an hour.
After they raised their workers' wages, Moo Cluck Moo's business didn't go south. The company didn't lay off workers, make their burgers outrageously expensive or find themselves unable to manage costs. Instead, since the increase, the business has grown steadily while keeping employee turnover low. They're turning a profit and expect to open up new locations as early as next year.
Las Vegas — Seeking to revitalize his presidential campaign, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker plans to focus Monday on weakening labor by proposing to prevent federal workers from collectively bargaining, create a national "right-to-work law" and eliminate the National Labor Relations Board.
In a plan released by his campaign, Walker also calls for requiring all unions to hold periodic votes so workers can decide whether they should continue to exist. If elected, he would also cancel President Barack Obama's Labor Day order that federal contractors provide paid sick leave and work to end policies requiring some salaried workers in the private sector to receive overtime — saying in some cases they should get time off instead.
"Our plan will eliminate the big government unions entirely and put the American people back in charge of their government. Federal employees should work for the taxpayers — not the other way around," Walker is to say in a town hall meeting at construction equipment maker Xtreme Manufacturing in Las Vegas.
Unions are braced for the speech and expected to react strongly against it.
"His whole theory of the case is fighting workers rather than helping working families," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said before Walker unveiled his plan.
The far-reaching proposals are in keeping with what brought the Republican governor to national prominence and allowed him to mount a campaign for the presidency.
His plan — all but impossible to pass, according to one observer — goes further than what he's done in Wisconsin and would decimate private- and public-sector unions. That in turn would help Republicans at the ballot box because unions typically spend money to help Democrats.
Walker pitched his 2011 limits on collective bargaining as a way to solve the state's budget woes by forcing government workers to pay more for their benefits. But he likely would not see equivalent savings at the federal level because federal workers are already barred from negotiating over wages and benefits. Instead, they bargain over work schedules, workplace safety and the like.
Walker's move comes as his campaign is flagging. Viewed as a top-tier candidate for the first half of the year, Walker has seen his polling numbers plummet in recent weeks.
Here's another example to point to when opponents of a higher minimum wage claim that it would cost jobs. The minimum in San Jose, California, has gone from $8.00 an hour to $10.00 and then $10.15, and University of California-Berkeley economist Michael Reich has been studying the results:
[The minimum wage increase] directly and indirectly affected 70,000 of the city's 370,000 workers, Reich says.
San Jose restaurants, which Reich says were most affected by the pay increase, raised menu prices by an average 1.75%, according to his study. He says there has been no discernible impact on employment.
The unemployment rate in the San Jose metro area, in fact, has fallen to 5.4% from 7.4% in March 2013. The San Jose Downtown Association says the number of restaurants in the district has increased by 20% the past 18 months.
So 70,000 people have gotten a raise, unemployment has fallen, the resulting price increase is 1.75 percent in the industry most affected, and the number of businesses in that most-affected industry is actually growing. Some restaurant owners say they've been hurt by the increase, but others have been surprised by how well it's gone . . .
Our friends at IWJ-affiliate Micah Faith Table NYC is launching a campaign to bring a true living wage to New York City. While $15 per hour is a huge step towards economic justice for low-wage workers, even that wage is not enough to afford the rising cost of living in the Big Apple.
The Micah Faith Table NYC, a coalition of multi-faith leaders, is launching a Real Living Wage NYC Campaign. The goal of the Campaign is to ensure that all New York City workers receive at least $20/hour – the wage required to meet basic needs without government subsidies. In other words, we aim to transform the minimum wage in NYC into a Real Living Wage.
We ask you to join us at First Corinthian Baptist Church, 1912 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. in Harlem at 6:30 p.m. on October 8, 2015, to begin the campaign to make this vision of a living wage city a reality.
Unions filed a second labor board complaint against Wal-Mart Stores Inc related to its temporary closure of a California store, claiming the retailer discriminated against activist workers by not transferring them to nearby stores.
The retailer says the closure of the California store - and four others at the center of the first complaint - was justified by the need for extensive repairs. It says it has offered 75 percent of employees who sought a transfer an opportunity to do so.
The United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the AFL-CIO and an organization of Wal-Mart workers submitted the latest complaint to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the UFCW said.
The ongoing dispute dates back to April, when Wal-Mart closed five stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and California citing the need for extensive plumbing and other repairs, affecting some 2,200 workers.
In its original complaint, the unions accused Wal-Mart of using the repairs as an excuse to close a store in Pico Rivera, California, in retaliation against workers there who have been active in attempts to organize for better pay and benefits. The other four stores were included as cover, they claimed.
In the second complaint, the unions claim that Wal-Mart had not offered to transfer the most vocal of the workers at the Pico Rivera store, a retaliation that it says is in violation of U.S. labor law.
WASHINGTON — With little fanfare, the Obama administration has been pursuing an aggressive campaign to restore protections for workers that have been eroded by business activism, conservative governance and the evolution of the economy in recent decades.
In the last two months alone, the administration has introduced a series of regulatory changes. Among them: a rule that would make millions more Americans eligible for extra overtime pay, and a guidance suggesting that many employers are misclassifying workers as contractors and therefore depriving them of basic workplace protections. That is an issue central to the growth of so-called gig economy companies like Uber.
A little more than a week ago, a federal appeals panel affirmed an earlier regulation granting nearly 2 million previously exempted home care workers minimum wage and overtime protections. And on Thursday, President Obama’s appointees to theNational Labor Relations Board issued an important ruling that makes it easier for employees of contractors and franchises to bargain collectively with the corporations that have sway over their operations.
“These moves constitute the most impressive and, in my view, laudable attempt to update labor and employment law in many decades,” said Benjamin I. Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law School and a former assistant general counsel for the Service Employees International Union. The goal, he said, is to “keep pace with changes in the structure of the labor market and the way work is organized. That’s a theme that runs through all of this.”
In one sense, Mr. Obama foreshadowed these efforts as a candidate in 2008, when he famously suggested that, if elected, he would aim to be a Democratic version of Ronald Reagan. “Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not,” he told a newspaper editorial board in Nevada. “He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.”
Once in office, Mr. Obama delivered on that implied promise in a few critical ways, particularly his signature health care legislation. But throughout much of his first term, he disappointed supporters with his inability to pursue a larger progressive agenda and with his insufficient focus on the balance of power between workers and their employers.
Labor unions complained that he failed to throw his energy behind a measure that would have made it easier for workers to organize by requiring employers to recognize a union once a majority of workers had signed cards, rather than allowing employers to insist on a secret ballot election.
Liberals criticized the pace at which Mr. Obama put judges on the federal bench, including the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which has enormous influence over federal regulations. And they complained that he failed to move quickly in placing appointees at agencies like the National Labor Relations Board, which went without two of its three Democratic members until well into the second year of his presidency.
“They were very weak on getting people into their positions in the first term,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning research and advocacy group. “They lost many years of potential fruitful activity.” (The White House says that the president was prompt in naming appointees, whose nominations then became bogged down in the Senate.)
After spending several months in 2011 on a failed effort to negotiate a deficit-cutting “grand bargain” with the new House Republican majority, however, Mr. Obama did an apparent about-face, deciding that he would use every tool available to enact what he considered to be a bold pro-worker agenda on his own.
“Perhaps the most substantively important speech of the Obama presidency was the Osawatomie speech in 2011,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former communications director and senior adviser to the president, referring to a speech that December. “It was a set of marching orders to the entire government that increasing income inequality and declining economic mobility are the key challenge of our time. Given the congressional gridlock, the president pushed us very hard to pull every lever possible.”
About a 30-minute subway ride from Times Square, Queens’ Flushing neighborhood doesn’t have massive skyscrapers or semi-nude street performers — but it is an important center of the national fight against wage theft.
“There were a lot of workers who were coming out about wage theft in the Flushing area, but employers are very well-organized,” says Sarah Ahn, an organizer at the Flushing Workers Center, which opened a few years ago. “They threatened workers who speak up with blacklisting or other crazy forms of retaliation, sometimes even using physical violence.”
Wage theft includes not paying for all hours worked (overtime too), paying below minimum wage and withholding benefits. While it occurs at all levels of the income ladder, low-wage workers suffer the most from it by far. According to one study, employers in New York City are stealing nearly a billion dollars a year in wages from low-income workers.
As of August 2013, New York State’s Department of Labor had a backlog of more than 17,000 open wage theft cases, more than three times as many as in 2008. Three-quarters of open wage theft cases had been open for more than a year.
Without organizing workers across shops, across different industries, it’s hard for them to get anywhere with wage theft cases, Ahn says. Enforcement mechanisms have yet to catch up with employers in today’s economy of transient workers, independent contractors, and small retail or other service-sector businesses. “I think employers got very savvy about how to get away with wage theft, compared to not too long ago,” she adds.
As a result, workers are losing, even when they’re winning. There are at least $125 million in unpaid wage theft judgments and court orders in New York State, according to a report released earlier this year.
WASHINGTON — The National Labor Relations Board in Washington on Thursday made it substantially easier for unions to bargain for higher wages and benefits, opening the door for organized workers at fast-food chains and other franchises to negotiate with corporations like McDonald’s and Yum Brands, rather than with individual restaurants, where they might have a harder time achieving their goals.
“This is about, if employees decide they want to bargain collectively, who can be required to come to the bargaining table to have negotiations that are meaningful,” said Wilma B. Liebman, a former N.L.R.B. chairwoman who wrote a crucial dissent in a 2002 case on the subject.
The ruling, which may eventually be challenged in court in a variety of individual disputes, changes the definition of a crucial employer-employee relationship that had held in some form since the 1980s. Now, a company that hires a contractor to staff its facilities may be considered a so-called joint employer of the workers at that facility, even if it does not actively supervise them.
A union representing those workers would now be legally entitled to bargain with the upstream company, not just the contractor, under federal labor law.
“The ruling is especially important because sometimes the contractor is such a small entity, it exists on such a shoestring, that you have to get the lead firm to the table,” Ms. Liebman said.
In the case, the N.L.R.B. held that a company called Browning-Ferris Industries of California was a joint employer of workers hired by a contractor to help staff the company’s recycling center. But the ruling could apply well beyond companies that rely on contractors and staffing agencies, extending to companies with large numbers of franchisees.
“The decision today could be one of the more significant by the N.L.R.B. in the last 35 years,” said Marshall Babson, a lawyer who helped write the brief for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the case and who was a Democratic appointee to the labor board in Ronald Reagan’s presidency. “ Depending on how the board applies its new ‘indirect test,’ it will likely ensnare an ever-widening circle of employers and bargaining relationships.”
By now many of us have read The New York Times’s insider account of the brutal workplace culture at Amazon’s corporate offices. We already knewabout what it’s like to work in Amazon’s warehouse centers: boiling heat, impossible production demands, and frequent firings of the temporary workforce. For the white-collar workers, demands are also high, if of a different nature: staff regularly cry at their desks, are shamed for taking time off for cancer treatments, and so often work during weekends and vacations that they develop ulcers. Failure to respond to a late-night e-mail comes with a reprimand. One employee recounts that her fiancee had to come to headquarters every night at 10 pm and call her repeatedly to get her to leave.
The Times article also includes stories from employees who profess to simply love working at that grueling pace. They are motivated by “thinking big and knowing we haven’t scratched the surface on what’s out there to invent,” as one retail executive put it. “This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren’t easy,” the company’s top recruiter said.
Our culture of work has so infiltrated our collective psyche that we like to think that we’re putting in long hours and responding to e-mails on the weekends because we’re devoted and ambitious. This is what journalist Miya Tokumitsu has skewered repeatedly in her writing: the “do what you love” ethos—the idea that we should all seek work that we’re emotionally devoted to, not sticking with just for a paycheck—that demands unending passion and therefore unending work, even if those long hours don’t actually mean we’re getting more done.
But while some employees call it a choice to put in long hours, it’s hard to see how that can really be true—for anyone. It would be one thing if Amazon were simply selecting for a small slice of the American workforce that truly wants to put in 60-hour or more weeks and neglect personal lives (and health). Yet a follow up Times piece pointed out that extreme work cultures aren’t limited to Amazon’s headquarters, but also show up at places like Netflix and Goldman Sachs. That’s because, the author writes, the financial reward for landing a job at those companies is so huge that each one attracts many more people to each slot than could possibly get it, “leading to the brutal competition that plays out at companies where only the best are destined for partnerships or senior management positions.”
But Amazon, Netflix, and Goldman Sachs are just the extreme end of the way all of our workplaces are heading: toward longer hours, higher demands, data to track it all in real time, and no extra pay to reward for all the stress. And we got here in large part because ours is an era marked by a low point in workers’ power.
We live in a nation where millions of people are in need of care to get through the day. Whether they are in the twilight of their life or a victim of illness or a life-changing accident, Americans across the country depend on home care workers to make their lives better. These caregivers perform vital tasks like feeding and bathing their clients, cleaning and cooking, and providing much needed companionship. Today, there are about 2.5 million home care workers and the field is expected to grow by 70 percent in just the next five years as more and more individuals get to the age where they require assistance.
Unfortunately many home care workers don't receive fair payment for their work nor do they receive respect for their services. The original Fair Labor Standards Act did not include home care workers. Across the country, home care workers and their allies started organizing to petition the Department of Labor (DoL) to change the regulations to include home care workers. The Pilipino Workers Center of Los Angeles and Associate Director Lolita Lledo was one such group working to make sure those who care for the elderly and individuals with disabilities in their homes, would be granted the same labor protections as all other workers. Finally, in 2013 the DoL made the change to protect home care workers. It was a huge win. However, the victory was short lived. Soon after the DoL's ruling, a district court judge ruled that the DoL did not have the authority to make those types of changes. However, the resilience and courage of home care workers to keep pushing finally paid off. This month, a Washington, DC court ruled in favor of the DoL's protections for home care workers.
