Dr. King, fast food workers and Labor Day

The Rev. Michael Livingston |

People of faith, workers and civil and economic rights activists filled the streets this week to honor the dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the great momentum for justice built by the civil rights leaders and advocates in the 1960s.

As people of faith, it is intrinsically our responsibility to work to build the Beloved Community as described by Dr. King. This Beloved Community must be rooted in an economic system that values the dignity of ALL workers, regardless of the color of their skin or immigration status.

epi graphicYesterday, thousands of fast food and retail workers went on strike in 60 cities across the U.S. Their demand was simple and one that people of faith can stand behind: a $15/hour wage, a wage off of which one can live, one that respects the dignity of their work and honors their contributions to massive corporate profits. (Click on the image to read a report about who is behind the counter at fast food restaurants by the Economic Policy Institute.)

Marvin Jones is 45 years old and lives in Milwaukee. He works at McDonalds as a maintenance man. Marvin says, “When my grandbabies come over on the weekend I spend on them making sure they eat and are comfortable. I eat McDonalds the last two weeks of the month because I have no food left."

Ashley Sanders is 20 and lives in St. Louis. She works at Hardee’s and says, “I have bills to pay and I need to provide necessities for my son, he’s six months old. I get food stamps. They help feed the other five adults in my household too. I want to move out of my Mom’s house but it’s difficult to put pennies aside. I plan to return to cosmetology school but I need to find a better job."

Roxanne Mimms lives in Washington D.C. and works “…for a food service contractor at the National Zoo. I work full time but make barely minimum wage ($7.25 an hour). I’m here because I don’t want my two children to grow up on public assistance. I’m here because I have dreams. My American Dream is a good job with fair wages to provide for my children, being able to pay my bills on time and save for the future.”

The important witness of these workers who are standing up for a fair wage and risking everything (including their job) to go on strike and bring the important needs of a dignified workplace and moral compensation for work to the attention of people of faith all across the U.S. 

“The first question the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” That’s the question before you tonight . . .. If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them? That’s the question,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the sanitation strike mass meeting in Memphis, on April 3, 1968

Every year over Labor Day weekend, people of all faiths join together and celebrate the importance of work in our lives, to highlight the struggles of working people and to join together and create new possibilities for an economic system rooted in which the justice all our different faiths emphasize.

I invite you to join people of faith this year and celebrate Labor in the Pulpits. Click here for a listing of scheduled prayer services or programs near you.

If you cannot find a Labor in the Pulpits program or service near you, please keep workers and worker struggles in your prayers this weekend as we prepare for the national holiday to honor work!

Worker stories were gathered courtesy of Living on Minimum Wage from the New York Times on June 15 and the Good Jobs Nation campaign.