Each year in November, we celebrate Thanksgiving with our families, and the next day, many of us spend the day shopping on Black Friday. Can we as people of faith try something different this year?
Thanksgiving Day is a time to be with our families, friends and our communities to share a bountiful meal around a table and honor what we’re most thankful for. In the U.S., it’s a national holiday to reflect on the many blessings we have received and remember those who are less fortunate. We remember those individuals locked in the prison-industrial complex, those suffering in our neighborhoods, our schools, and many others around the country and world. We say our prayers of thanksgivings; fill up on all food in sight, rest and sleep. The following day (or early morning hours) we wait in long lines to shop for the best Black Friday sales and deals. Sometimes shoppers wrestle, fight and struggle to get the best sale items.
Many advocates for economic justice were struck by Pope Francis’ candid remarks last month about our global economic system and the “idol” of money.
The pope’s impromptu comments came after a meeting with unemployed workers in Cagliari, Sardinia (an island off the coast of Italy), who shared their stories of struggle. Francis discarded his prepared speech and let the Spirit lead his remarks for nearly 20 minutes.... Just as Pope Francis listened to the stories of unemployed workers in Cagliari living under the shadow of the great wealth of a few, Catholics and people of faith have the opportunity to follow his lead and listen to those living in poverty in our own communities.
Right here in the United States, Wal-Mart workers are preparing for a big day of action November 29, Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). Wal-Mart workers in our communities face some of the same daily concerns the Sardinians highlighted for Pope Francis. They are often forced to choose between paying rent and eating dinner. They are paid poverty wages and work unpredictable schedules, impeding their ability to pick up a second job for supplemental income. When they speak up, management responds with retaliation and intimidation.
Wage Theft Comics: Crime and Justice is an activist comic book that both chronicles the experience of low-wage victims of wage theft and guides workers and potential allies toward a path for justice. The authors, writer Jeffry Odell Korgen (The True Cost of Low Prices: The Violence of Globalization) and author/illustrator Kevin Pyle (Prison Town and Take What You Can Carry) conducted interviews in the Houston area to create personal stories of actual people who struggle with the consequences of their exploitation and their attempts to end it. Korgen and Pyle intersperse these stories with infographics that illuminate the full scope and prevalence of the problem and help workers navigate the complexities of seeking justice.
Even as many lament the withering of three movements in the United States—Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, and the labor movement—something is happening in proximity to them that just might give them new life.
Similarly, traditional labor unions have been hemorrhaging members since the 1960s. A host of factors has hastened this process, including an aging workforce, loopholes in labor law that prevent the formation of unions in certain industries, the offshoring of jobs via globalized trade, and decades of state-level assaults on workers’ rights to collectively bargain. Yet, as formalized unions wane, new independent labor organizations are emerging to champion the rights of low-wage workers in the health care, food service, food production, and retail industries, among others.
"What's outrageous? Poverty wages!" This chant, echoed by thousands of striking fast food workers as they marched in the streets in New York, Chicago, and dozens of other cities on August 29, has begun to arouse the American conscience this Labor Day. The fast food industry produces billions in profits for corporations like McDonald's and Burger King. But, according to the organizers of the recent walkouts, fast food workers in New York City make only 25% of what they need to survive from their jobs. Fast food workers in other cities aren't much better off. In many ways, their struggle symbolizes the immorality of an economy that is producing jobs that keep workers poor. Who can argue with picket signs that say, "We can't survive on $7.25"?
View the full story from the Huffington Post Religion
The nation celebrates Labor Day to recognize the contributions of hard-working men, women and families across America. This year we should pause also to remember the workers on the margins who perform some of the most critical jobs in our economy.
About 11 million undocumented people live in the United States. As many as 7 million are employed in some capacity; they work in construction, agriculture, service, health care and other critical industries. They pay billions into the Social Security system each year — helping to keep it solvent — and billions more in sales, property and other taxes.
Yet our nation does not offer them workplace protections, the minimum wage or other basic benefits. According to the Interfaith Worker Justice, as many as 80 percent of undocumented workers have experienced wage theft — denial of overtime, payments of less than minimum wage or no payment at all.
Ana Julia Fuentes has worked as a janitor at Union Station for 23 years and makes $8.75 an hour. Wilfredo Reyes Lopez is a recent widower with three children living together in a single bedroom. He’s a cook in the Reagan building making $6.50 an hour. Ana Salvador has worked at McDonald’s at the Air and Space Museum for 11 years. She’s a single mother with four kids getting SNAP benefits and Medicaid. Jonathan Ross is a single father making $9.71 an hour at a restaurant in the Smithsonian Institute’s American History Museum. He’s had three raises in four years, none more than $.15.
Low-wage workers drive officials to meetings, serve them lunch in federal cafeterias, care for their children at government day care centers, sew and launder the uniforms of the soldiers who serve our nation, clean their offices, guard the building in which they work, and pick up their garbage and recycling. These workers also serve the millions of people who visit the nation’s capitol; they work in the food courts at Union Station and the Ronald Reagan Building, greet visitors at the museums of the Smithsonian, sell memorabilia at gift shops, as well as lead sightseeing tours and recreational activities in our National Parks.
View the full story at Unbound
Earlier this summer, immigration agents raided the weekly Bible study that Omar, a New Orleans day laborer, and his family regularly attended. Along with four other men, Omar was handcuffed and arrested in front of his 4-year-old and 5-month-old daughters, both U.S. citizens.
No one should be threatened for seeking work in order to provide a good life for their family, or for being active and contributing members of their community. Those aspirations are human.
Deepening and exploring our faith is a fundamental part of the Christian journey. Omar deserves the right to grow in his faith. Can you imagine being at a Bible study and having the police break it up?
View the full story from Busted Halo
Throughout the United States, there is a growing movement of fast-food workers and retail employees demanding higher pay at their job. While fast-food corporations are making record profits at all-time highs, there are tremendous wealth disparities growing where some folks are unable to provide basic necessities such as shelter or food for themselves and their families.
Over the summer, fast-food workers held one-day strikes as part of a series of recent strikes across America in the past few months, walking off their jobs in peak hours to draw attention to the immediate need for living wages.
View the full story from the United Methodist Church's Global Ministries
Marvin Jones is 45 years old and lives in Milwaukee. He works at McDonald’s 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 McDonald’s 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 6 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.”
Without the march, there would have been no speech. We remember the speech, but we forget why the crowd marched from the Washington Monument to gather at the Lincoln Memorial. The march was a symbolic journey from the Founding Father who presided over a nation whose constitution defined the enslaved African as three-fifths of a person to the martyred president who led the nation into a war made inevitable by that very constitution. “Our massive March from the Washington Monument to [the] Lincoln Memorial, our enormous rally at the Memorial, will speak out to Congress and the nation with a single voice – for jobs and freedom, NOW.”
View the full story from the Presbyterian Outlook