We celebrate the DC Court of Appeals' decision to extend basic wage protections to those who care for sick and elderly members of our family and community. As people of faith, we are called to stand with the most vulnerable members of society, including the ill and infirm and those who care for them. All labor has dignity, especially when it enhances the well-being of the sick among us. Protecting the rights of home care workers is to defend the dignity of not only the worker, but the patient as well.
Although the court's ruling is a big step forward for a workforce that is 90 percent female, home care workers continue to struggle for better wages and working conditions: nearly 40 percent of the entire workforce relies on some form of public assistance to make ends meet. Communities of faith throughout the country stand in support of home care workers, remembering Deuteronomy 24:14-15, "Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin." Many other verses in holy books from faith traditions across the globe share these same values.
Pope Francis, who will be visiting the US on a three-city tour in September, has spoken very clearly on the matter, saying that "there is no worse material poverty, I am keen to stress, than the poverty which prevents people from earning their bread and deprives them of the dignity of work." We expect to hear more on the subject of income inequality and worker justice when the Pope addresses Congress during his visit to Washington, DC. The Pope's visit will leave us with a great opportunity: the opportunity to do some real soul-searching and ask some hard questions. "Are we living our values through our public policy?" "Are our values in the right place?"
As Senator Paul Wellstone once said, "After all, our values are only our values if we are willing to stand up for them." I know Lolita Lledo and organizers like her are standing up for the values they believe in. How about you, America? Will you stand with home care workers?
WASHINGTON -- Fast-food workers who are hoping to raise the minimum wage will find an ally in the Obama White House this week, with Labor Secretary Tom Perez traveling to Detroit on Tuesday to show his solidarity with the so-called Fight for $15.
"I'm proud to stand with the Fight for 15 movement," Perez told The Huffington Post. "And it really is a movement. It's for shared prosperity."
The union-backed Fight for $15 and its allies have roiled the service sector with intermittent strikes over the past three years, demanding a $15 wage floor and union recognition. The sight of large-scale protests has helped spur vast increases in the minimum wage in cities and states around the country, most recently in New York, where the state's wage board moved to set a $15 minimum for fast-food workers.
Perez' support of the workers shouldn't be read as an endorsement of a federal $15 wage floor -- the White House and Labor Department instead back a $12 proposal recently put forth by Congressional Democrats -- but the labor secretary said he views the Fight for $15 as a model for how workers can boost wages by banding together.
"People are increasingly understanding that they're taking it on the chin at work," Perez said. "If you battle your boss alone, it's a heck of a lot harder to succeed. But when you work in concert with fellow workers not just in your workplace but across sectors, that's how you succeed."
Perez plans to meet with Detroit workers from various fast-food chains as well as officials from the local branch of the AFL-CIO labor federation on Tuesday. Labor unions, and in particular the Service Employees International Union, have been instrumental in the fast-food strikes and local wage campaigns, pumping money and organizational support into them.
President Barack Obama has occasionally made a point of acknowledging the recent successes of fast-food workers in his economic speeches, but Perez' trip to Detroit may be the White House's clearest endorsement yet of the Fight for $15 campaign. The labor secretary's trip dovetails with a summit the White House will host in October around the concept of "worker voice," where officials plan to highlight the value of collective action in the workplace, including including ways that don't formally include labor unions and contracts.
That would presumably include the Fight for $15. Although backed by unions, the campaign so far has not unionized any fast-food restaurants. Instead, its success has come most explicitly through legislatures and the ballot box. While a $15 minimum wage seemed practically inconceivable not long ago, it is fast becoming the law in liberal cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles. Many states have rushed to pass more modest but still significant raises, with amajority of states now having a higher minimum wage than the federal level of $7.25.
If you've ever worked in a restaurant, you know that working for tips is an anomaly in the American workforce. Tipping puts the onus of paying a decent wage to waitstaff on the customer, as most servers are exempt from the minimum wage and instead are subject to "tipping minimum wage" -- usually less than $3 per hour.
What's more, in many high-end restaurants, tipping creates a huge pay disparity between those who work in the "front of the house" serving customers and those who work to prep, cook, and clean the restaurant.
The rising minimum wage in many states and municipalities have caused some restaurants to reconsider the tipping economy. According to an article in The New York Times, some restaurant owners are getting rid of tipping and instead implementing a surcharge of around 20% to each customer bill and splitting that money among the entire staff.
What do you think about some restaurants moving away from tipping? We'd love to hear from both restaurant staff and consumers in the comments below.
Leigh Benrahou began laying plans to have a second child almost as soon as she had her first, a daughter named Johara, in 2011. Benrahou, 32, wanted to time the next birth so that when she returned to work, her mother, who works at an elementary school and has summers off, could babysit. Most importantly, Benrahou wanted to spend as much time as she could with her new baby while also keeping her relatively new job as the registrar at a small college.
While her husband, Rachid, 38, earns enough at a carpet cleaning company to cover their mortgage and food, without her paycheck they’d be forced to live close to the bone. And if she quit her job, Benrahou, who has a masters in nonprofit management, would take a big step backward in what she hoped would be a long career in higher education.
So Benrahou, who has wavy dark blond hair, blue eyes and a tendency to smile even through difficult moments, set about what may be the least romantic aspect of family planning in the United States: figuring out how to maximize time with a newborn while staying solvent, employed and, ideally, sane.
Only in America
Most people are aware that Americans have a raw deal when it comes to maternity leave. Perhaps they’ve heard about Sweden, with its drool-inducing 16 months of paid parental leave, or Finland, where, after about 9 months of paid leave, the mother or father can take—or split—additional paid “child care leave” until the child’s third birthday.
But most Americans don’t realize quite how out of step we are. It’s not just wealthy, social democratic Nordic countries that make us look bad. With the exception of a few small countries like Papua New Guinea and Suriname, every other nation in the world—rich or poor—now requires paid maternity leave.
Paid parental leave frees mothers and fathers from choosing between their careers and time with their infants. For women, still most often the primary caregivers of young children, this results in higher employment rates, which in turn translates to lower poverty rates among mothers and their children.
Research shows that paid leave can also be a matter of life and death for children. By charting the correlation between death rates and paid leave in 16 European countries, Christopher Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, found that a 50-week extension in paid leave was associated with a 20 percent dip in infant deaths. (The biggest drop was in deaths of babies between 1 month and 1 year old, though mortality of children between 1 and 5 years also decreased as paid leave went up.)
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 13 percent of U.S. workers have access to any form of paid family leave, which includes parental leave and other time off to care for a family member. The highest-paid workers are most likely to have it, according to BLS numbers, with more than 1 in 5 of the top 10 percent of earners getting paid family leave, compared to 1 in 20 in the bottom quartile. Unionized workers are more likely to get benefits than nonunionized workers.
What do the rest of American women do without a law that guarantees this basic support? Some new mothers who don’t get paid leave quit their jobs, which can leave them desperate for income and have serious consequences in terms of work opportunities and lifetime earnings. Others may choose not to have children (though it’s impossible to definitively quantify how the difficulty of integrating work and childbirth factors into those decisions). And some try to stitch together their own paid leaves through accumulated vacation time and personal days, or through independently purchased insurance policies.
The best-laid plans
Though her employer doesn’t offer paid leave, Benrahou figured she’d create her own, taking time away from work through the Family and Medical Leave Act, which entitles new parents to up to 12 weeks off, unpaid. She knew all about the law’s loopholes—that, for instance, it only applies to workplaces that have at least 50 employees. Hers did; she wouldn’t have taken the job if it hadn’t. She knew, too, that she had to have worked for her employer for at least 12 months to qualify. That part was trickier.
She had started her job in February 2014, which meant that she wouldn’t qualify until the following February. She counted back nine months from then and got to May, but then, to be safe, tacked on another two months in case the baby came early, so: July. That’s when she and Rachid would start trying for a second.
Then there was money. Reluctant to lose 12 weeks of income, Benrahou decided to opt into her employer’s disability insurance policy, paying roughly $40 a month into the plan so she could receive 60 percent of her salary for up to six weeks of her maternity leave, plus an additional $1,000 toward the cost of her hospital stay. She would also save up her two weeks of annual paid vacation time.
Numbers crunched and policy purchased, Benrahou went off birth control on schedule in July and became pregnant within a month. But her carefully laid plans started to go awry in her 20th week, when she was diagnosed with placenta previa, which can result in early delivery. Despite some bleeding and cramping, and several brief hospital stays that used up her sick days, Benrahou stuck to her plan, working as much as possible after her diagnosis in order to save her precious vacation time. But, in late December, her water broke. Though her due date was April 1, Leigh Benrahou gave birth by C-section on Christmas Eve—too soon to qualify for FMLA leave or any payoff from her disability insurance.
Ramzi Benrahou was born at 26 weeks and just over 2 pounds. Knowing that 20 percent of babies born at his gestational age don’t survive, Leigh spent the first hours after the delivery singularly focused on her tiny son’s survival. He needed oxygen, since his lungs weren’t fully developed. And, when he was whisked away for medical attention, Benrahou had to attend to another crisis: She was the mother of a very sick baby, and her carefully constructed paid maternity leave had disintegrated. So, freshly stitched up and still groggy from anesthesia, she spread out her medical fact sheets, insurance policy papers and lists of phone numbers on her hospital bed and began to grapple with her new reality. Though her college was on winter break, which put off her return by about a week, Benrahou realized she’d have to go back to work when classes resumed on January 6, less than two weeks after giving birth.
Imagine working 27 hours in a row and not being paid a dime. That's just what happened to one person in Brooklyn who was part of a group of workers who were recruited to clean houses in late March and early April.
The owner of the cleaning service, the ironically-named Samuel Just, was arrested and arraigned today, facing charges of wage theft to the tune of $4,500.
Terrific work by IWJ-affiliate Workers Justice Project for bringing this injustice to light.
A businessman was busted Thursday for failing to pay five day laborers who worked more than 24 hours straight.
Samuel Just, 21, runs a cleaning business called Just Clean on Myrtle Ave. in Bedford-Stuyvesant and allegedly picked up five workers to clean houses between March 25 to April 3 in preparation for Passover.
"This defendant allegedly preyed on vulnerable people seeking employment, then cheated them out of their hard earned wages," said Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.
A man, who drove the vehicle to pick up the workers at the intersection of Division St. and Marcy Ave. in Williamsburg, and four women were not consistently paid the promised $10 to $14 per hour, or overtime, prosecutors said.
One of the women, owed $2,300, allegedly worked 27 hours straight during Passover and did not get paid.
Just allegedly told the workers they should not have worked that long, and if checks were given they bounced, sources said.
He owes them more than $4,500 in back wages, officials said.
This is a breaking story. We'll have more as the story develops.
Pope Francis spoke Thursday evening at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, taking place in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
The World Meeting of Popular Movements, organized in collaboration with Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, brings together delegates from popular movements from around the world.
Below, please find the full text of Pope Francis’ address for the World Meeting of Popular Movements:
Address at Expo Fair Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Thursday, 9 July 2015
Several months ago, we met in Rome, and I remember that first meeting. In the meantime I have kept you in my thoughts and prayers. I am happy to see you again, here, as you discuss the best ways to overcome the grave situations of injustice experienced by the excluded throughout our world. Thank you, President Evo Morales, for your efforts to make this meeting possible.
During our first meeting in Rome, I sensed something very beautiful: fraternity, determination, commitment, a thirst for justice. Today, in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, I sense it once again. I thank you for that. I also know, from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace headed by Cardinal Turkson, that many people in the Church feel very close to the popular movements. That makes me very happy! I am pleased to see the Church opening her doors to all of you, embracing you, accompanying you and establishing in each diocese, in every justice and peace commission, a genuine, ongoing and serious cooperation with popular movements. I ask everyone, bishops, priests and laity, as well as the social organizations of the urban and rural peripheries, to deepen this encounter.
Today God has granted that we meet again. The Bible tells us that God hears the cry of his people, and I wish to join my voice to yours in calling for land, lodging and labor for all our brothers and sisters. I said it and I repeat it: these are sacred rights. It is important, it is well worth fighting for them. May the cry of the excluded be heard in Latin America and throughout the world.
Let us begin by acknowledging that change is needed. Here I would clarify, lest there be any misunderstanding, that I am speaking about problems common to all Latin Americans and, more generally, to humanity as a whole. They are global problems which today no one state can resolve on its own. With this clarification, I now propose that we ask the following questions:
Do we realize that something is wrong in a world where there are so many farmworkers without land, so many families without a home, so many laborers without rights, so many persons whose dignity is not respected?
Do we realize that something is wrong where so many senseless wars are being fought and acts of fratricidal violence are taking place on our very doorstep? Do we realize something is wrong when the soil, water, air and living creatures of our world are under constant threat?
So let’s not be afraid to say it: we need change; we want change.
In your letters and in our meetings, you have mentioned the many forms of exclusion and injustice which you experience in the workplace, in neighborhoods and throughout the land. They are many and diverse, just as many and diverse are the ways in which you confront them. Yet there is an invisible thread joining every one of those forms of exclusion: can we recognize it? These are not isolated issues. I wonder whether we can see that these destructive realities are part of a system which has become global. Do we realize that that system has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature?
If such is the case, I would insist, let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change. This system is by now intolerable: farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable … The earth itself – our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable.
We want change in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our everyday reality. We want a change which can affect the entire world, since global interdependence calls for global answers to local problems. The globalization of hope, a hope which springs up from peoples and takes root among the poor, must replace the globalization of exclusion and indifference!
