Ian Pajer-Rogers

Upcoming Events in the IWJ Network

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ITHACA, NEW YORK (October 24th) -- The Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Mark Pearce, will be speaking at Cornell University starting at 4:30 p.m. in Room 184 of Myron Taylor Hall on Monday, October 24th 2016.This event will feature an extended Q&A with the public, and may be of particular interest to residents in and surrounding Tompkins County given their expressed interest in organizing unions in many workplaces. More information from Cornell Law School about this event.

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK (October 29) -- DAMAYAN Workers Cooperative (DWC) is hosting an open house in order to inform and empower surrounding communities. Attendees will get to hear from DWC founders about the organization's vision as well as potential opportunities for Filipino nannies, babysitters, housekeepers and more. They will also have the opportunity to mingle with and learn from NYC coops, NYC council members & DAMAYAN allies about topics such as financial stability. The event will happen on Saturday, October 29th from 12:30-3:30pm at the Nature Conservancy (322 8th Ave New York, NY 10011 Fl. 12).There will be a light lunch from 12:00-12:30pm. Please bring a government-issued ID to this event. More information from DAMAYAN Workers Cooperative about this event.

LATHAM, NEW YORK (November 16) -- Once a year, the Labor Religion Coalition of New York State gathers to celebrate their leaders at an annual Faith at Work Awards Breakfast. The Coalition be honoring four inspiring individuals who are leading labor and faith communities in the struggle for a better New York. Tickets are $50 per person or free for members who contribute $5/month or more to Labor-Religion Coalition. If you’d like to become a member and receive a complimentary ticket, click here: http://bit.ly/LRCMember. More information from the Labor Religion Coalition of New York State about this event.

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI (December 14-16) -- The 2016 annual EARN Conference will be held this year in recognition of the critical role that St. Louis has played in national discussions of economic and racial justice over the past two years. This event will continue EARN's multi-year campaign to support state and local efforts to raise wages and strengthen labor standards, with a focus on the unique challenges faced by communities of color, historically disadvantaged communities, and states/regions where progressive policy victories are harder to come by. The 2016 EARN Conference will occur between December 14-16 at the St. Louis Marriott Grand Hotel in St. Louis, MO. Various workshops will be available on topics such as The Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter.  More information about the 2016 annual EARN Conference.

Don't see your event listed? Contact Ian at ipajer-rogers[at]iwj[dot]org to add your event.

Labor issues call for racial unity

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Photo credit: AFL-CIO

by Mark Gruenberg

WASHINGTON - Saying of the economic and political elite, “When they divide us up, they can beat us. When we stick together, they can't," AFL-CIO(link is external) President Richard Trumka declared workers of all races, classes and genders must unite to reclaim the future.

