Interfaith Worker Justice

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IWJ in the News

Social justice group sponsors ‘Putting Your Faith Into Action’ training

Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

Those motivated by their faith to address issues in society like economic injustice, environmental concerns or human rights can learn how to get started and tackle challenges by attending a one-day training event Nov. 7 in Fargo.

“Putting Your Faith Into Action,” a crash course on faith-based organizing, will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at Faith United Methodist Church, 906 19th Ave. N, Fargo.

The training is sponsored by Faith Forward Network North Dakota, a grassroots interfaith group focused on social justice policy changes to make communities safer and fairer.

“Putting Your Faith Into Action” is an ecumenical and interfaith training. Faith leaders as well as non-clergy individuals and students representing all faiths are welcome to attend, said Rev. Cody Schuler, co-founder of Faith Forward.

The trainer is Kristin Krumpf, who has spent the last 15 years working as an ecumenical and interfaith community organizer and trainer at the local, state, national and international levels. She has trained thousands of leaders and planned strategy for social change with organizations such as AARP, American Heart Association, Interfaith Worker Justice and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

View the full story from The Jamestown Sun

IWJ Wins Bradford O'Neil Award for Social Justice From Dominican University

Posted | by Kathleen Lantto |

IWJ Executive Director Rudy López accepts the Bradford O'Neil award for Social Justice from Dominican University.

Below are Rudy's full remarks:

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 ta xes, 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.

View the story from The Huffington Post

Labor sees opportunity in the pope’s arrival, as unions rebuild a historic bond

Posted | by Kathleen Lantto |

The institutions had drifted apart in recent years, but Francis' new direction has brought them back together.

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.”

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.”

View the full story from The Washington Post

Multifaith organization lauds Pope’s concerns

Posted | by Kathleen Lantto |

Toledo gathering welcomes Francis

As Pope Francis arrived in the United States, a multifaith group gathered Tuesday in Toledo to welcome the head of the Roman Catholic Church and call attention to the issues they share with him, particularly concern for the poor.

The event at Monroe Street United Methodist Church was sponsored by the Toledo Area Jobs with Justice and Interfaith Worker Justice Coalition.

The gathering was a response to a call by the organization In This Together, which was encouraging “welcome Pope Francis meetings” in homes.

View the full story from The Toledo Blade

Pope Francis brings tough love to America

Posted | by Kathleen Lantto |

Washington (CNN) - America may be in for some tough love from the Pope.

After a lifetime of watching the world's most affluent and powerful nation from afar, Pope Francis walked on U.S. soil for the first time Tuesday, at the age of 78, when he arrived in Washington from Cuba.

He's assured of a warm welcome from millions of U.S. Catholics, and his poll numbers -- which would be the envy of any politician -- suggest that curious adherents of other faiths and even the nondevout are also eagerly awaiting his visit.

But the first Latin American pope's blessings on America could also contain uncomfortable challenges as he addresses a country that encapsulates many of the ills he has denounced as the head of one of the world's largest religions. Though there are aspects of American life that Francis embraces, he has quickly become known for blunt critiques of contemporary society and global economics, and his criticism -- from capitalism to climate change to technology -- spans the political spectrum.

"Pope Francis is the ultimate Washington outsider. His priorities are not Washington's priorities," said John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. "We think we are the center of the world. We are not the center of Pope Francis' world. He is frankly more comfortable in the slums of Argentina than in the corridors of power."

From the flurry of encyclicals, writings and other commentary that Francis has issued since his election two years ago, the United States, home to the world's mightiest market economy, a ravenous consumer culture and nurturer of the World Wide Web, appears to represent much of what he abhors.

The Pope's political challenge

That's why Francis faces a delicate political assignment as he meets President Barack Obama and addresses Congress, in addition to holding masses and other public events in Washington, Philadelphia and New York this week.

Francis is stepping into an intense domestic debate on issues close to his heart, including income inequality, climate change, abortion, the definition of marriage, religious freedom and immigration. Rival politicians are sure to exploit his visit for their own purposes, and the messages he imparts could potentially reshape how those issues figure in the presidential campaign.

One reason he may have little to lose: Unlike the lawmakers whom he will stand before during the first-ever address to a joint meeting of Congress by a Pope, Francis is accountable only to his faith and the Gospel and so is unlikely to hold back for political reasons.

"He is coming to the richest country in the world. I believe he is going to challenge us to say with that comes great responsibility," said Rudy Lopez, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice.