Today I wish to reflect with you on the change we want and need. You know that recently I wrote about the problems of climate change. But now I would like to speak of change in another sense. Positive change, a change which is good for us, a change – we can say – which is redemptive. Because we need it. I know that you are looking for change, and not just you alone: in my different meetings, in my different travels, I have sensed an expectation, a longing, a yearning for change, in people throughout the world. Even within that ever smaller minority which believes that the present system is beneficial, there is a widespread sense of dissatisfaction and even despondency. Many people are hoping for a change capable of releasing them from the bondage of individualism and the despondency it spawns.
Time, my brothers and sisters, seems to be running out; we are not yet tearing one another apart, but we are tearing apart our common home. Today, the scientific community realizes what the poor have long told us: harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem. The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil”. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.
I do not need to go on describing the evil effects of this subtle dictatorship: you are well aware of them. Nor is it enough to point to the structural causes of today’s social and environmental crisis. We are suffering from an excess of diagnosis, which at times leads us to multiply words and to revel in pessimism and negativity. Looking at the daily news we think that there is nothing to be done, except to take care of ourselves and the little circle of our family and friends.
What can I do, as collector of paper, old clothes or used metal, a recycler, about all these problems if I barely make enough money to put food on the table? What can I do as a craftsman, a street vendor, a trucker, a downtrodden worker, if I don’t even enjoy workers’ rights? What can I do, a farmwife, a native woman, a fisher who can hardly fight the domination of the big corporations? What can I do from my little home, my shanty, my hamlet, my settlement, when I daily meet with discrimination and marginalization? What can be done by those students, those young people, those activists, those missionaries who come to my neighborhood with their hearts full of hopes and dreams, but without any real solution for my problems? A lot! They can do a lot. You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot. I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to ensure the three “L’s” (labor, lodging, land) and through your proactive participation in the great processes of change on the national, regional and global levels. Don’t lose heart!
You are sowers of change. Here in Bolivia I have heard a phrase which I like: “process of change”. Change seen not as something which will one day result from any one political decision or change in social structure. We know from painful experience that changes of structure which are not accompanied by a sincere conversion of mind and heart sooner or later end up in bureaucratization, corruption and failure. That is why I like the image of a “process”, where the drive to sow, to water seeds which others will see sprout, replaces the ambition to occupy every available position of power and to see immediate results. Each of us is just one part of a complex and differentiated whole, interacting in time: peoples who struggle to find meaning, a destiny, and to live with dignity, to “live well”.
As members of popular movements, you carry out your work inspired by fraternal love, which you show in opposing social injustice. When we look into the eyes of the suffering, when we see the faces of the endangered campesino, the poor laborer, the downtrodden native, the homeless family, the persecuted migrant, the unemployed young person, the exploited child, the mother who lost her child in a shootout because the barrio was occupied by drugdealers, the father who lost his daughter to enslavement…. when we think of all those names and faces, our hearts break because of so much sorrow and pain. And we are deeply moved…. We are moved because “we have seen and heard” not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh. This is something quite different than abstract theorizing or eloquent indignation. It moves us; it makes us attentive to others in an effort to move forward together. That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone: it has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.
Each day you are caught up in the storms of people’s lives. You have told me about their causes, you have shared your own struggles with me, and I thank you for that. You, dear brothers and sisters, often work on little things, in local situations, amid forms of injustice which you do not simply accept but actively resist, standing up to an idolatrous system which excludes, debases and kills. I have seen you work tirelessly for the soil and crops of campesinos, for their lands and communities, for a more dignified local economy, for the urbanization of their homes and settlements; you have helped them build their own homes and develop neighborhood infrastructures. You have also promoted any number of community activities aimed at reaffirming so elementary and undeniably necessary a right as that of the three “L’s”: land, lodging and labor.
This rootedness in the barrio, the land, the office, the labor union, this ability to see yourselves in the faces of others, this daily proximity to their share of troubles and their little acts of heroism: this is what enables you to practice the commandment of love, not on the basis of ideas or concepts, but rather on the basis of genuine interpersonal encounter. We do not love concepts or ideas; we love people... Commitment, true commitment, is born of the love of men and women, of children and the elderly, of peoples and communities… of names and faces which fill our hearts. From those seeds of hope patiently sown in the forgotten fringes of our planet, from those seedlings of a tenderness which struggles to grow amid the shadows of exclusion, great trees will spring up, great groves of hope to give oxygen to our world.
So I am pleased to see that you are working at close hand to care for those seedlings, but at the same time, with a broader perspective, to protect the entire forest. Your work is carried out against a horizon which, while concentrating on your own specific area, also aims to resolve at their root the more general problems of poverty, inequality and exclusion.
I congratulate you on this. It is essential that, along with the defense of their legitimate rights, peoples and their social organizations be able to construct a humane alternative to a globalization which excludes. You are sowers of change. May God grant you the courage, joy, perseverance and passion to continue sowing. Be assured that sooner or later we will see its fruits. Of the leadership I ask this: be creative and never stop being rooted in local realities, since the father of lies is able to usurp noble words, to promote intellectual fads and to adopt ideological stances. But if you build on solid foundations, on real needs and on the lived experience of your brothers and sisters, of campesinos and natives, of excluded workers and marginalized families, you will surely be on the right path.
The Church cannot and must not remain aloof from this process in her proclamation of the Gospel. Many priests and pastoral workers carry out an enormous work of accompanying and promoting the excluded throughout the world, alongside cooperatives, favouring businesses, providing housing, working generously in the fields of health, sports and education. I am convinced that respectful cooperation with the popular movements can revitalize these efforts and strengthen processes of change.
Let us always have at heart the Virgin Mary, a humble girl from small people lost on the fringes of a great empire, a homeless mother who could turn a stable for beasts into a home for Jesus with just a few swaddling clothes and much tenderness. Mary is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice. I pray that Our Lady of Mount Carmel, patroness of Bolivia, will allow this meeting of ours to be a leaven of change.
Lastly, I would like us all to consider some important tasks for the present historical moment, since we desire a positive change for the benefit of all our brothers and sisters. We know this. We desire change enriched by the collaboration of governments, popular movements and other social forces. This too we know. But it is not so easy to define the content of change – in other words, a social program which can embody this project of fraternity and justice which we are seeking. So don’t expect a recipe from this Pope. Neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social reality or the proposal of solutions to contemporary issues. I dare say that no recipe exists. History is made by each generation as it follows in the footsteps of those preceding it, as it seeks its own path and respects the values which God has placed in the human heart.
I would like, all the same, to propose three great tasks which demand a decisive and shared contribution from popular movements:
3.1 The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples. Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money. Let us say NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.
The economy should not be a mechanism for accumulating goods, but rather the proper administration of our common home. This entails a commitment to care for that home and to the fitting distribution of its goods among all. It is not only about ensuring a supply of food or “decent sustenance”. Nor, although this is already a great step forward, is it to guarantee the three “L’s” of land, lodging and labor for which you are working. A truly communitarian economy, one might say an economy of Christian inspiration, must ensure peoples’ dignity and their “general, temporal welfare and prosperity”. This includes the three “L’s”, but also access to education, health care, new technologies, artistic and cultural manifestations, communications, sports and recreation. A just economy must create the conditions for everyone to be able to enjoy a childhood without want, to develop their talents when young, to work with full rights during their active years and to enjoy a dignified retirement as they grow older. It is an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life. You, and other peoples as well, sum up this desire in a simple and beautiful expression: “to live well”.
Such an economy is not only desirable and necessary, but also possible. It is no utopia or chimera. It is an extremely realistic prospect. We can achieve it. The available resources in our world, the fruit of the intergenerational labors of peoples and the gifts of creation, more than suffice for the integral development of “each man and the whole man”. The problem is of another kind. There exists a system with different aims. A system which, while irresponsibly accelerating the pace of production, while using industrial and agricultural methods which damage Mother Earth in the name of “productivity”, continues to deny many millions of our brothers and sisters their most elementary economic, social and cultural rights. This system runs counter to the plan of Jesus.
Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right. The universal destination of goods is not a figure of speech found in the Church’s social teaching. It is a reality prior to private property. Property, especially when it affects natural resources, must always serve the needs of peoples. And those needs are not restricted to consumption. It is not enough to let a few drops fall whenever the poor shake a cup which never runs over by itself. Welfare programs geared to certain emergencies can only be considered temporary responses. They will never be able to replace true inclusion, an inclusion which provides worthy, free, creative, participatory and solidary work.
Along this path, popular movements play an essential role, not only by making demands and lodging protests, but even more basically by being creative. You are social poets: creators of work, builders of housing, producers of food, above all for people left behind by the world market.
I have seen at first hand a variety of experiences where workers united in cooperatives and other forms of community organization were able to create work where there were only crumbs of an idolatrous economy. Recuperated businesses, local fairs and cooperatives of paper collectors are examples of that popular economy which is born of exclusion and which, slowly, patiently and resolutely adopts solidary forms which dignify it. How different this is than the situation which results when those left behind by the formal market are exploited like slaves!
Governments which make it their responsibility to put the economy at the service of peoples must promote the strengthening, improvement, coordination and expansion of these forms of popular economy and communitarian production. This entails bettering the processes of work, providing adequate infrastructures and guaranteeing workers their full rights in this alternative sector. When the state and social organizations join in working for the three “L’s”, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity come into play; and these allow the common good to be achieved in a full and participatory democracy.
3.2. The second task is to unite our peoples on the path of peace and justice.
The world’s peoples want to be artisans of their own destiny. They want to advance peacefully towards justice. They do not want forms of tutelage or interference by which those with greater power subordinate those with less. They want their culture, their language, their social processes and their religious traditions to be respected. No actual or established power has the right to deprive peoples of the full exercise of their sovereignty. Whenever they do so, we see the rise of new forms of colonialism which seriously prejudice the possibility of peace and justice. For “peace is founded not only on respect for human rights but also on respect for the rights of peoples, in particular the right to independence”.
The peoples of Latin America fought to gain their political independence and for almost two centuries their history has been dramatic and filled with contradictions, as they have striven to achieve full independence.
In recent years, after any number of misunderstandings, many Latin American countries have seen the growth of fraternity between their peoples. The governments of the region have pooled forces in order to ensure respect for the sovereignty of their own countries and the entire region, which our forebears so beautifully called the “greater country”. I ask you, my brothers and sisters of the popular movements, to foster and increase this unity. It is necessary to maintain unity in the face of every effort to divide, if the region is to grow in peace and justice.
Despite the progress made, there are factors which still threaten this equitable human development and restrict the sovereignty of the countries of the “greater country” and other areas of our planet. The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain “free trade” treaties, and the imposition of measures of “austerity” which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor. The bishops of Latin America denounce this with utter clarity in the Aparecida Document, stating that “financial institutions and transnational companies are becoming stronger to the point that local economies are subordinated, especially weakening the local states, which seem ever more powerless to carry out development projects in the service of their populations”. At other times, under the noble guise of battling corruption, the narcotics trade and terrorism – grave evils of our time which call for coordinated international action – we see states being saddled with measures which have little to do with the resolution of these problems and which not infrequently worsen matters.
Similarly, the monopolizing of the communications media, which would impose alienating examples of consumerism and a certain cultural uniformity, is another one of the forms taken by the new colonialism. It is ideological colonialism. As the African bishops have observed, poor countries are often treated like “parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel”.
It must be acknowledged that none of the grave problems of humanity can be resolved without interaction between states and peoples at the international level. Every significant action carried out in one part of the planet has universal, ecological, social and cultural repercussions. Even crime and violence have become globalized. Consequently, no government can act independently of a common responsibility. If we truly desire positive change, we have to humbly accept our interdependence. Interaction, however, is not the same as imposition; it is not the subordination of some to serve the interests of others. Colonialism, both old and new, which reduces poor countries to mere providers of raw material and cheap labor, engenders violence, poverty, forced migrations and all the evils which go hand in hand with these, precisely because, by placing the periphery at the service of the center, it denies those countries the right to an integral development. That is inequality, and inequality generates a violence which no police, military, or intelligence resources can control.
Let us say NO to forms of colonialism old and new. Let us say YES to the encounter between peoples and cultures. Blessed are the peacemakers.
Here I wish to bring up an important issue. Some may rightly say, “When the Pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the Church”. I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church “kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters”. I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.
I also ask everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike, to think of those many bishops, priests and laity who preached and continue to preach the Good News of Jesus with courage and meekness, respectfully and pacifically; who left behind them impressive works of human promotion and of love, often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements even to the point of martyrdom. The Church, her sons and daughters, are part of the identity of the peoples of Latin America. An identity which here, as in other countries, some powers are committed to erasing, at times because our faith is revolutionary, because our faith challenges the tyranny of mammon. Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus. This too needs to be denounced: in this third world war, waged peacemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.
To our brothers and sisters in the Latin American indigenous movement, allow me to express my deep affection and appreciation of their efforts to bring peoples and cultures together in a form of coexistence which I would call polyhedric, where each group preserves its own identity by building together a plurality which does not threaten but rather reinforces unity. Your quest for an interculturalism, which combines the defense of the rights of the native peoples with respect for the territorial integrity of states, is for all of us a source of enrichment and encouragement.
3.3. The third task, perhaps the most important facing us today, is to defend Mother Earth.
Our common home is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity. Cowardice in defending it is a grave sin. We see with growing disappointment how one international summit after another takes place without any significant result. There exists a clear, definite and pressing ethical imperative to implement what has not yet been done. We cannot allow certain interests – interests which are global but not universal – to take over, to dominate states and international organizations, and to continue destroying creation. People and their movements are called to cry out, to mobilize and to demand – peacefully, but firmly – that appropriate and urgently-needed measures be taken. I ask you, in the name of God, to defend Mother Earth. I have duly addressed this issue in my Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’.
