As McDonald’s workers across the country begin to take action against wage theft, one thing is clear: this is not a problem isolated to McDonald’s or the fast-food industry. Wage theft is rampant across low-wage industries – even in federal buildings.
You might assume that companies receiving taxpayer dollars wouldn’t get those dollars if they didn’t follow federal law, but recent studies show a persistent pattern of law-breaking by federal contractors. A U.S. Senate report revealed that 32 percent of the largest U.S. Department of Labor penalties for wage theft were brought against federal contractors. Similarly, a National Employment Law Project study found that nearly 40 percent of low-wage contract workers in the DC metro area reported stolen wages.
Bobo is the founder of Interfaith Worker Justice and author of the book "Wage Theft in America."
In a daily mass last month, Pope Francis spoke of joy as a major aspect of Christian identity. “It’s the style of a Christian,” he said, quoting St. Augustine, “‘Go, go forward, singing and walking!’” True enough. All of us, religious or not, could benefit from a bigger bounce in our steps.
The Rev. Michael Livingston, public policy director at Interfaith Worker Justice, a non-profit that seeks to unite people of diverse faiths in the pursuit of worker concerns, agrees that a significant chunk of the big picture is missing. “It isn’t just wages stolen, no paid sick days, no paid vacation days,” he says. Working conditions in a broad sense “put a tremendous strain on the humanity and dignity and self-worth, which is all wrapped up in the spiritual life of the worker. It’s a failure to see the worker as a human being and a spiritual being.”
Last year was an exciting time for faith-based movements for social justice, with religious leaders and organizations making headlines for spearheading robust local and national campaigns around issues such as gun violence, economic inequality, and immigration, among many others. We know from history that faith-based advocacy was essential in virtually every American struggle for justice, and we also know that faith leaders will keep up the good fight in 2014. Looking ahead to this year’s major policy debates, the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative has created a list of 14 justice-seeking faith leaders to watch.
Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, or IWJ, has been a champion of workers’ rights for decades. Bobo, the author of books on both faith-based organizing and wage theft, has made a career of bringing faith groups together around economic justice issues. Bobo’s work with IWJ has included advocating for a range of policy issues such as paid sick days and protecting workers’ right to organize. Her organization also initiated Faith Advocates for Jobs in 2010, an interfaith network of congregations that works to support the unemployed and bring an end to the jobs crisis. In addition, IWJ maintains Worker Centers in states across the country, where interfaith worker advocates help low-wage, nonunion workers organize for better wages, benefits, and workplace dignity. And just this past year, Bobo and IWJ played a crucial role in ongoing efforts to better the lives and working conditions of Walmart workers by partnering local faith groupswith community organizations to organize hundreds of protests to bring attention to the serious issues facing employees.
View the Full Story from American Progress
Tomorrow (Thursday) President Barack Obama will address the Department of Labor (DOL) to ask for increased protection of a worker’s right to overtime pay. Currently, salaried employees making more than $455 a week—or roughly $24,000 a year—are exempt from overtime pay, however the president will propose to raise that threshold. The new threshold will include more salaried workers who hold “managerial and executive positions” within companies such as fast food restaurants or convenience stores. The new proposal will affect millions of households in the United States and will work toward the president’s hope of closing the gap between the wealthy and the poor and eliminating income inequality.
Every workers deserves a just wage for the hard work he or she does every day. The dignity of workers and their rights is a topic that Kim Bobo, the executive director and founder of Interfaith Worker Justice, fights for. In an interview last year with U.S. Catholic Bobo said that withholding just wages for overtime is the biggest example of wage theft that employers are found guilty of.
Chickie's & Pete's, a restaurant chain with locations in New Jersey and Philadelphia, is famous for their Crabfries. Last month the restaurant became infamous when it agreed to pay its employees around $8.6 million in back wages to settle a Department of Labor (DOL) investigation and several lawsuits brought by its employees. Despite a federal law that prohibits managers from taking their staff's tips, restaurant owner Peter Ciarocchi seized 60% of his worker's gratuities.
Printed in English and Spanish, Wage Theft Comics is published by Interfaith Worker Justice, with the help of Fe Y Justicia, a worker center in the Houston area, as well as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
Korgen and Pyle intersperse these stories with infographics that illuminate the full scope and prevalence of the problem and the way workers can overcome the barriers in their way as they seek justice. Translating statistics into visuals has the advantage of taking something abstract and making it quickly understandable and memorable. One great example is the author’s “Path to Justice: The Wage Theft Game.” It’s an actual board game that workers can play as a way to educate themselves about the complexities and uncertainties they may face when they seek to recover their stolen wages. It gives the workers a realistic idea of what they are up against.
The appointment on March 4, 1933, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt made Perkins the first female cabinet member in U.S. history. Legislation brought about under her administration included the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Social Security Act.
Kim Bobo's book, "Wage Theft In America, Why millions of working Americans are not getting paid and what we can do about it, " has a wonderful chapter about Frances Perkins. Bobo presents Perkins as "the most important Secretary of Labor in the Nation's history." and a model for what is needed now.
On Interfaith Voices this week, with the struggle to raise the minimum wage back in the news, we reviewed the history of that labor struggle -- a history in which American Catholics played a pivotal role.
Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, recalled the Catholic “labor schools” in parishes and schools in the 1930s and 1940s. In the early days, these schools (as well as Jewish lyceums) taught workers about their rights, and about how to form unions
On Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released its second report in three months on worker centers. In it, the prominent pro-business lobbying group doubles down on its claim that the centers are “fronts” for established labor unions.
Worker centers often provide services to low-wage, immigrant and minority workers, and historically are involved in employment sectors or parts of the country with little union presence, according to Janice Fine, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University who has studied worker centers. The number of such centers nationally has climbed from a just a few two decades ago to upwards of 200 today, according to a Wall Street Journal July story.
The Chamber’s report charges that worker centers “create the appearance of a grassroots movement” with consumer boycotts and worker walkouts against employers like Walmart and Target, when they are really “formed and incubated by well-established and well-funded labor unions and foundations” (the previous Chamber study on worker centers focused on charitable foundation financing).
But Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice, says that is no secret. “Of course, we are partners with unions and foundations,” Bobo says. “We are also partners and allies with churches, mosques, and synagogues—and law firms.” Bobo says that unions and charitable foundations have both helped finance her organization’s work and collaborated on campaigns.
Back in the 1920s and 30s, the average worker clocked in 10-12 hours a day, 6 days a week. That's if they had a job. Children toiled in factories, and employers could pay workers anything they wanted. Feisty priests, rabbis, and other people of faith led the fight to create a federal minimum wage, in 1938. This week, we return to that moment in history, as President Obama decides whether or not to raise the federal minimum wage to just over $10. Interfaith Voices talks with Kim Bobo, founder and director of Interfaith Worker Justice.
CCI Executive Director Bob Gilligan takes on the debate over increasing the minimum wage by talking with folks on both ends of the opinion spectrum. First, Kim Bobo, founder and executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, talks about why we should increase the minimum wage from $8.25 here in Illinois. Then, Kim Clarke Maisch, Illinois director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, discusses the down side of increasing the minimum wage. Next, Emily Zender, new executive director of Illinois Right to Life, discusses the recent $2 million settlement in the death of Tonya Reaves, the woman who died in 2012 from a botched abortion at a Chicago Planned Parenthood. CCI's own Zach Wichmann wraps up the show by telling listeners about legislation calling for $12.5 million for the Textbook Block Grant, which helps both public and private schools in paying for secular textbooks, instructional computer software and other learning materials.