Choosing Your Seat on Labor Day

Kim Bobo |

Kim at Holy FamilyThe Luke text tells us that Jesus was invited to a prominent Pharisee’s home, like being invited to the home of Rahm Emmanuel’s (the Mayor of Chicago) or Bill Gates, or perhaps even the Cardinal’s mansion. He watched people jockeying for position, trying to get near the places of honor. He urged them to take the lowest place. “Humble yourself,” Jesus said.

He then turned to the host and urged him not to invite the powerful, but invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind–those who can’t repay you. “For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Or as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate measure of a person (man) is not where one (he) stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one (he) stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  

Clearly, there’s a message for us here this Labor Day. And, we’ve got some choices about where we choose to sit or stand. With the rich and mighty, or at the far end of the table with the poor, the vulnerable.   

This Labor Day weekend, let me suggest three seats to choose:

  • Choose a seat listening to workers. One of my mentors was Monsignor George Higgins, the long-time Catholic Conference labor priest, originally from Chicago. In his latter years, I had the privilege of pushing him in his wheelchair around at various labor meetings. He would ask the maid on the hotel floor how she liked her job, how was she paid. He asked the waiter about his job. Did he earn enough to support his family? Service workers, secretaries, those in the low-wage economy were people he wanted to meet and talk with. I’m sure he talked with some in the rich and powerful camp, but he didn’t seek them out. If you want to know what’s really going on – choose a seat with workers. Talk with Walmart workers.   Talk with the secretaries at your firms. Talk with cashiers. Talk with landscapers. Decide how you believe the economy and society is doing based on talking with workers. I suspect you’ll want some changes in society.
  • Choose a seat supporting workers who organize. When workers are unhappy about working conditions, sometimes they will organize. Not always.  It’s tough, scary and people risk their jobs. In my experience, no one organizes, either a union or another form of organization, just for money.  They organize for respect and dignity. They want to be safe on the job. They want a fair process. They want a voice. Given how tough it is to organize in this country, it is surprising that people organize at all. And when they do, we must stand with them. Choose a seat with them. Sit with the Hyatt workers, who finally got a contract. Sit with Walmart associates who’ve organized into OUR Walmart – plan to be with them and IWJ on Black Friday, Nov. 29. 
  • Choose a seat helping workers get paid. We have a crisis of wage theft in our nation. Workers are not getting paid for all their wages. Wage theft is happening all around us and all of us participate in it if we are not diligent in choosing our seats. If you are hiring a repair person at your home, a landscape service, a janitorial service or any other contractor, you must ask how workers are paid. Taking a seat means asking questions. 

Where we sit and with whom we sit influence (perhaps determine) what we understand and what we do. So be thoughtful about your seats. Choose a seat listening to workers. Choose a seat supporting workers who organize. And Choose a seat helping workers get paid.

Happy Labor Day!

Kim Bobo is the Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice, and on Sunday Sept. 1, she spoke about worker and economic justice at Holy Family Parish in Chicago, joining hundreds of congregations and faith communities celebrating Labor Day weekend for Worker Justice as part of IWJ's Labor in the Pulpits program. Learn more here.