In conclusion, I would like to repeat: the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you. Let us together say from the heart: no family without lodging, no rural worker without land, no laborer without rights, no people without sovereignty, no individual without dignity, no child without childhood, no young person without a future, no elderly person without a venerable old age. Keep up your struggle and, please, take great care of Mother Earth. I pray for you and with you, and I ask God our Father to accompany you and to bless you, to fill you with his love and defend you on your way by granting you in abundance that strength which keeps us on our feet: that strength is hope, the hope which does not disappoint. Thank you and I ask you, please, to pray for me.
 JOHN XXIII, Encyclical Mater et Magistra (15 May 1961), 3: AAS 53 (1961), 402.
 PAUL VI, Encyclical Populorum Progressio (26 March 1967), 14: AAS 59 (1967), 264.
 PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 157.
 FIFTH GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN BISHOPS, Aparecida Document (29 June 2007), 66.
 JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa (14 September 1995), 52: AAS 88 (1996), 32-22; ID., Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (30 December 1987), 22: AAS 80 (1988), 539.
 Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 Incarnationis Mysterium (29 November 1998),11: AAS 91 (1999), 139-141.
Netflix received lots of praise earlier this month when it announced its new policy of "unlimited" paid parental leave for it's employees. Microsoft and Adobe soon followed suit by expanding their own paid parental leave policies.
Many observers wondered if the new policies at the tech giants indicated a positive trend in how American corporations treat employees who happen to be new parents.
Instead, these policies expose the urgent need for a national standard on paid parental leave.
But before we celebrate the dawn of a new era, keep two basic truths in mind.
First, these new policies apply only to a tiny group considered “talent” — highly educated and in high demand. They’re getting whatever perks firms can throw at them in order to recruit and keep them.
“Netflix’s continued success hinges on us competing for and keeping the most talented individuals in their field,” Tawni Cranz, Netflix’s chief talent officer, wrote in a company blog.
That Neflix has a “chief talent officer” tells you a lot.
Netflix’s new policy doesn’t apply to all Netflix employees, by the way. Those in Netflix’s DVD division aren’t covered. They’re not “talent.” They’re like the vast majority of American workers — considered easily replaceable.
Employers treat replaceable workers as costs to be cut, not as assets to be developed. Replaceable workers almost never get paid family leave; they get a few paid sick days and barely any vacation time.
If such replaceables are eligible for 12 weeks of family leave, it’s only because the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (which I am proud to have implemented as labor secretary under Bill Clinton) requires it.
But time granted by the Family and Medical Leave Act doesn’t come with pay, which is why only 40 percent of eligible workers can afford to use it. And it doesn’t cover companies or franchisees with fewer than 50 employees.
Almost all other advanced nations provide three or four months paid leave — to fathers as well as mothers — plus paid sick leave, generous vacation time and limits on how many work hours employers can demand.
The second thing to know about the new family-friendly work policies is that relatively few talented Millennials are taking advantage of them.
They can’t take the time.
Netflix's new policy has exposed a rift in the American workplace. Only highly-valued "talent" gets the benefit of paid parental leave. And many of those employees are afraid to take advantage of their paid parental leave because of the highly competitive nature of their work, fearing that starting a family might be viewed as a lack of commitment to their company's success.
A national standard on paid parental leave would level the playing field for all workers and create a sense of normalcy around taking time off of work to be present in the first few vital months of a child's life.
The Pope requested that the chair and altar be "simple and humble." New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan chose immigrant workers from Don Bosco Worker Center to construct the chair and altar that Pope Francis will use at Madison Square Garden.
You can learn more about the Don Bosco Worker Center here.
Marie Sophie Jaafari spent more than five years checking hats and coats for patrons who regularly paid as much as a $75 prix fixe to dine on calf liver with lemon butter or veal kidneys in mustard sauce at Manhattan’s Le Périgord.
During that time, she received occasional paychecks from the 50-year-old French restaurant and usually earned just tips, she alleged in a lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Manhattan.
In the suit, Ms. Jaafari accused Le Périgord of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets wage and hour standards for employers. Georges Briguet, owner of the renowned restaurant, denied violating any laws and described Ms. Jaafari as a private contractor, not an employee.
The lawsuit is the latest in a growing number of legal actions targeting pricey and renowned New York City restaurants.
As New York prepares to increase the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $15 per hour and rolls out a statewide task force to combat worker exploitation, the recent flurry of litigation underscores how wage issues affect not only low-end restaurants but upscale eateries as well.
The number of wage-violation lawsuits has been on the rise for more than a decade, driven by a successful worker-organization movement, increased attention by plaintiffs’ attorneys and complicated labor laws that leave some employers confused, according to legal analysts and industry leaders.
Nationwide, these lawsuits have doubled in the last 10 years in federal courts. In New York state, such lawsuits have nearly tripled in the last six years, rising to 1,738 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, compared with 652 in fiscal year 2009, records show.
“The numbers are just scary,” said Carolyn Richmond, a lawyer with two decades of experience representing restaurants. “We started seeing this trend in 2005 and it’s never waned. It’s continued to go up exponentially every year.”
A 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Labor found that wage violations—concentrated mostly in the hospitality industry—result in between $10 million and $20 million of lost worker income a week in New York state.
On Sunday night, comedian John Oliver took a look at the Televangelism industry and "seed faith" -- the belief that sending money to Televangelists is the equivalent of planting seeds of faith for which the seeder will be rewarded. After exposing some of the more notorious Televangelists and illustrating what happened after he sent $20 to one of them, Oliver showed how easy it is to create a new, tax-exempt "church" entity by creating (and legally registering with the federal government) the Church of Perpetual Exemption.
In classic Televangelist fashion, Oliver splashed a phone number on the screen and plugged a website, both of which can be used to donate to the new church.
It's a shame that anyone would take advantage of people of faith and laws intended to protect legitimate places of worship in order to make money and we applaud John Oliver for exposing these shadowy operations.
As for donations to the Church of Perpetual Exemption, that money will be turned over to Doctor's Without Borders.
One week after Last Week Tonight with John Oliver aired a segment on televangelism and announced the creation of the Church of Perpetual Exemption, there has been a huge response. Not only has the "church" received thousands of dollars in donations from viewers, but CBS News is reporting that pressure is mounting on the Internal Revenue Service to launch a formal investigation into televangelism and to review the tax-exempt status of these organizations. We'll keep you posted as developments continue.
You can watch the original segment from Last Week Tonight below. Warning: there is some language that may not be suitable for work.
SEATTLE — On Monday mornings, fresh recruits line up for an orientation intended to catapult them into Amazon’s singular way of working.
They are told to forget the “poor habits” they learned at previous jobs, one employee recalled. When they “hit the wall” from the unrelenting pace, there is only one solution: “Climb the wall,” others reported. To be the best Amazonians they can be, they should be guided by the leadership principles, 14 rules inscribed on handy laminated cards. When quizzed days later, those with perfect scores earn a virtual award proclaiming, “I’m Peculiar” — the company’s proud phrase for overturning workplace conventions.
At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”)
Many of the newcomers filing in on Mondays may not be there in a few years. The company’s winners dream up innovations that they roll out to a quarter-billion customers and accrue small fortunes in soaring stock. Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff — “purposeful Darwinism,” one former Amazon human resources director said. Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover.
Even as the company tests delivery by drone and ways to restock toilet paper at the push of a bathroom button, it is conducting a little-known experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers, redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable. The company, founded and still run by Jeff Bezos, rejects many of the popular management bromides that other corporations at least pay lip service to and has instead designed what many workers call an intricate machine propelling them to achieve Mr. Bezos’ ever-expanding ambitions.
“This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren’t easy,” said Susan Harker, Amazon’s top recruiter. “When you’re shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesn’t work.”
Bo Olson was one of them. He lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. “You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face,” he said. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”
Thanks in part to its ability to extract the most from employees, Amazon is stronger than ever. Its swelling campus is transforming a swath of this city, a 10-million-square-foot bet that tens of thousands of new workers will be able to sell everything to everyone everywhere. Last month, it eclipsed Walmart as the most valuable retailer in the country, with a market valuation of $250 billion, and Forbes deemed Mr. Bezos the fifth-wealthiest person on earth.
Holding a smooth wooden cane in one hand and rubbing his scarred knee with the other, Jorge Lopez-Serra sat at a kitchen table covered with unpaid bills.
Lopez-Serra, 45, recently took a part-time job with a cleaning company to sock away money for knee surgery and was assigned to a diner in St. Petersburg and an American Legion Hall in Clearwater. He said the company never paid the final $700 he was owed.
Lopez-Serra has since had his surgery and is recovering while on short-term disability from his job as a machine operator. He's only bringing in 70 percent of his salary. His wife, Rose Rodriguez, said the couple has struggled to make their truck payment.
"That was money we needed and still need," Rodriguez said.
Each year, more than 3,000 wage violation allegations like Lopez-Serra's are reported to the U.S. Department of Labor's Florida office. The state's six most populous counties accounted for the vast majority of cases, with Hillsborough and Pinellas coming in second and third only behind Miami-Dade County.
Some states have passed laws to crack down on employers who try to cheat workers out of pay. But in Florida, the problem has received scant attention from a state Legislature that sides with probusiness groups that say wage left laws put onerous burdens on their companies.
So city and county officials are following the lead of Miami-Dade, which in 2010 became the first in the state to pass a local ordinance to give workers recourse in wage theft disputes. The process has recovered millions for workers, so the city of St. Petersburg passed a nearly identical ordinance. Pinellas and Hillsborough are drafting theirs, cribbing all or parts of Miami-Dade's model.
"It's the Legislature's lack of action that's really forced us to go down this avenue," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner.
• • •
Wage theft can take many forms, such as forcing a worker to stay late without compensation for that time, stealing tips or intentionally and improperly classifying an employee as a contractor. It often affects low-income workers in construction, agriculture and service industries like restaurants and hotels.
Wage theft data in Florida are mostly limited to violations reported to the U.S. Department of Labor, but those numbers represent the tip of a very large iceberg, said Bruce Nissen, a professor of labor studies at Florida International University.
On a given day in the United States, three million temporary workers are on the job, working to put food on the table and keep the lights on. But as the number of temp workers increases, so do occupational hazards.
On his first day of work at his first job, temp worker Day Davis snapped a selfie and texted it to his girlfriend, excited about the future they would build together. 90 minutes later, Day Davis was dead.
A Day's Work is a documentary that investigates Davis' death and the $100 billion temporary worker industry.
SEIU California has released a new video in partnership with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) sharing the stories of three workers who managed to break free of their human traffickers only to find themselves the victim of wage theft.
(ITHACA) On Monday, 8/10, the Ithaca Town Board, by a unanimous vote, became the first governmental agency in Tompkins County to publicly endorse the Tompkins County Workers’ Center campaign, to mandate a minimum wage for EVERYONE who works in Tompkins County that is a Living Wage ($14.34/hour in Tompkins).
Says Ithaca Town Supervisor Herb Engman: “The Town Board realized that the issue today isn’t just jobs but jobs that pay wages people can live on. The widening income gap has gotten a lot of attention nationally, and more local governments are taking action to raise the minimum wage, which has fallen over the years in terms of spending power.”
Occupy Wall Street’s encampment at Zuccotti Park exposed the abysmal gulf between the “99 percent” and Wall Street’s filthy rich—but other wealth gaps have long bubbled just below the asphalt. The bottom tier of the Street—the retail bank tellers who handle regular people’s money on the edges of Big Finance—are struggling financially themselves.
The wages of Wall Street’s frontline workers reflect the degradation of service labor across Main Street. National Employment Law Project (NELP) found that “Of the nearly 1.7 million people working within retail banking, almost one in three—more than half a million—are in occupations with median hourly wages below $15.” Near the bottom are about 470,000 bank tellers, the largest occupational group, about three quarters of whom earning less than $15 per hour. That lags the general US workforce considerably—about 42 percent of all workers earn under $15 an hour. In other words, the person you give your money to at the bank is very likely poorer than you.
Though their jobs require specialized skills, tellers are generally paid significantly less than banking industry customer service representatives, credit authorizers and financial clerks, who earn around $15.90, $17.65 and $18.50 per hour respectively. Janitors and cleaners in banking facilities make the least, about $10.65 an hour. More than 80 percent of tellers are women—a familiar corporate gender gap that is perhaps both product and producer of lower pay scales.
The bank’s proximity to Wall Street doesn’t provide much of a premium: Bank tellers in New York State earn just $13.30 an hour. A living wage for a single parent, one-child household in the New York City metro area would be more than twice that much, according to MIT estimates
Graveyard shift janitors who clean the iconic Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki are supposed to be paid union wages even if they work for a hotel contractor and aren’t union members.
That’s guaranteed in a collective bargaining agreement between the Hilton and the hotel employees union, which has long sought to lessen the impact on workers when hotels economize by hiring contractors that can use non-union employees.
So when Jasmine Marbou, a single mother, found out in 2013 her pay of $13.59 per hour was far less than union employees doing basically the same work in the same hotel, she and several co-workers filed suit against the contractor they worked for.
But a federal judge ruled in favor of the defense and stuck the workers with the bill for their employer’s legal expenses.
Marbou and 34 other janitors, mostly immigrants from the Philippines, owe $2,779 apiece.
The judge said the union could challenge the pay disparity, but non-union workers could not.