That means uniting around a common agenda of raising incomes and equality for all, regardless of race, color or sexual orientation, he said. But that unity should not obscure the fact that a difficult and honest discussion on race must continue, Trumka added. Trumka's comments about the need for unity came during a question-and-answer session at the opening of the AFL-CIO's annual Martin Luther King Conference, a 3-day event from Jan. 15-17 in D.C. Other speakers repeated his themes, with variations.
The conference, titled "Change The Rules, Be The Power" revolved around organizing, politics, issues and activism -- including in-the-neighborhoods activism by its 1,000 delegates  and openly discussing race.
It did not come to any conclusions on that issue, though at least one speaker urged the federation to openly endorse and back the Black Lives Matter movement, which has pushed the discussion to the forefront of U.S. consciousness. A special AFL-CIO race and justice commission is holding a series of hearings nationwide to get the painful discussion going.
On both race and economics, “No real change ever comes without a crisis,” added federation Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre. “And we are in crisis in this country. Which road we take – the danger or the opportunity – is up to us.”
The MLK conference also covered issues ranging from ending mass incarceration of minorities and immigrants to the looming U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would make every state and local government a right-to-work fiefdom. One speaker noted that ruling would disproportionately harm minorities and women.
Trumka stressed that solidarity reveals there is a lot more that unites workers across racial, gender and class lines than divides them, despite the constant years-long efforts of the political and economic elite to do so.
But the conference's big secondary theme was a need to greatly increase organizing, both by the labor movement and its allies -- faith groups, community groups, women's groups, civil rights groups, environmentalists and others -- to add to ranks and to marshal resources and people to call out and challenge right wingers, both in the 2016 election and beyond.
"The challenge to the labor movement is that we should have 100 times and a thousand times more organizing campaigns than we do now," said Maria Elena Durazo, former L.A.
County Federation of Labor executive director, now a vice president of Unite Here.
 "Unless and until we identify and train leaders on how to take on the boss in a lot more workplaces, we'll be over there," Durazo added, gesturing to a far corner of the room during the small-group session at which she spoke.
But while participants agreed on the overall goals, they differed on how to achieve them. Some advocated just tweaking present organizing efforts.
"We don't have to reinvent the wheel," said Rosa Rodriguez, Secretary-Treasurer of Steelworkers Local 1010 in Indiana. "But we have to sit down and see what it is that benefits the workers the best -- and then go into that issue as one."
Others called for specific campaigns to organize African-American, Latino and immigrant workers, citing successful pilot projects in Los Angeles and elsewhere to do so. Still others said the organizing must stress broad economic themes and lay out the case against the rich and their so-far successful manipulation of politics and the economy.
Many speakers, discussing recent events, said there must be more and more open discussion about race and particularly the racism of the entire criminal justice system, including the police, local district attorneys and the courts.
That issue came to the fore after Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown more than a year ago. It has remained on the national agenda due to similar confrontations since then in Chicago, Baltimore, the Twin Cities and elsewhere.
As Trumka said then, and repeated at the conference, "a (union) brother shot a union sister's son." Brown's mother is a United Food and Commercial Workers member.
The depth of the problem goes beyond just police-minority confrontations. One activist described taking 150 union, progressive and philanthropic leaders to interview prisoners at San Quentin, to let them hear and feel the real impact of mass incarceration – often for non-violent offenses – on prisoners, their families and their communities.
And when those prisoners are freed after serving their terms, that speaker added, they can’t get mainstream jobs, including union jobs, because they have to “check the box” that said they were formerly in prison.
Another pointed out unions endorsed the Cleveland District Attorney whose grand jury did not find fault with a police officer's fatal shooting of a 12-year-old African-American boy, "armed" with a plastic toy gun. She said there have been six such shootings in Cleveland, and no indictments. She demanded unions should ask themselves why they're backing that DA.

Politics came in for its share of analysis, too. Rudy Lopez, the new executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, pointed out in the small-group session that "a lot of the oxygen is going to be sucked up by this year's presidential campaign."

Read the full story from Workday Minnesota.

IWJ Book Recommendations

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Whether you still have holiday shopping left or you're looking for some good reads for the new year, here are some books about worker justice and faith that you might enjoy: 

Collision Course

by Joe McCartin

Collision Course, written by Joseph McCartin (Oxford University Press, 2011), tells the story of a labor union that tangles with the President of the United States. The air traffic controllers who confronted President Reagan seeded not only their own demise, but put in jeopardy the whole labor movement. Brilliantly told, this story is pivotal to understanding the current situation of working people, the shrinking middle class, and union organizing in America’s 21 Century.

There Shall Be No Needy

by Rabbi Jill Jacobs

There Shall Be No Needy makes a powerful argument for participation in the American public square from a deeply Jewish perspective, while deepening our understanding of the relationship between Judaism and such current social issues. Confront the most pressing issues of twenty-first-century America in this fascinating book, which brings together classical Jewish sources, contemporary policy debate and real-life stories.

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam

by Reza Aslan

Though it is the fastest growing religion in the world, Islam remains shrouded by ignorance and fear. What is the essence of this ancient faith? Is it a religion of peace or war? How does Allah differ from the God of Jews and Christians? Can an Islamic state be founded on democratic values such as pluralism and human rights? A writer and scholar of comparative religions, Reza Aslan has earned international acclaim for the passion and clarity he has brought to these questions. In No god but God, challenging the “clash of civilizations” mentality that has distorted our view of Islam, Aslan explains this critical faith in all its complexity, beauty, and compassion.

Blue Collar Jesus

by Darren Cushman Wood

Blue Collar Jesus: How Christianity Supports Workers Rights offers the most thorough analysis to date of workers rights from a religious perspective. The book reveals biblical and ethical principles for justice in the work place, and explores the vast and diverse tradition of labor activism among the major Christian factions. From the Roman Catholic Church to the Southern Baptists Convention, Cushman analyzes the history and beliefs that support labor unions. With rich historical and theological insights, Cushman argues persuasively that labor unions are legitimate instruments of God’s will for creating a just society. Never before published interviews and archival information makes Blue Collar Jesus a fascinating study of the relationship between labor and religion.

