By Ryan Wallace
Some in the religious community say churches and labor unions don’t go together. In some congregations and faith communities, referencing the U-word (“union”) from the pulpit might be on par with dropping an F-bomb in Sunday school. My recent work with UNITE HERE! in Chicago has taught me that the Church has some lessons to learn from union organizing—lessons about partnering with the working poor; knowing your own power and how to use it for the common good; and working collaboratively towards a just world.
Some of the churches I’ve been a part of would greatly benefit from a weekend seminar on “mission” taught by a union organizer. In my experience, some congregations and faith communities generally understand mission to be doing something for the people. We, the Church, assess the needs of others and then set out to develop a program, an organization, or a committee to address those needs. In this approach, the end of mission is direct service: a full belly, a bed for the night or presents on Christmas morning.
So many people of faith, however, know that we are called to something beyond this sort of justice. Learn more about IWJ’s Labor in the Pulpit’s program.
In contrast, the “mission” of the union is doing something with the people. Only the union is the workers and the workers are the people. To put it another way, every worker in the union has a voice, and only their collective voices can determine their own needs and how to meet them. In my eyes, the mission of the union is to empower workers to sustain themselves.
Working as a seminarian in a labor union has revealed to me that there is a critical role for the religious community to stand alongside workers as they call for justice from their employers. Hotel workers at Hyatt are calling for a global boycott of Hyatt hotels until management treats them with the dignity they deserve and provides a safe working environment.
Support workers as a person of faith, and pledge to support the global boycott of Hyatt hotels.
Ryan's post is part of our summer series "Reflections from the Field." Ryan is a seminary student in Chicago and interning at UNITE HERE! Local 1 this summer as part of IWJ's Summer Internship program.