Now Unite Here Local 5 has filed a grievance seeking to do just that. Its spokeswoman, Paula Rodelas, claims as many as 50 workers may have been underpaid by a total $1.5 million because they didn’t get the same raises as union members from 2008 to 2013.
“This is wage theft,” Rodelas said. “It’s not a question at all that these workers weren’t being paid the right amount. The workers aren’t asking for more than what they deserve, they’re just asking for their money back.”
The grievance is the latest development in the union’s decade-long struggle to enforce collective bargaining agreements governing contracting at Waikiki hotels, a conflict that underscores the vulnerability of workers who are the backbone of Hawaii’s tourism industry.
The employees worked for Hawaii Care and Cleaning, which didn’t reply to requests for comment but implied in court records that it’s not to blame because it didn’t receive money from Hilton for raises.
Rodelas said the union doesn’t care whether Hilton or the cleaning company ultimately pays the back wages, but holds Hilton responsible for upholding the collective bargaining agreement.
Hilton spokeswoman Cynthia Rankin declined to comment on the lawsuit and the grievance, writing in an email that the hotel does not discuss legal or personnel matters. She did say that the hotel complies fully with its union agreement.
“Any grievances in this area that are brought to our attention are handled as expeditiously as possible and in accordance with the agreement,” she wrote.
Grocery chain El Super has settled with the National Labor Relations Board over allegations that it refused to bargain with union locals and mistreated unionized workers, a union representative said Monday.
The agreement reached Friday aims to remedy complaints filed last fall and winter, marking a victory for the 600 employees represented by United Food and Commercial Workers locals at seven El Super stores in greater Los Angeles. As a result, one worker fired for what he contended was retaliation for supporting the union got his job back along with seven months of back-pay.
“I am incredibly proud to return to my job of more than nine years, holding my head high,” said Fermin Rodriguez in a UFCW news release. He returned to his cashier job at El Super #13 in South Los Angeles on Sunday.
El Super, which employs 45,000 people at 50 markets across California, Arizona and Nevada, has voluntarily agreed to begin bargaining with the union locals.
Under the settlement, the chain must also post signs saying that it cannot refuse to negotiate. The notices should also remind workers that they have the right to band together and seek bargaining representation.
In the latest sign that support for paid family leave is growing in the U.S., Adobe on Monday announced a big expansion of benefits, including up to half a year of paid time off for new mothers.
In addition to the unusually long maternity leave, the San Jose, California-based software company will also offer U.S. workers up to four weeks of paid time off to care for a sick family member, 10 weeks paid time off for surgery, illness or medical emergencies, and 16 weeks of paid parental leave for fathers and employees who become parents via adoption, surrogacy or foster care.
Announced in a blog post Monday morning, the benefits will go into effect on November 1 and will cover about 6,000 U.S. employees. Currently, new birth mothers at Adobe get 9 weeks of paid leave, while other new parents get two weeks of paid leave for adoptions, surrogacy or foster care.
“In the U.S., government mandates for paid leave are currently slim to nonexistent,” wrote Donna Morris, Adobe’s senior vice president of people and places, in the blog post. “That means companies must navigate the tough balance between supporting employees during major life events and meeting business goals.”
This year has marked a real turning point in the push for parental benefits in the U.S., which is the only developed nation that does not offer paid leave for parents. Companies and local governments are stepping in to fill the void left by a lack of federal policy.
“2015 has been a banner year for work family policy,” Eileen Appelbaum, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told The Huffington Post. “There’s an enormous amount of momentum behind paid family leave."
Local Albany Fast-food workers, social justice advocates, and others gather at Citizen Action headquarters in Albany, N.Y. on Wednesday to watch the live feed of the wage board issue their recommendation to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers across New York state.
When it comes to the challenge of raising the minimum wage in New York State, the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State (LRC of NYS) has not shied away from it; in fact, they’re helping to lead it. Through participating in actions, coordinating Moral Monday demonstrations at the New York State Capitol, the LRC of NYS has made it known that the poverty wages inflicted upon New York workers is highly immoral and should be a cause for major concern. Though the work rages on in New York to establish a living wage for every New York citizen, some New Yorkers, and many of us who support their struggle, tasted a small bit of victory this past Wednesday.
After years of fast food workers organizing for a wage off which they're able to survive, Governor Andrew Cuomo created a Wage Board this past May. The Wage Board allows the governor to examine the wages of a particular industry and potentially issue an industry specific minimum wage if deemed necessary. The board, consisting of three members (Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo, representing the public; Kevin Ryan, Chairman and Founder of Gilt, representing businesses; Mike Fishman, Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, representing labor) met in public hearings throughout the state over the past few months to hear economic analyses, worker and employer testimony, and general public opinion about the implications of raising the minimum wage for the approximate 180,000 fast-food workers state-wide.
On Wednesday, July 22, the wage board came to its final proposal that will be passed along to New York State Labor Commissioner Mario Musolino, with a final public comment period before Musolino’s approval. The recommendation calls for fast-food workers in New York City to see their wages raised to $15 an hour (phased in) by the year 2018. The rest of the state’s fast-food workers will see minimum wage raised to fifteen dollars an hour by 2021.
Though hitting the $15 mark calls for enormous celebration, as the prospect of getting a mere $10.10 just a year ago seemed insurmountable, many still insist this isn’t enough. The dire situation these workers live in as a result of making poverty wages is something that needs to be changed now. In Albany County—where the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition is located—a single adult would need to make $16.88 an hour to afford food, housing, transportation, health care, clothing, and taxes. In six years when the fast-food workers in Albany County are able to earn $15 an hour, they will already be staggeringly behind. This is why the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State is not considering the struggle finished.
Though they’ve made huge grounds in correcting the immorality of poverty wages, there work is far from being done. Fast-food workers can check off a victory they once never thought imaginable, but the question becomes “Who’s next?”. The Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State will not stop battling for economic justice and a moral New York until all New Yorkers are lifted from the binds of working and living under poverty wages.
This week, we were thrilled to hear the proposed rule change by the U.S. Department of Labor that would extend overtime protections to nearly five million workers within the first year of it’s implementation; an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute predicts more than 11 million workers would benefit from the rule change. Currently, if an employee is salaried at $23,660 a year (or $455 a week) and falls under the “white-collar” exemption they are not entitled to any overtime pay. The new rule would change the amount, which was updated only once since 1975 in 2004, to $50,440 a year or $970 a week.
Right now, the Department of Labor is collecting comments during a 60-day period from stakeholders and supporters about the proposed changes to overtime regulations. At IWJ, we're gathering comments online and will deliver them to the Department of Labor before the Sept. 4 deadline. Click here for sample language and to add your comments.
Since it opened in 2013, four different workers visited the Chicago Wage Theft Legal Clinic seeking legal advice but were not entitled to overtime because they made above $23,660 a year and fell into the “white-collar” exemption. These workers were not highly compensated executive, administrative, and professional employees, which the law was intended to cover. Instead, all of these workers were either fast food restaurant managers and assistant managers or convenience store managers. All were making between $24,000 and $30,000 per year and very single one of them who came to the clinic was working between 55 and 70 hours a week.
Their employers knew the rules and knew exactly how much salary they would have to pay them in order to take advantage of them and exclude them from overtime protections.
Because their jobs duties included supervising two or more other employees, managing the restaurant or store when they were on duty, and because their opinions on hiring and firing employees had weight in the decision making process, every one of the four workers fell under the “white-collar” exemption. This is not what was intended when these overtime rules were originally written. And while these new rules do not contain revisions to those “white-collar” exemption duties tests, which would prevent these four individuals from being taken advantage of, we're hopeful that information provided during the public comment period may cause the Department of Labor to reconsider making adjustments in the future.
This rule change will have a positive impact on workers across the U.S. One thing is certain, if these rules were already in place the four managers and assistant managers that visited the legal clinic would be much better off.
Yet, if some predications come true and employers switch some salaried employees to hourly employees it will be more important than ever that the Department of Labor issue a clear paystubs regulation. This will allow workers to see their pay rates and exactly how many hours they worked, which will help them ensure that they are receiving the overtime that they are finally owed.
Julian Medrano is IWJ's Legal Director, in addition to supporting our team and affiliates with legal capacities, he runs Interfaith Worker Justice’s pilot wage theft clinic and is committed to providing all individuals access to the justice system. Photo courtesy: Bernard Polet, Flickr
Many have been waiting in anticipation for Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si (Praise Be to You) released Wednesday. In the landmark text, the Catholic Church clearly states its great concern for the state of our Earth and the people on it. Upon its release, both right and left leaning groups scrambled to appropriate the Holy Father's message to serve their own agenda and turn the document into a political tool. But Pope Francis has little concern for political parties. His encyclical is a call to action for people of all faiths to stand up and save our planet from the neglect and abuse we have laid upon it.
Pope Francis sees the world through a faith lens and not a political one. During his whole pontificate thus far, he has courageously taken on challenging issues and risen above the political fray by focusing on the values relating to the issues. This encyclical is no different as he even connects two important issues together: the climate crisis and poverty.
In the encyclical, he argues that the climate crisis disproportionately impacts the poor. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and Eco-systemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry." The harsh and life-threatening impacts of the climate crisis "will probably be felt by the developing countries in coming decades."
Pope Francis makes the case that because of this environmental inequality poor countries bear the burden of rich countries' greedy abuse of our shared natural resources. This, he said, is a "social debt towards the poor... because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity."
Not everyone agrees. Some have even gone as far as calling the pope anti-business or even Marxist. Predictably, those reactions come from those who fail to see the long view or don't care to because it compromises their immediate profit. There is nothing "anti-business" about the pope's stance on the environment. There is nothing wrong with asking businesses to act more responsibly.
Too often we think of politics before our values, but our values should inform our politics. For instance, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Catholic convert, said of the encyclical, "I don't get economic policies from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope. I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm." Bush acknowledged that he could get in trouble with his parish priest for making that comment. And he should, but not for "chastising the Pope." What he should get in trouble for is for missing out on the point of religion and how it informs the values-based decisions we make each day. Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana said it best: "What is morality about if not about our conduct, our decisions, our conscious and the choices we make; and we don't make decisions in a vacuum. Morality has to do with the choices we make in certain concrete situations including economic situations and business choices. Stop making this artificial separation between moral, theological and business issues."
We can only claim "our values" to be truly ours if we are willing to do something about them. Thank you Pope Francis for taking a courageous stand and calling us all to recognize the impact of the climate crisis and the disproportionate way it effects the poorest among us.
As the executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, a national organization that builds power with workers through faith-rooted organizing and advocacy, my faith and values are what ground me and call me to do this work. I'm Catholic and feel deeply connected to my faith, which has been a constant presence in my life, and is the core to who I am.
I know that the joy, hope and love I feel within my faith is no different from the joy, hope and love others experience within their own faith tradition. I feel this way because we share a set of common core values, such as respect, dignity, dedication, sacrifice and love.
It is because of these shared values that I've decided to join my Muslim friends as they fast from sunup to sundown during this holy month of Ramadan. I also join them in embracing the blessings one receives during such an important time of fasting, charity, prayer and introspection.
Fasting during Ramadan is not just about fasting from food but also from the things that can take us away from being our best selves, such as gossip, insults, lies, negativity & disrespect for others. Ramadan helps us look inward by challenging and encouraging us to be better people, by being more conscious and aware of our place in the world and how we relate to those around us.
In my Catholic tradition I have fasted many times and have seen the benefits of choosing to go without in order to focus on what's inside. Fasting helps make space for other things to come into greater focus, such as a deeper connection with those less fortunate, a greater emphasis on my relationship with God and being more disciplined about the choices I make.
Similarly, fasting during Ramadan is as much about filling ourselves with prayer, empathy and love as it is about fasting from the things that separate us from our true nature. It is through Ramadan's intentional sacrifice of food that we are fed an abundant spiritual buffet.
Ramadan also gives us an opportunity to be more charitable to others. But it's more than just about giving alms to the poor -- it's about broadening our awareness and understanding of the systems that make and keep them poor. More importantly, it is about deepening our connection with those less fortunate.
We practice real empathy and compassion by reaching out and seeking to understand why people struggle, and acting on it. "Why are they hungry?" "Why are they homeless?" By asking these questions we also challenge ourselves to think of what we can do: "How can I do the most good for the most people?" "How do I impact the real problem and make ongoing change happen?"
Fasting and Prayer
As someone once told me; "Fasting without prayer is just going hungry." How true! Many Muslims pray fives times a day, and especially during Ramadan. Prayer feeds the soul and helps sustain the meaning behind the fast.
Several years ago, I was walking through the Minneapolis airport and saw a young airport worker go into a corner and pull out a small rug to pray. He wasn't trying to draw attention to himself, but he caught my eye anyway. I was moved by his act of devotion, discipline and love. I then asked myself, "Why don't I do that?""Is my faith enough of a priority that I go out of my way to pray to make room for it?" Inspired by the young Muslim man's public display of faith and prayer, I began to pray the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy at 3 p.m everyday, regardless of where I was. Now I also include my morning prayers, Rosary and evening prayers each day. The young man's powerful example has inspired and challenged me to deepen my own faith and be a better Catholic.
It is through sharing experiences and practices that we discover we have more in common than we have differences. One of the many values that we have in common is a shared sense of respect for workers and the value of the work they produce. Across faith traditions, the teachings are clear: respect workers and treat them fairly, as we would want to be treated, or even better. Kind of sounds like a golden rule doesn't it? For good reason, as we all do better when we all do better.