The Francis Effect

by John Gehring

The Francis Effect explores how a church once known as a towering force for social justice became known for a narrow agenda most closely aligned with one political party, and then looks at the opportunities for change in the “age of Francis.” Pope Francis has become an unlikely global star whose image has graced the covers of Rolling StoneThe New YorkerTime, and even the nation’s oldest magazine for gays and lesbians. The first Latin American pope, the first Jesuit, and the first to take the name of a beloved saint of the poor, Francis is shaking up a church that has been mired in scandal and demoralized by devastating headlines.

Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid And What We Can Do About It

by Kim Bobo

In what has been described as “the crime wave no one talks about,” billions of dollars worth of wages are stolen from millions of workers in the United States every year—a grand theft that exceeds every other larceny category. Even the Economic Policy Foundation, a business-funded think tank, has estimated that companies annually steal an incredible $19 billion in unpaid overtime. The scope of these abuses is staggering, but activists, unions, and policymakers—along with everyday Americans in congregations and towns across the country—have begun to take notice.

Activists protest worker wages, Wal-Mart

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Workers’ rights activists and religious leaders from Metro Detroit gathered in the rain on a grassy hill outside a Wal-Mart on Friday morning to protest worker wages on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Chanting “What do we want? $15! When do we want it? Now!” outside the Wal-Mart on Mercury Drive, nearly 50 protesters stood in the rain, holding signs and demanding Wal-Mart workers be paid at least $15 an hour.

Organizer Greg Sullivan of Our Walmart Alliance of Southeast Michigan said more than 60 million workers in the United States make less than $15 an hour, while corporate pay rates continue to skyrocket.

“We’re trying to send the message that working people have taken a hit for way too many years,” said Sullivan. “Their wages have stagnated. ... We need to better than that — and we can do better.”

Activists came from a number of coalitions and groups, including Detroit Metro Interfaith Worker Justice, retired Ford UAW activists and the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan. Drivers on Ford Road honked their horns as they drove by to show their support.

The Dearborn Police Department wouldn’t let the protesters stand or park in the Wal-Mart parking lot because it’s private property.

A tow truck was on standby for most of the protest.

The Rev. Edwin Rowe, a retired United Methodist minister and member of Detroit Metro Interfaith Worker Justice, said Wal-Mart has hired agencies to monitor its employees and any movement toward organizing.

Read the full story from The Detroit News

Wage Theft, a ‘National Disgrace’

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The dignity of work and workers’ rights are recurring motifs throughout Scripture. “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy workers, whether other Israelites or aliens,” says the Book of Deuteronomy. Pope Francis, in his address to Congress, stressed worker concerns, saying he spoke for “the thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread...to build a better life for their families.”

Even in the modern age of labor regulation, many American workers still don’t receive a full day’s pay for a full day’s work. These employees usually occupy the lowest rungs of the pay ladder, working in fast food, retail, garment assembly, poultry processing, the service industry and building trades.

Some companies cited are part of familiar national chains we might patronize on a regular basis. Take, for example, Papa John’s Pizza. Four of its franchises in New York recently agreed to pay close to $500,000 in back pay owed to workers. Before closing all its restaurants in 2014, Chicago-based HomeMade Pizza, once a favorite of TV personality Oprah Winfrey, was forced to pay back wages to six workers who said they were paid less than the minimum wage and were denied their final paycheck.

Helping workers at those two companies—and many others—is a small advocacy group working out of a fourth-floor office belonging to the Edgewater Presbyterian Church on Chicago’s north side. For 20 years, Interfaith Worker Justice has been a consistent, sometimes solitary voice investigating wage theft and other worker abuses.

Wage theft occurs when employers fail to pay the legal minimum wage or overtime, force workers to work off the clock, withhold tips or final paychecks and misclassify workers as independent contractors to avoid paying payroll taxes, workers’ compensation and other benefits. Interfaith Worker Justice estimates that about $50 billion in wage theft occurs each year. Executive Director Rudy Lopez calls it “a national disgrace.”

Read the full story from America: The National Catholic Review

Workers mobilize for national Hungry For Justice month of action

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Labor, religious, and progressive allies planning ongoing actions for a living wage, better working conditions, end to wage theft, and more


Media Contacts:

Ian Pajer-Rogers, 603-988-9775, ipajer-rogers@iwj.org

Sung-Yeon Choimorrow, 312-513-2289 schoimorrow@iwj.org

CHICAGO (November 2, 2015) — Thousands of workers who are fed up with poverty wages, unsafe  and unreliable working conditions, and tired of being victims of wage theft will take action throughout the month of November to show elected officials and corporate executives that they are Hungry For Justice. 