View the full story from CNN

Trinity downwinders decry secrecy in new federal study of atomic test’s health impacts

Posted | by Kathleen Lantto |

Seventy years after the top-secret explosion of the world’s first nuclear device in the Southern New Mexico desert, advocates for New Mexicans who say radioactive fallout from the Trinity Site test made them ill are growing increasingly wary of what they say is a new round of government secrecy, even as they are finally getting attention from the government after years of having their complaints ignored.

This new uneasiness was apparent as they met in Santa Fe last week with National Cancer Institute researchers who are making the first attempt to document possible doses of radiation received by individuals across the state and assess the health risks.

For privacy and scientific-research reasons, the researchers said, they could not reveal the protocols they are following as they conduct a survey of lifestyles that might have led to internal exposures to radiation from the nuclear cloud that deposited fallout across a wide area in July 1945.

That explanation failed to satisfy some who have complained that the U.S. government told them nothing about the potential dangers before or after Los Alamos scientists set off the atomic bomb.

“When something is done in such secrecy … when they say ‘we can’t share that, we can’t share this,’ it just makes me very suspicious,” said Tina Cordova , leader of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, which is working to get Congress to acknowledge Southern New Mexicans’ claims of decades of suffering from what they believe were radiation-induced cancers, thyroid disease and other afflictions.

“It’s just reminiscent of the secrecy that was in place around the development of the Trinity bomb and the testing, and even what goes on in Los Alamos today,” she said. “I can’t help but think that in some regard, we’ve become victims again.”

National Cancer Institute researchers briefed members of Cordova’s group and other activists, as well as representatives from New Mexico Indian tribes and the state’s congressional delegation, on the institute’s work toward determining possible statewide health effects from the Trinity test.

In a meeting Wednesday at the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, the researchers, including health physicist and project director Steve Simon, declined to reveal which New Mexico communities would be included in the survey of residents who were alive at the time of the blast.

A year ago, as a pilot study was about to begin, a researcher with the institute toldThe New Mexican that the communities involved in the study would include Alamogordo, Roswell, Fort Sumner, Santa Rosa, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, as well as the Mescalero Apache community in Southern New Mexico and Picuris Pueblo in Taos County.

Last week, National Cancer Institute subcontractor, Emily Haozous of The University of New Mexico’s nursing department, said the list of communities has changed. But she would not identify the communities, nor would she discuss how specific questions for the survey would be selected.

While several participants at the meeting complained that researchers are shrouding the study in secrecy, Marian Naranjo of Santa Clara Pueblo said she appreciated privacy measures afforded to tribal members.

Holly Beaumont of the New Mexico chapter of Interfaith Worker Justice said she was disappointed that “in a state as large as New Mexico, the [public] cannot be told where the interviews were conducted. … It seems like there is a cloak of what I would call secrecy rather than privacy over this project.”

View the full story from The Santa Fe New Mexican

Events Around New Mexico Welcome Pope and Pray for Guidance on Address to Congress

Posted | by Kathleen Lantto |

Interfaith Candle Light Prayer Vigils are being held around New Mexico September 23 on the eve of the first ever Papal address to the joint session of congress.  The prayers will gather people of many faiths but one heart for moral action around economic and climate justice and to pray for the pope and our public leaders. September 23 is also the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur calling for atonement and Eid al-adha in the Muslim tradition.

Events will be held in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Gallup, Taos, Silver City and Carlsbad with prayers and reflections focused on climate change, economics and care of the human and earth communities. State-wide co-sponsors include New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, New Mexico Conference of Churches, New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops and Interfaith Worker Justice of New Mexico and in Albuquerque additional co-sponsors include Catholic Charities and Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

View the full story from KRWG

Labor Day Matters

Posted | by Kathleen Lantto |

Imagine working in a place where the conditions are hazardous, the hours are long, the pay is very low and there is little respect for what you do or who you are. This was not an uncommon situation for workers toward the end of the 19th Century. With widespread child labor and horrible work environments for women, America was dealing with the dark side of the industrial revolution; the exploitation of workers to maximize profits on a grand scale.

At the same time, a movement began to spread across the country. A movement of people committed to better workplace conditions and a greater sense of worth for workers. The idea of "Labor Day" was birthed as a way for the nation to acknowledge the need for safer working conditions and respect and dignity for all workers.

As Labor Day celebrations grew across the nation, calls for a formal national holiday succeeded shortly after the Historic Pullman strike of 1894, and Labor Day was founded. Today, Labor Day continues to honor and value not only the worker, but the work they provide. 