So as I begin Ramadan in honor of the values that it represents, I am filled with humility and gratitude for this blessed opportunity to deepen my relationship with God and those around me. It will give me chance to turn down the noise and focus on what's most important in my life and once again, help me to be a better Catholic.
The university is making a decision based on moral convictions to pay all workers a wage off which one can live with dignity and afford the basic needs for oneself and family. At a time when more and more businesses and institutions are making cuts when it comes to payroll and benefits, it's news that makes me feel proud as a Catholic, a union staffer at IWJ and an unapologetic worker advocate. It's that kind of leadership I wish more religious institutions would embrace; I have faith that with the right kind of organizing rooted in our faith traditions, they will.
The Duquesne wage raises will go into effect on July 1, and impact 168 employees, according to the university. I'd be remiss to mention that the scheduled raised will lift the wage floor to $16 an hour from $15, already double the Pennsylvania and federal minimum wage of $7.25. While underpaid workers at some of America's most profitable companies continue to push their employers to do right by them, Duquesne University administration is taking the lead.
Now more than ever religious institutions must be advocates for workers and speak up for living wages, dignity at work and ensure that life is honored when it comes to health and safety standards in the workplace. Religious institutions need to do this in practice (like Duquesne), but also through justice programming and in the pulpit. Churches and religious institutions need to echo and amplify the calls of America's working families: it's time for a living wage, now.
There is no greater issue facing our families and communities today than the rampant economic inequality and the lack of access to good jobs. Today Duquesne University deserves some recognition, tomorrow maybe the entire Catholic Church, someday maybe even giant corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s.
My mother taught me about self-care from a young age. She explained that I would likely spend a lot of my time as a woman caring for others, and that it really was no one else’s job to take of me. She always looked sharp, especially for work- where it was of the utmost importance to be well put together. I’ve spent a lot of my time traveling and talking to people for a living, and they’ve spent a lot of time looking at my hands, and by extension, my nails!
I love to get my nails done, not only for the self-care aspect, but because I love art, and I love supporting skilled, women workers. I’ve found a shop near my home in Chicago with women who are technicians and really talented artists. They know their craft well: the chemicals they work with, how to sculpt, and how to paint. When I leave town, I’m proud to represent Chicago and I’m honored to wear these nails as canvasses for their art.
I’m admittedly partial to some nail technicians over the others. It’s hard not to develop a significant relationship with a woman who holds your hand and talks to you for an hour or so regularly. I talk to my nail tech about everything: city politics, her daughter, our love lives, my job, and of course, her job. I asked her once about adding some yellow paint to a design she was doing, and spoken like a true artist, she told me she couldn’t use yellow, because she “couldn’t see the beauty in it.”
One day she talked about her breathing, and told me about how she’d gone to the doctor, and he told her that she had little cuts in her nose from inhaling all of the dust from filing nails all the time. She elaborated on the effects of the fumes of her body as well. I asked her one day why neither she, nor any of her co-workers wore masks at work. She shrugged and admitted that it seemed like a good idea, but didn’t seem realistic for them.
While I worry about the health of my nail tech, I know from observing her conditions and having been in other nail shops around the country, that her conditions are relatively good. The recent New York Times articles have really highlighted the need for safer working conditions and humane pay for the workers, who are mostly women, at nail shops.
So likely consumed with capitalist guilt after reading that article, what are we to do? I wish I knew fix-it-all answer, but I don’t, and no one else has come forth with that answer either. A few things are clear though:
If you do already, continue to go get your nails done! Every time you spend a dollar, you're helping to create jobs. We want to improve industries that employ low wage workers/overwhelmingly women of color, not put them out of business. We need these jobs to stay, and we need them to be good jobs with decent wages and safe conditions.
When you do treat yourself to a manicure, start a conversation with your nail tech. I see so many people in the nail shop letting another person wash their feet while they don’t speak to them at all. If they are open to it, learn about why they do or don't take safety precautions at work, and see if/how you can support.
Tip like you’ve got some sense. If it’s evident that the skilled worker sitting across from you isn’t fairly compensated for a job well done, you have some hand in that. If 20% of your manicure is only $2, maybe you need to tip a bit more.
I’ve always admired the women pastors and choir directors with the fancy nails. They certainly give a finished look, especially when you use your hands while you talk. At my church, many women, even those on modest incomes, visit a nail salon regularly. I was never one of them. I’ve always had the cracking cuticles and used the “teeth method” for addressing nail tears.
Party, I didn’t have time to sit around and have someone do my nails. Partly, I was too cheap. But mostly, there was something about the nail salon scene that worried me – both the noxious smells and my gut-instinct that workers weren’t paid fairly.
The first article focused on wages and living conditions in New York City. In one of the most expensive cities in the nation, most nail salon workers are paid below minimum wage. Many have to pay a “fee” to the employer to get started, only receive tips for the first few months of work, and are routinely cheated of overtime wages or illegally fined for minor infractions. Large numbers of women bunk together in small apartments jammed with bunk beds and mattresses. The situations described sound much like human trafficking.
Although the article suspects that conditions are worse for nail salon workers in New York City, because prices for a manicure are so low compared to other cities, given my experience with wage theft in many other sectors, I bet there are similar situations in cities and towns across the nation.
The second article focuses on health risks. Nail polish and related nail products contain lots of dangerous chemicals. The fumes not only smell awful, but the chemicals are clearly harming workers. Nail salon workers interviewed for the story told about miscarriages and birth defects in their children. Advocates who’ve worked with nail salon workers in multiple cities say the products cause breathing problems and cancers. There are very few health and safety guidelines or protections for these vulnerable workers.
In large tribute to the excellent research in the articles, New York Governor Cuomo issued emergency orders to protect nail salon workers.
Before these articles came out, I was heading to Dhaka on a delegation to be there for the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, the disaster in which the building owner knowingly pushed workers to continue working in an unsafe building that on April 24, 2013 collapsed killing 1138 workers and injuring another 2500. Given Dhaka’s hot temperatures I packed sandals. The day before I left, I decided to have a pedicure, my first ever, since my toes would peek out of my sandals. While at the salon I had my nails done too – perhaps the third manicure of my life.
Although my toes looked lovely and my nails did too until they started chipping and I had no polish remover, I regret having supported the nail salon industry. Like the Rana Plaza owner, nail salon owners know they are cheating workers and endangering their health. I’d had a bad feeling about nail salons, but gone there anyway. Beauty before justice.
No more. Until nail salon workers are protected, women of faith and good will ought to forego the fancy nails. I certainly will.
Workers in Emmeryville, Calif., a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area, might soon be collecting the nation's highest minimum wage by 2019, with gradual increases leading up to that level.
Lawmakers in Emmeryville okayed a proposal Tuesday to raise the wage to $16 an hour gradually by 2019. The issue is set for a final vote on May 19. If passed, it would take effect on July 1, when the minimum wage would rise to $14.44 an hour for businesses with at least 55 workers and $12.25 for smaller companies, according to Rueters:
It would increase gradually every year until it reaches $16 for all businesses in 2019.
"Just as our workers are creative enough to make a living off of minimum wage and support their families, I think our businesses will be creative enough to make it work and we'll all lift up together," Emmeryville City Councilwoman Dianne Martinez said at the meeting on Tuesday.
At Interfaith Worker Justice, we applaud the city council for hearing the cries across the nation that workers need a wage off which they can live. The Emmeryville ordinance is a win for workers, but we won't stop till ALL workers receive the just wages they're entitled do as human beings.
On Workers' Memorial Day, we're praying for all workers—that their workplaces be healthy and safe. We remember those who have died at work and pledge to fight so no more people die on the job. No more tragedies... like what happened to Jose Melena, a repairman who tragically died in a California Bumble Bee Foods factory after he was trapped in an oven with 12,000 lbs of tuna fish (read about the lawsuit against the company). It's unthinkable that workers' lives can be so carelessly endangered at work. Interfaith Worker Justice and affiliated worker centers and interfaith groups honored workers who have died on the job today and last weekend all across the country.
Today, on Workers' Memorial Day, we remember in a special way all of the workers whose deaths could have been prevented. We renew our commitment to pushing lawmakers and employers to strengthen workplace safety trainings and protections. Affiliates such as Mass COSH, Center for Workers Justice of Eastern Iowa, Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Center, Fe y Justicia and South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, IWJ of East Tennessee and New York Labor Religion Coalition hosted or joined events today. New Labor in New Jersey led a rally and march (below).
I’m on a delegation organized by the International Labor Rights Forum (I serve on the board) that is looking into problems injured workers and surviving family members are experiencing in getting the money raised for them.
Yesterday, we met with thirty injured workers and surviving family members. The stories workers told were horrific. On April 23, a crack was discovered in one of the main columns of a nine story building. (We heard that factories are only supposed to be five stories, so not sure how this one got to be nine.) Workers were sent home and inspections were done. The crack was considered very dangerous.
The next morning, workers showed up at 7:30 a.m. for work, but were worried about going inside. They were fearful about the safety of the building. The building held multiple garment companies inside the building. Lots of managers and supervisors were outside telling the workers to go inside. The workers said some were told they would lose their overtime wages if they didn’t work that day. Others were told they’d lose the entire month’s pay if they didn’t work. And then, the managers pushed them inside the building.
Around 8:40 a.m., the electricity went off. Then when the generators started up a few minutes later—vibrating and shaking the building—it collapsed. More than 1,100 workers were killed and more than 2,500 were injured.
When I saw the coverage two years ago, I personally focused on the 1,100 killed. I really didn’t think much about the more than double that number who were injured. And these were not small injuries. A concrete building collapsed on workers. People lost limbs. Most everyone I talked to seemed to have had a head injury. Many had serious back injuries.And everyone seemed to show symptoms of post traumatic stress. Understandable.
Approximately $24 million dollars has been raised for a fund for injured workers and family members of victims, but it is terribly unclear what has happened to all that money. Workers are clueless as to what the process is, why some folks are getting some amounts of money and others getting different amounts. There appears to be little transparency in the process and the amounts of money given to workers who lost an arm or a leg or a family members was often $1,000 or less, at least according to the papers we were shown. For a garment worker who survived on sewing or perhaps an entire family that depended on that income, getting $1,000 is pitiful when the worker has lost his or her ability to earn a living. Even though the government claims there is rehabilitation and training, none of the workers we met with had gotten any.
Up until now, the International Labor Rights Forum had been advocating for more money for the victims’ fund. Although the fund clearly still needs more money, we also are going to see what we can do to argue for more transparency, communication with workers and more assistance for injured workers and deceased workers’ dependents.
Bangladesh has no workers compensation program. There is beginning to be some conversation about the need for such a program, but it likely will be a while before it could be implemented. I’m very aware that at the same time Bangladesh is talking about setting up a program, there are efforts to dismantle workers compensation programs across the country – limiting dollars given to injured workers, not letting them see their own doctors and not letting juries handle awards. We must preserve the U.S. programs, while we support efforts to strengthen worker supports in Bangladesh.
We also must hold employers in Bangladesh and the U.S. responsible for blatant disregard for workers’ health and safety. As one person said in describing what happened at Rana Plaza, “This wasn’t a tragedy, it was a killing.”
All across the country, fast food strikers were joined by workers across countless industries and their supporters as they mobilized the largest worker action to date. Their prophetic witness for a living wage and work that uplifts human dignity, was echoed from New York to Chicago from Los Angeles to Miami. Staff from Interfaith Worker Justice were pround stand with local groups here in Chicago. Our affiliates joined groups in their local communities. It was a powerful day.
We filled the streets with love, and it was powerful and beautiful -- and we're just getting started.
As our siblings heard us chanting on Wednesday, "I believe that we can win!"
Jesus made seven final statements as he hung on the cross and breathed his last breath. One of them was "I thirst". This particular one sticks out to me because it speaks to Jesus' physical state on the cross. We see his vulnerability as he expresses a very real and physical need: water to rehydrate his body.
Your body sends a signal to your brain when it is getting dehydrated and it makes you conscious of the fact that you need to find some fluids for your body. You know the feeling, right? Your mouth gets all dry, your lips are perched and sometimes if you keep ignoring the signs, you end up with a headache. Our bodies are designed to send messages to our brains to take care of itself.
Jesus’ body was telling him he needed to rehydrate. One can only imagine what it was like hanging there on the cross and literally dying of thirst. The pain must have been excruciating. When I think about Jesus’ physical state of being and what he has endured, I remember that he was walked the journey of life here on earth and can empathize with us when we thirst for something. Not only a physical thirst but also thirst for justice.
Fast food workers across the country are thirsting for justice. They are responding to their own need for dignity and livable wages. They are saying that the conditions in which they work and are paid are not conducive for taking care of themselves and their families. When we see a call for justice, a thirst for justice, we must walk with them. We walk with them because their thirst for justice is ours as well.
Jesus is with those who thirst. Jesus is with fast food workers and Walmart workers who thirst for better wages and respect on the job. Jesus is with farm workers who thirst for breaks with access to clean drinkable water. Jesus is with migrant workers who thirst for water as they cross our southern boarders through the desert in search of any job that will help support their families.
On this Good Friday, I encourage us to remember those around us who thirst.
For more than two years, fast-food workers have been calling on corporations like McDonald's to pay $15 an hour and stop retaliating against workers who stand up collectively. Yesterday McDonald's announced an inadequate raise for SOME (about 10 percent of) workers at its company-owned stores. The move comes just one day after workers announced they'd strike on April 15. The corporation's tiny raise really was a joke. We're not lovin' it. Workers need what they've been calling for since the beginning: $15 an hour.