The month of action will include a massive mobilization of fast-food workers rallying for a $15 per hour living wage and a union, a two-week fast by Walmart workers, and a day of action to expose and end wage theft in America.

“For many Americans, the month of November means a big Thanksgiving meal and the biggest shopping day of the holiday season,” said IWJ executive director Rudy López, “But to those who work in retail or foodservice, those who drive the trucks that deliver our holiday goods, those who are denied their full pay as victims of wage theft, the start of the holiday season is just another example of the stark difference between the haves and the have-nots in America. This month presents us with an opportunity to reclaim the spirit of the holiday season -- peace, love, and justice for all.”

The Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) network is taking the lead on organizing the wage theft day of action on November 18, which will coincide with the launch of a redesigned website to help workers and organizations fight against wage theft. The site will be available on November 18 at wagetheft.org.

Interfaith Worker Justice has been organizing, educating and advocating at the intersection of work and faith since 1996. There are 70 affiliated organizations in the United States.


Pinellas and Hillsborough to join South Florida counties in combating wage theft

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Hillsborough and Pinellas counties will soon be joining several South Florida counties in passing local ordinances aimed at protecting workers from wage theft. Wage theft is when employees are withheld  rightly owed wages or benefits, sometimes through forcing workers to work off the clock, denying paychecks, or garnishing employee tips.  It especially affects service workers within the restaurant and hotel industry.

Here to talk about the new ordinances within the counties are: Tom DiFiore, Housing and Consumer Attorney for Bay Area Legal Services;  Jeanette Smith, Executive Director of the South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice; Cheryl Shroeder Executive Director of West Central Florida Central Labor Council; and  Aaron Carmella, Field Director of West Central Florida Federation of Labor. 

View the full story from WMNF

Bishop Howard Hubbard reflections on Pope Francis visit

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photo by Lori Semprevio/Flickr

Bishop Hubbard made these remarks at an event hosted by Faith for a Fair New York.

I am so pleased to participate in this discussion about Pope Francis’ visit to the United States and how we who are involved in the labor and religion movement and the promotion of social justice can continue to promote his vision at the local, national and international levels.

I was privileged to be with Pope Francis both in Washington, DC when he met with the US bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and later at the Shrine Basilica at the Catholic University of America where he celebrated the first canonization ever conducted in the United States, that of Juniper Serra, the 16th Century founder of the Missions in California.

In New York City, I participated in the evening prayer at which Pope Francis presided in the beautifully renovated St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in the Interfaith Memorial Celebration at the 9/11 Museum and at the Mass held in Madison Square Garden.

The sense of joy, enthusiasm and support for the Pope and his message were palpable at all of these events and his humility, sincerity, integrity and simplicity in tone and style came shining through.

I found the Memorial Service at the 9/11 Museum the most moving. It was held in the battered and scarred bowels of the former World Trade Center edifice and representatives from the Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian communities prayed for the employees, visitors and the first responders who were killed in this dastardly attack, the ripple effects of which continue to shape government policy and the national mood.

It was when the Pope exited this service that I had the opportunity to greet and thank him for his leadership on behalf of the poor and marginalized.

It should be noted that in addition to his civic and religious events, the Pope visited an inner city school, a  shelter for the homeless, a catholic charities agency serving the addicted, mentally ill and developmentally disabled, and prisoners at the largest Correctional Facility in the City of Brotherly Love.

This afternoon, I would like to reflect on two key issues that Pope Francis has addressed in his presentation in Washington and to the United Nations: Income inequality and Climate Change.

Speaking to the members of the House of Representatives and the US Senate, the Pope cited 4 American heroes: President Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, who engaged in interfaith activity, especially with the Buddhist community.

Dorothy Day stands as a symbol for Francis’ commitment to those suffering from poverty and income inequality.

She lived a bohemian lifestyle before converting to Catholicism where she became a staunch advocate for non-violence and a vocal critic of capitalism’s excesses. She co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement’s soup kitchens and its newspaper in 1933. She lived in voluntary poverty among the poor and practiced civil disobedience as a pacifist.

Pope Francis praised her for “her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed which were inspired by the Gospel and her faith. Today, Catholic Worker Houses of hospitality which feed and shelter the poor number over 200 across the United States and about 30 abroad.