Unfortunately, hazardous working conditions with long hours, low pay and little respect are still all too common over a hundred years later for too many workers. These are the workers who are the backbone of our economy. The workers who pick and serve our food. The workers who take care of our loved ones. Who clean our homes and offices.

So many workers honored on Labor Day are also at the forefront of the struggle for a better work place. Workers like those in Immokalee, FL, who came to this country looking for a better life and have been toiling in fields picking crops for as low as $40 a day but are now gaining ground by fighting for the Fair Food program and another penny per pound for their labor.

Or Shantel Walker, who along with tens of thousands or her fellow workers in the Fight for $15 have been organizing for years for a living wage and better working conditions.

Labor Day matters because workers matter.

Still, it's difficult to believe that in 2015 the debate over whether full-time workers should make more than poverty wages is still being argued. That in 2015, many businesses systemically commit wage theft. That in 2015, poor workplace conditions continue to harm workers at alarming rates. That is why in 2015, Labor Day is as important as ever.

This isn't a question of economics, it's a question of what type of nation we want to be. We know what major faith traditions tell us. In my own faith, I think of verses such as Ecclesiastes 3:13:

"And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God." It's a matter of deciding if we really value what we say we value and Labor Day gives us a great opportunity to ask that question and then do something about it.

I hope that all people of faith and good will will share in a Labor Day prayer and action.

First, the prayer: "Creator in heaven, we ask that you be with those who are giving their work and talents yet are not being fairly treated in return. We ask that you give them the strength to continue on a path that leads toward greater respect and value for who they are and what their labor provides. We also ask that you touch the hearts and minds of the employers and public officials who have yet to act in favor of workers and that they be moved to follow your will and promote justice in the workplace and greater value on the worker."

And now the action: Take a moment to join us in paying tribute to workers of all stripes on our #ThankAWorker Tumblr blog today and throughout the week.

This Labor Day, show your solidarity with workers through prayer and action and together we can show America why Labor Day matters.

View story from The Huffington Post

Bush Administration Exemption Allowed Contractors To Steal Wages From Katrina Reconstruction Workers

Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

Though thousands of Latino workers rebuilt New Orleans during the post-Hurricane Katrina recovery, many still have not been repaid for their efforts, NBC News reported.

Latino workers, some of whom are undocumented, went to New Orleans in the days and weeks following the disaster to help with reconstruction efforts and debris and mold removal. But even a decade later, many remain underpaid or unpaid. Over the past few years, the Workplace Justice Project, an organization that gives free legal assistance to help mostly Latino workers recoup their lost wages, has filed claims to try to recover more than $700,000 in stolen wages.

According to an Americas Society and Council of the Americas study, legal and undocumented Latino workers directly contributed to making 86.9 percent of the houses habitable in the six surrounding New Orleans parishes after Hurricane Katrina. And a 2006 University of Berkeley and Tulane University study found that the reconstruction workforce in New Orleans comprised of 45 percent of construction workers who were Latino, of whom at least 54 percent were undocumented.

Santos Alvarado, a legal Honduran immigrant granted temporary protected status, was one of the workers allegedly whose wages were allegedly stiffed. A contractor hired him to work 12-hour days to clean hospitals, schools, and government buildings. The contractor left to Texas without any intention to pay him or his three family members. The contractor “ended up owing us a total of $12,000 for the work that we did for about a month,” Alvarado told NBC News. Alvarado said that it was commonplace for contractors to withhold wages and to threaten workers with deportation.

Contractors were able to get away with worker rights violations in part because the Bush administration suspended Department of Labor workplace regulations throughout the Gulf, which allowed employers to stop reporting the identity and legal documents of employees to federal authorities. But that also allowed companies to self-enforce workplace protection programs rather than rely on government oversight, a problem that left Latino day laborers vulnerable to negotiate workplace safety or labor conditions.

Wage theft problems have persisted for a while in the Gulf region. A 2007 Interfaith Worker Justice report found of 218 workers who worked in New Orleans during reconstruction efforts, 47 percent reported that they did not receive all the pay they were entitled to and 55 percent said that they received no overtime pay for hours worked beyond 40 hours per week. And it’s likely that toxic chemical exposure are continuing to go untreated — 58 percent of survey respondents said that they were exposed to dangerous substances like mold, contaminated water, and asbestos.

View the full story from Think Progress

Victory for Home-Care Workers

Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

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?

From The Huffington Post