But because everything old is new, many people weren’t surprised to see McDonald’s toss a few coins around to try and appease enough of their employees to slow the momentum they’ve built leading up to April 15. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book to offer chump change, allegedly from the kindness of your heart, as workers are getting together and taking themselves seriously. I actually hesitated to share the announcement seeing as it was so expected, and it came out, of all days, on April Fools Day. o_O
It actually gives me hope that McDonald’s is following the choreography for a “typical boss fight”, because it means that we will win. Many workers and organizers have seen the dance before: we talk to each other, they talk to us individually, to scare us and pick us apart. We act together, they try to isolate our leaders. Just before we win, they make a last ditch effort to buy some of us off. The steps stay the same, no matter who is doing the dance, be it McDonald’s, Walmart, Target, etc. I’m excited to join fast wood workers who are taking the lead all across the country on April 15
Honestly, I love fast food. I specifically love Wendy’s. As a teenager, I discovered their spicy chicken sandwich (add cheese for 30 cents), and that was it for me. It’s still a fixture in my diet, and I really appreciate the fast-food workers who make that happen for me on a regular basis.
During Lent, I joined nearly 1,500 people of all faiths and embarked on the Fast from Fast Food. Throughout the fast, we honored the great sacrifices workers are making in the struggle to end injustice and inequality in the fast-food industry. In the spirit of the Lenten season — when Catholics (and others who worship in the Christian tradition) intentionally incorporate fasting, prayer and almsgiving into their daily lives — we dedicated ourselves to lifting up the concerns of some of the most undervalued and underpaid of God’s children.
Speaking of children, fast-food workers are not just high school teenagers and college students looking to score extra cash; the Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that 40% are 25 or older. More than a quarter are providing for their children. And among fast-food workers over the age of 20, nearly 80% earn less than $10.10 an hour. That’s hardly a living wage. Working moms shouldn’t have to juggle multiple jobs just to keep food on the table. Working dads shouldn’t be forced to choose between rent and heat. Children shouldn’t have to grow up in poverty, yet that’s exactly what’s happening. According to a report from the University of California at Berkley, 52% of the families of front-line fast-food workers are enrolled in one or more public assistance programs. The report estimates that public assistance to families of workers in the fast-food industry costs nearly $7 billion per year.
Supporters who pledged to join the Fast from Fast Food chose to focus on the workers they encounter at fast-food chains by refraining from eating there during this period. We prayed daily for the workers and an end to income inequality.
It’s not that there isn’t enough to pay working families a living wage. In 2012, McDonald’s corporation made $5.5 billion in profits. According to a report by the public policy organization, Demos, CEOs of fast-food companies take home nearly 1,200 times what an average fast-food worker earns. Fast-food CEOs are some of the highest paid industry executives in the world.
Supporters who pledged to join the Fast from Fast Food chose to focus on the workers they encounter at fast-food chains by refraining from eating there during this period. We prayed daily for the workers and an end to income inequality. We reflected on the harmful impact of the low wages and unsafe working conditions in the industry.
Hopefully, through our prayerful solidarity, we’ve helped the faith community connect a little more to the ”Fight for 15″ movement, which advocates a minimum wage of $15 an hour for fast-food workers and other undervalued and underpaid workers, such as retail workers, adjunct college professors and home health care workers.
Fasting in the spirit of Lent
My committing to this Fast from Fast Food was a real challenge, as noted by my coworkers and friends. For Lent, we fast from or “give up” something important to us. For me, going without a Wendy’s chicken sandwich with cheese was really a sacrifice. I highlighted the sacrifice as an important reminder to others: that I am doing this fast, and that it’s not easy.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” — Micah 6:8
Folks in the faith-rooted justice world love this verse. In Chapter 6, Micah rebukes the Israelites. He tells them they’re doing it wrong. As followers of Christ, we’re often doing it wrong too. In fact, the above paragraph is an excellent example of me doing it wrong. It’s actually not the “giving up” that demonstrates my commitment to God. The Israelites thought all sorts of sacrifices would be pleasing to God: cows, rams, oil, their children. Micah says, “No guys, in all things, build a more just world and be merciful and loving to others … all others. Oh, and be humble when you’re doing it, because it’s not about you, it’s about God.”
So, while participating in the Fast from Fast Food was a gesture that I found deeply challenging, it is not the sacrifice of tasty chicken sandwiches that God asks of me. The Fast from Fast Food isn’t actually about me individually; it is about God and building God’s Kingdom the way we’ve been instructed. It’s about bringing justice to a morally corrupt fast-food industry. It’s about loving workers and echoing their voices so they’re heard. It’s about humbly calling for an economic system that values the contributions of all those who participate.
“The world tells us to seek success, power and money; God tells us to seek humility, service and love,” Pope Francis says to us, echoing Micah’s rebukes to the Israelites.
If we could keep that at the heart of our fasts and throughout our journey supporting fast-food workers, other underpaid workers and people whose human dignity the economy refuses to acknowledge, we can confront these new idols head on.
April 15, many fasters plan to do just that. Nourished in spirit by community, solidarity and prophetic witness we’ve encountered during the Fast from Fast Food, we plan to join workers, community groups and faith institutions at rallies supporting a moral economy, and wages and working conditions that reflect the human dignity inherent in all of God’s children. I invite you to join us in your own community.
On March 24, 1980, one day after delivering a homily in which he beseeched his nation’s military to cease their violent repression of the nation’s poor, Archbishop Óscar Romero of El Salvador was slain by an assassin’s bullet on the altar of a small hospital chapel. Like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Romero foresaw his own death. “If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, may my death be for the freedom of my people,” he said in an interview weeks before his assassination, adding:
“I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.”
Thirty-five years later, Romero’s faith in resurrection is being borne out. Not only among the people of El Salvador, where he is revered as a national hero, and not only among Catholics who have come to see him as a holy martyr and a prophet who prefigured Pope Francis and his embrace of the poor. In many ways, Romero’s spirit lives on among all people of faith everywhere who have taken up the cause of the poor. His life thus holds special meaning for all us in the Interfaith Worker Justice family, and his example summons us to recommit ourselves to the struggle for justice. [Honor Romero's legacy by standing with workers in low-wage industries. Pledge to Fast from Fast Food.]
As we continue our work, we can draw three encouraging lessons from Archbishop Romero’s life:
First, if we believe in justice, we must not be discouraged or afraid. Inevitably we will experience the opposition of those who wield power. We must not let that opposition deter us. “Do you want to know if your Christianity is genuine?” Romero asked in a 1977 homily. “Here is the touchstone: Whom do you get along with? Who are those who criticize you? Who are those who do not accept you?” Those who defend the poor in the United States today do not face death squads, as Romero and his followers did. But they do face endless criticism of those with the largest media megaphones and wrestle a system that stacked against them, seemingly calculated to cause them to despair and give up.
Second, if we keep the cause of the poor at the heart of our work, we can renovate both our conflict-ridden society and our all-too-often somnolent religious communities. “The hope we preach to the poor is in order that dignity be restored to them, and to give them the courage to be themselves, the authors of their destiny,” Romero said. To recognize the dignity of the poor requires that we grant their demands for justice. And this requires a broad-based renewal.
Finally, Romero’s life reminds us that the fruit of justice will in the end be peace. “Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression,” Romero said. “Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity.” We should not forget that our work on behalf of justice for working people is ultimately work on behalf of the generous peace about which Romero wrote.
As we mark the 35th anniversary of the death of this good man, let all of us in the IWJ family rededicate ourselves to our work in his memory.
"No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you obeyed your consciences rather than sinful orders. The church cannot remain silent before such an abomination. ...In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression."
- Archbishop Óscar Romero
Honor Archbishop Romero's legacy by standing with workers in low-wage industries. Pledge to Fast from Fast Food.
This blog post was adapted from a Lenten reflection by IWJ's Deputy Director Aina Gutierrez:
It was easy to sign up for the Fast from Fast Food, because I don’t really eat fast food. Sometimes when I travel or when the kids get a smoothie treat, but otherwise it’s not high on my menu options.
So the fast was a symbol of my support of fast food workers, but didn’t mean much for me personally. I haven’t sacrificed anything, and while I’ve been mindful to think of workers and their families, the fast didn’t have much to do with God and his call for why the fast—this fast—is so important.
That all changed when I realized I had to sacrifice one of my favorite treats of the year – the Shamrock Shake. Once a year, my family hits the drive-through at McDonald’s and each of us gets a shake. I love this tradition. I also love the minty cold goodness of the shake.
This year I had to explain to my kids and husband (who was almost more bummed than the kids) that we couldn’t get our traditional shamrock shakes. This year, we talked about why I had signed up for the fast, how companies can do better to their workers, and how this all ties back to God and how we fast as a part of our worship. The passage from Isaiah reminds us that a proper fast requires mindfulness, yes, but also sacrifice and good works to fight injustice and care for others.
"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?" —Isaiah 58:6-7
God is calling my family to worship him. The Fast from Fast Food is a call to action, an action that requires sacrifice of things that we love, and that we have to work to make our world a better place. Fast food workers, and millions of other workers, are suffering. Right now. But I, and my family, are with them and will support them in every way we can.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. —Isaiah 58:6-7
So, sorry Shamrock Shake. Not this year. Our substitute is to crush Thin Mints into vanilla ice cream, but no one is convinced it will be the same. Our hearts are light knowing that we are fasting for something that is right, and that God will answer our call. What have you sacrificed in the Fast from Fast Food? What else can you do during the fast to help fast food workers?
On Wednesday, #FastFoodFast, we gathered around the Twitter "Table" to share experiences & thoughts on bringing justice to the fast food industry. On Wednesdays at 6 p.m. CST during the fast, we come together in an online community for #TableTalk. Join us next week!
I was born and raised in Wisconsin and had a lovely childhood. I attended Madison’s Robert M. La Follette high school but am embarrassed to admit that at the time, I had nary a clue as to who he was. I knew his nickname was “Fighting Bob” and maybe I could have told you he was a Senator, maybe, but that was it. Here's a refresher for those who need it.
The reelection campaign that loomed just a year off would be difficult, he was told, perhaps even impossible. Old alliances had been strained by La Follette's lonely refusal to join in the war cries of 1917 and 1918…
The place to backpedal, La Follette was told, would be in a speech before the crowded Wisconsin Assembly chamber in Madison. Moments before the white-haired Senator climbed to the podium on that cold March day, he was warned one last time by his aides to deliver a moderate address, to apply balm to the still-open wounds of the previous years, and, above all, to avoid mention of the war and his opposition to it.
La Follette began his speech with the formalities of the day... Then, suddenly, La Follette pounded the lectern…. Stretching a clenched fist into the air, La Follette bellowed: "I do not want the vote of a single citizen under any misapprehension of where I stand: I would not change my record on the war for that of any man, living or dead."
LaFollette won his reelection bid by an overwhelming margin. Nichols attributes it to his “militant faith in the people” – the same people who admired and respected this “man so fierce in his convictions that he would risk consignment to political oblivion rather than abandon an unpopular position.” So now it pains me to think that, almost 100 years after this great legacy La Follette left behind, we are today seeing the current Governor of Wisconsin sign into law one of the most destructive and divisive means to limit workers’ voices. I am confident La Follette would be loudly rolling over in his grave (and clenching his fist) to hear of this dismantling of the already-emaciated worker rights in his state. This deceptively-named “right-to-work” law makes the payment of union dues optional for union-represented workers. It also means that if a non-paying union member is illegally fired, the union must use its time and money to defend that worker. It has been shown that workers in states with “right-to-work” laws have lower wages on average and are less likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance or pensions. These laws are not meant to grant workers any rights; on the contrary, they are written with the purpose of keeping workers divided and powerless, to weaken unions and thereby stifle the voice of working families. Yes, it’s a sad day in Wisconsin when with the stroke of a pen, one governor instantly undoes the lifetime work of another governor, when corporate power trumps the voice of the people, and when one Wisconsin-born woman is now ashamed to call Wisconsin “home.”
Today we honor theJewish Fast of Esther, commemorating the three-day fast observed by the Jewish people in the story of Purim. Along our own Fast from Fast Food, we remember the power we wield through this mindful sacrifice. We're honored to share a reflection by Rabbi Renee Bauer, Director of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin:
Today is a Jewish Fast Day called the Fast of Esther. It immediately proceeds the festive Jewish holiday of Purim. The Fast of Esther mirrors the fast that the Jews conduct to support the brave actions of Queen Esther in the Book of Esther. In this book of the Hebrew Bible, there is a royal decree that all the Jews of the Kingdom of Shushan be killed. Queen Esther, a Jew married to the King, has access to power but is fearful to speak up for the Jews, lest she loose her life. She knows that if any person enters the king's presence without having first been summoned, that person will be put to death.
When Esther refuses to take action her cousin Mordechai encourages her saying, "Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king's palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father's houses will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained the royal position for just such a crisis" (Esther 4:13-14). Queen Esther considers these words carefully and tells Mordecai to have all the Jews in the land of Shushan fast on her behalf. With the courage of knowing her people are fasting in solidarity with her, she approaches the king and saves the Jews.
In our day and in our land fast food, retail and home care workers like Queen Esther are taking the risk to speak out even when they fear losing their livelihood. They are speaking out in order to stop the injustice of low wages that has spread throughout our land. Today let us, just as the Jews of Shushan did, fast in solidarity with those courageous workers, so they know they are not alone as they walk the path towards fairness and justice.
“A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.” ― Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
I called a friend of mine a few weeks ago, and he asked me how work was going. I told him it felt ambitious, we were gearing up to ask folks across the country to pledge to Fast from Fast Food in support of fast food workers who were taking big risks to stand up for their rights at work.
Knowing I'm an avid lover of Wendy's and everything fried, he asked, "Whoa, are you gonna do that too?"