Her cause for canonization is presently being considered by the Church, which she would adamantly oppose.  “Don’t make me a saint” she used to say. She didn’t want to be put on a pedestal,  but rather to serve as an example of what each of us can do to make the world better.

Dorothy Day was highlighted by Pope Francis because her life is an antidote to the runaway capitalism, greed and income inequality that he spoke about both in Congress and the United Nations.

Francis clearly teaches that alleviating the grave evil of poverty must be at the heart of the church’s mission.  It is neither optional nor secondary.

Who are the poor today? They are many:  the 37 million of our fellow Americans who live below the federal poverty line; the 800 million people globally who suffer from persistent hunger and malnutrition, or those in places like Nigeria, the Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, the Ukraine and the Holy Land, who are threatened daily by the wanton savagery of warfare and mindless terrorism.

In particular, I would mention the 12 million immigrants who are living in our country without documentation, hiding in the margins of society, often exploited by employers and others, and lacking a clear path to citizenship. They have become the scapegoats for our nation’s socio-economic woes, the focal point for our irrational fears, and the objects of our hatred and prejudice, when all they really want is a better life for their families  and themselves – just as our immigrant ancestors did.

And, of course, there are the growing number of refugees from the Mideast, Asia and Africa fleeting hunger, persecution and genocide, many drowning as the result of overcrowded and unsafe sea vessels or from the lack of food and shelter once they arrive on land,  finding themselves unwanted, shunned, vilified and rejected.

Further, Pope Francis not only speaks to the centrality of addressing poverty as an imperative but calls all to look anew at the common good and how we are to achieve it.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, Francis says, “I exhort you to generous solidarity with the poor and toward a return of economics and finances to an ethical approach which favors human beings.”

Pope Francis asks, “Can we stand by while food is thrown away and people are starving? “Some people”, he notes, “continue to defend trickle down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, inevitably will succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness to the world. "This opinion”, Francis notes, “which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing system. Meanwhile, the excluded remain waiting.”

He notes “that domestic welfare and international aid projects that meet certain urgent needs should be considered merely temporary responses.  As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of the markets and financial speculation, and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solutions will be found for the world’s problems, or, for that matter, for any problems.  Inequality is the root of social ills.”

That is why in his exhortation Pope Francis rails against the growing gap in income inequality between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots, adding that “the culture of prosperity deadens us…thus, in the name of Christ the rich must help, respect and promote the poor.”

Indeed, Francis reminds us,” not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away from their livelihood.  It is not our goods we hold but theirs.”

Now some have severely criticized Pope Francis’ economic analysis calling it Marxist or disguised socialism.  But Pope Francis explains, “If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond I speak them with affection and with the best intentions apart from any personal interest in political ideology.”

In other words, Pope Francis speaks to us not as an expert on economics, but with the firm conviction that God has created a world of abundance and that there are more than enough resources to insure that all can live a humane and fruitful life.  Therefore, we must make economic arrangements which enable everyone to benefit from the fruit of the earth and not just close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table.”

Hence, Francis has made clear that the present economic slowdown worldwide must lead to “a new stimulus for international activity on behalf of the poor, inspired by something more than mere goodwill, or worse yet by, promises which too often have not been kept.”

Bishop Robert McElroy, the newly appointed Bishop of San Diego, has suggested this exhortation of Pope Francis should lead us in the United States to address three false cultures we find within our society: the culture of comfort that makes us think only of ourselves; the culture of waste that seizes the gifts of the created order only to savor them for a moment and then discard them; and the culture of indifference that desensitizes us to the sufferings of others; no matter how intense, no matter how sustained.”

In Pope Francis own words “without the preferential option for the poor, the proclamation of the Gospel, which itself is the prime form of charity risks being misunderstood or submerged by an ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass media.

In sum, Pope Francis posits that the globalized economy, where the 85 richest individuals in the world have more wealth than the 3.5 billion poorest, is a gross injustice and is supported by a “throw away culture” where policies and social behaviors have made money, not people, the focus. 

A big part of the problem Francis is concerned about, is a loss of the social contract.  We so easily fall into lines that can view political and economic systems as mere mechanisms that operate without reference to values and morality.  Markets and public policies churn out and distribute benefits in ways that respond to power, talent, and perhaps luck.  But they need not serve ultimate ends.  There is no particular moral meaning to the taxes we pay or to the wages our corporations offer.  Ethical principles like progressive taxation and a living wage are nuisances at best, serious liabilities in international competition at worst.  In a world governed by nothing more enlightened than the bottom line, there is scant room for social concern.”