I half-heartedly said, "I guess, it'd be really awkward to ask a bunch of other people to do it, and then they catch me sitting in McDonald's one day during the fast."
As we spoke with others about the fast (how to make it happen, how to include everyone we could, and most importantly why we should even attempt it) it became increasingly obvious that it made sense for me to join the fast. Why would I not join an action to draw attention to the bold moves fast food workers are making?
I spent a couple days last week in Atlanta, meeting with fast food workers who were a part of the Fight for $15 National Organizing committee. We listened to folks talk about the disrespect they endured at work, and how they were treated when they called it out. I reflected on my own days in retail, being intimidated from talking to other unionized workers at one job, and being unjustly fired from another. Most of the workers on the committee were regular folks like me (except one who is a low-key superstar, and took the mic later in the meeting) who were easy to connect with.
Although I casually expressed this in 140 or so characters via Twitter, it is my genuine belief that it doesn't take much for me to give up my beloved Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers for a little while. Especially given that these leaders are risking their livelihoods when they talk to their co-workers, sign petitions, and walk out on strike. The organizing committee spends hours after work talking on conference calls, planning at strategy meetings, going out talking to other workers, and speaking in public spaces...and then they head back to their regular jobs and continue to face their managers each day.
They've seen other fast food workers removed from the schedule or get their hours reduced, and even facing that threat and knowing what it could mean for them at home, they still fight. They take these risks not only for themselves and their families, but for an entire industry of people who are constantly disrespected at their jobs. Bearing this in mind, I'll proudly be forgoing my post-meal frosty for the next 40 days.
But back in December, governors and attorneys general from 26 states (led by the state of Texas) sued the government to block the directives. This immoral attempt to stop or slow this application of justice was motivated by GOP lawmakers aggressively pursuing an anti-immigrant agenda.
Since then, 12 states, D.C. and 33 cities (including the largest cities in the nation like Houston) cited a myriad of benefits to the programs.
We at Interfaith Worker Justice will continue to work towards and pray for a legislative fix to our broken immigration system that provides the country's 11 million immigrants with an opportunity to live and work in the U.S. as active and full members of their communities.
We’re hopeful that the U.S. Fifth Court of Appeals will reject this lawsuit.
For several years, battles have raged in religious schools about whether or not their adjunct faculty had the right to organize unions. Mostly Catholic universities had argued that their adjunct faculty should not be able to organize into unions because they were religious schools – despite incredibly strong Catholic Social Teaching in support of unions.
On Dec. 16, the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision about Pacific Lutheran University, a Lutheran school claiming a religious exemption for its adjunct and non-tenured faculty. The decision laid out a new test for schools to meet in terms of being able to exempt their faculty from National Labor Relations Act coverage. The first test is whether the schools provides a religious educational environment. This is a relatively easy test to meet for most religious schools.
The second one is more significant. To be exempt from coverage, “the petitioned for faculty members are performing a religious function.” The universities promote themselves as welcoming diverse students from other faith traditions and hire faculty with little regard for faith backgrounds.
The decision said that Pacific Lutheran University’s adjunct and non-tenured track faculty, 176 of them altogether, did indeed have the right to be in a union if they wanted. Then last week (February 12, 2015), the National Labor Board told the regional boards to review the cases filed by Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit, Saint Xavier University, Seattle University and Manhattan College using the new test as outlined in the Pacific Lutheran University decision. Good news for adjuncts at all these schools.
As members of the interfaith community, we were deeply saddened by the murders of our Muslim brothers and sisters in North Carolina. Yesterday, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) released a statement condemning the violence and offering condolences to the families of these three young Muslims who were killed in North Carolina. IWJ Board Member Naeem Baig is the Presdient of ICNA. The original statement can be found here.
The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) extends its deepest condolences to the families of three Muslim students who were shot and killed execution style in North Carolina yesterday.
Yusor Mohammad, 21, her husband Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and her sister Razan Mohammad AbuSalha, 19 were shot at the North Carolina State University parking lot. Deah was a second-year dentistry student; his wife was planning on starting there in the fall, while her sister was a student at North Carolina State University.
They were newlyweds with aspirations and plans for their lives; instead they have been killed by a man who openly spewed anti-Muslim rhetoric online.
Terrorism knows no religion, no skin color, and has no ethnic creed. ICNA calls on state and federal law enforcement to do a thorough investigation of this heinous crime.
The President of ICNA, Naeem Baig, has said “Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who have been killed in such a senseless, abhorrent crime. This goes to show that savagery and hatred knows no religion, no culture, and no skin color. We urge all people of conscious to continue to keep Deah, Yusor, Razan, and their families and friends in your thoughts and prayers.”
Earlier this week, Rudy López spoke with Sean Salai, SJ from America Magazine about his thoughts about IWJ's Fast from Fast Food. Below is an excerpt from the Q & A interview, which was originally published at America Magazine online.
What inspired (IWJ) to launch a “Fast from Fast Food” during Lent this year?
Interfaith Worker Justice believes that an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay that’s enough to support your family. We wanted to find a way to support the fast food workers who are calling for fair wages that are in line with these values. Given that the Lenten season is nearly here, we felt it was a great opportunity to support the workers in a way that speaks to the nature of who we are as an organization through prayer, fasting and lifting up the moral imperative to treat workers fairly. In solidarity with fast food workers who are calling for $15 an hour and for better working conditions, we are asking people of all faith traditions to “Fast from Fast Food” over the Lenten season. While Lent can be a time of deep significance for many Christian traditions, we are asking people of any faith tradition to take a solidarity pledge to abstain from eating fast food from February 18 to April 5.
The intention is to bring awareness and attention through an act of solidarity by prayer and fasting. It’s important that people understand that these two things go hand in hand. Someone once told me “fasting without prayer is just going hungry.” I couldn’t agree more, as I see the power of offering up our sacrifice for others as an act that deepens our connection to the suffering of our brothers and sisters. As an organization of people of faith, we find that the spiritual aspect of the “fast” is our most effective tool during this time. Fasting opens up a pathway to a spiritual power that has been known to shake prisons and swing open locked doors, as told in the story of the Philippian jailor in the book of Acts. I invite all your readers to join us in solidarity starting on Ash Wednesday.
What are your hopes for this fast?
We hope that through the Fast From Fast Food effort we can 1) bring greater national and local awareness to the plight of fast food workers and their struggle for fair pay and dignity in the workplace; 2) get more congregations and people of faith actively involved in advocating for just working conditions; 3) help those who participate grow in their personal prayer life; 4) raise the understanding of the importance of faith communities taking a stand and lifting up the moral side of social issues; 5) that this serves as a vehicle for fast food workers to develop their own leadership and prayer life; 6) and shift the national narrative on how we view and value low-wage workers and their contributions to our country. This is an important effort for us at IWJ and we see this as a potential model for other future efforts in the way we can offer a unique contribution.
On Feb. 3, David Weil, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Administrator, sent an email out explaining that the President’s budget proposal requests money for 300 additional new investigators. This is great news!
In 2009, the President's budget added 300 new investigators to restore the agency to previous levels. Adding three hundred more investigators, while still not enough given that the Division is supposed to protect the wages of 135 million workers, is a significant – 30 percent – increase. Weil also said that the budget includes a call to increase civil monetary penalties – that’s government talk for fines. The department is trying to create meaningful penalties for those who routinely and willfully violate wage and hour laws. This is absolutely the right direction.
Yesterday, President Obama unveiled a budget plan that targets income inequality and echoes the challenge he posed to Congress in last month’s State of the Union Address: create an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort.
Again, we thank the President for his commitment to working families, particularly for his leadership in making Paid Sick Leave and childcare access economic priorities.
As people of faith, we are called to advocate for wages and working standards that honor the human dignity of workers. We welcome a budget that supports policies that provide tax credits for families and the working poor, but recognize that it is not a permanent solution.
A few days before the President’s budget speech, the U.S. Census reported that 16 million children had to rely on food stamps in 2014, compared to nine million in 2007. The number of innocent lives hurt by poverty wages and income inequality is growing at an alarming rate.
Isaiah clearly states what God expects of government leaders: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).
Too many workers, many of them parents, are pushed into poverty by low wages and job instability. Often, hardworking parents are forced to depend on the generosity of family, friends, community organizations or government just to survive.
As the President said, we need a budget that helps working families feel more secure with paychecks that go further.
We urge Congress to follow the President’s lead on passing a budget that prioritizes the creation of good jobs and on setting a livable federal minimum wage that would allow workers to provide for themselves and their families.
In addition to some of the good steps in the budget, we urge the President to put the issue of paystubs back on the Department of Labor’s regulatory agenda. This can have positive far reaching effects all on its own. Currently, millions of workers do not know how their pay is calculated and what deductions are taken from them, leaving them vulnerable to wage theft. Workers need clear paystubs to understand if they are being paid according to the law. When tens of millions of dollars of unpaid wages are stolen from workers annually, putting Paystubs for All on the regulatory agenda is an important complementary step for raising workers’ incomes.
We urge Congress to pass a budget that prioritizes the creation of good jobs and on setting a livable federal minimum wage that would allow workers to provide for themselves and their families.
On Super Bowl Sunday next week, some of our larger and faster union brothers—members of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA)—will be battling it out in Glendale, Ariz., at Super Bowl XLIX (49 for those of us who are shaky on Roman numerals). While the Super Bowl carries a union label, from players to broadcast crews to stadium workers—your Super Bowl party spread can, too, with union-made in America food and drinks.
Beck's, Budweiser, Busch. Goose Island, Hoegaarden, Land Shark Lager, Leffe Blond, Michelob, Natural, O'Doul's (non alcoholic), Shock Top, Stella Artois, Iron City, Rolling Rock, Red Stripe, Kirin, Labatt Blue, Stegmaier, Lionshead, Steelhead, Butte Creek, Red Tail Ale, Blue Moon, Henry Weinhard's, Killian's, Mickey's, Molson Canadian, Olde English 800, Steel Reserve, Miller, Keystone Light, 1845 Pils, Bass Pale Ale, Moosehead, Schlitz, Pabst, Sam Adams, Hamm's and Kingfisher Premium Lager.
Alexander & Hornung, Always Tender, Ball Park, Banquet, Butterball, Dearborn Sausage Co., Farmer John, Farmland, Hebrew National, Hormel, Omaha Steaks, Oscar Meyer, Thumann’s and Tyson.
Following President Obama’s State of the Union address, Interfaith Worker Justice Executive Director Rudy López issued the following statement:
President Obama delivered a message grounded in core values shared across faith traditions: to love one’s neighbor as oneself and to treat each other with dignity and respect. If we truly want our communities and our economy to thrive, we must care for and invest in people and families first.
One step in that direction is the president’s proposal that gives all workers seven days of paid sick leave a year and assistance to help states start their own paid family and medical leave programs. No one should face the impossible choice of caring for their health or keeping their paycheck or job. But millions of workers are forced to make this decision every time they or a family member needs care. We thank the president for his leadership on this issue.
We also support the presidential memorandum that makes it easier for federal employees to take up to six weeks of “maternity” leave by advancing paid sick leave. No mother should be forced to choose between spending time with her newborn child or earning a living.
We believe income inequality is a moral issue that threatens the health and well-being of our country. Religious scripture tells us: to whom much is given, much is expected. We encourage President Obama to move our nation in the direction of shared prosperity for all Americans.
As people of faith, we are called to advocate for wages and working standards that honor the human dignity of workers. We urge the president to lead a bipartisan effort on raising wages, finding new ways to support workers and addressing the growing inequality of wealth and opportunities in the nation.
We at IWJ ask this administration to take action on issuing a simple but significant regulation that could help address the nation’s growing problem with wage theft: Paystubs for All. Workers who don't have access to documentation that explains how their pay is calculated are more vulnerable to wage theft. When tens of millions of dollars of unpaid wages are stolen from workers annually, we believe that a paystubs regulation is an important complementary step for raising workers' incomes. We urge the president to help make Paystubs for All happen.
Finally, we need real and meaningful immigration reform. While we applaud the president’s temporary fix, we urge him to continue to push congress for a permanent solution. Every day, in this nation of immigrants, families are torn apart, workers are exploited and human dignity is ignored – and our entire country cannot move forward as a result. Our nation is hungry for real immigration reform. For as long as immigrant workers are left vulnerable to poverty wages and abuse, and families are ripped apart by deportation, we cannot fully address income inequality nor can we move forward as one nation under God.:
Now it's your turn to let Rudy know what YOU thought about the president's message. Email him at rudylopez at iwj.org.
The millennials on staff here at IWJ have encouraged the team to use more "sensory verbs" and imagery in our work. So, to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his inspiring wisdom and brilliant (but rarely celebrated) sense of humor, we gathered some of his most inspiring quotes on poverty, justice, workers and the economy...and added a little twist. As we celebrate Dr. King's legacy and radical vision for a better and more inclusive world, let us draw strength from his words and continue in the struggle for worker, economic and racial justice.
1. "So it is obvious that if a man is to redeem his spiritual and moral ‘lag,’ he must go all out to bridge the social and economic gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ of the world."
2. "I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few."
3. "The Curse of poverty has no justification in our age…The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty."
4. "God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and he has left in the universe enough to spare for that purpose."
5. "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
6. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
7. "As I have said many times, and believe with all my heart, the coalition that can have the greatest impact in the struggle for human dignity here in America is that of the Negro and the forces of labor, because their fortunes are so closely intertwined."
8. "The Labor Movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress."
9. "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."
10. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
More? what Dr. King quotes inspire you to continue in the movement?
Have you or someone you know been robbed? Fight back at WageTheft.org