Unfortunately, today we often fail to understand and appreciate the central purpose of our economy,: namely, to meet the basic human needs of all the members of society.  Needs should take preference over wants, necessities over luxuries.  Insisting on a fairer sharing of social burdens and benefits may not be popular but it is the right thing to do.

Sadly, over the past 50 years we seem to have lost the words – and with them the ideas – to frame our situation appropriately.  Can we talk about this?”

Indeed we must!  For the new question needing to be asked, of the economy, specifically, and of political arrangements generally, is about the dispositions necessary for a healthy society, one in which everybody flourishes since the economy cannot be measured only by the maximization of profits but rather in accord with the common good.  Some call this the search for a “human ecology”.

This is the corporate contract we need in America and throughout the world.  We must seek to create a society and world in which hard-working people can be safe and prosper, and they in turn reinvest a fair share of that prosperity back into society for posterity.

I would emphasize that one of the most effective ways to address income inequality and to serve as an antidote to the powerful forces of capitalism is the promotion of unions and worker centers that can defend their rights.

During the last 30 years, the minimum wage in our country has fallen to a fifty year low.  It now pays a worker $15,000 a year, not nearly enough to keep a family of 4 above the official poverty level of $23,000.

Meanwhile union membership has been cut in half, falling to a new low of 12 percent of the overall workforce and only 7 percent of private sector workers.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, since the beginning of the Reagan Revolution in 1980, Americans have seen their hourly wages stagnate or decline.  While the real gross domestic product has grown by nearly 150 percent and net productivity by 64 percent in this same period, more and more of the jobs Americans hold today come without reliable living wages or benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, training and job security.

Hence, I believe, Charles Wheelan, an economist from the University of Chicago, is right when he states, “we need some kind of labor relations 2.02 which calls for a model that tries to protect some of the leverage that comes from collective bargaining.”

During the present Supreme Court session, the Court will hear the challenge to the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.  For decades, public-sector unions have been allowed to charge non-members for the costs of collective bargaining on their behalf, but not fees for the unions’ political and lobbying activity, which are paid only by members.

This arrangement, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1977, strikes a reasonable balance — allowing workers to opt out of paying for political activities they may disagree with while avoiding the “free rider” problem, where non-members benefit from the higher wages and better working conditions achieved through collective bargaining without paying their fair share.

The anti-union movement, which this suit represents, wants to weaken and destroy public unions by shrinking their coffers. But the current law is sensible and has been repeatedly upheld by the court. There is no reason to overturn this principle in the California case.  This case should be a major focus for those concerned about labor rights.

So should wage theft, of which Rudy Lopez is well aware and discussed with President Obama recently.

The second issue I will mention is climate change.  The Pope’s pleas to our nation and the UN about Climate Change stem from his recent encyclical on the environment, entitled Laudato Si, the Care of Our Common Home.

The encyclical draws its title from “the Canticle of Creation” authored by the Pope’s namesake and role model, that renowned 13th century saint,. Francis of Assisi.

The timing of the Pope’s encyclical is crucial, as it comes before the United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris this coming December, in which world leaders will seek to set concrete goals to address the issue of climate change or global warming. 

Let me attempt to summarize the contents of this encyclical from a theological, scientific, moral and social perspective.

Theological perspective – Concept of Dominion

It has been at the heart of Judeo-Christian teaching that God created the universe and gave to Adam and Eve and to the members of the human family dominion over the earth.

Through the course of the centuries, the church’s eyes have been fixed primarily on the next world and the ethic of dominion which focuses little on non human creatures and the environment as a whole.  This seemed to give scriptural authority for human beings to take the earth for granted and to do with it what we pleased.

In more recent years, however, theologians have sought to replace this ethic of dominion with a new ethic of the caring stewardship of God’s creation.  Pope Francis has placed himself clearly in accord with this new line of thinking.  For example, he states emphatically, “Nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute dominion over creatures.”  In other words, in this encyclical Pope Francis places himself firmly in the tradition of Francis of Assisi, telling the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and anyone who will listen, that the caring stewardship of creation, suddenly and dramatically is at the heart of the church’s mission and that we have a passionate reason to love the earth and respect it, now more than ever when it is being threatened so mortally.  Our planet is truly the work of our Creator and it is to be treasured accordingly.

In short, Pope Francis strongly rejects any interpretation of the Scriptures that would find men and women as “dominators” over nature.

Thus, in addressing previous interpretations of the Genesis stories that give full license for humans to be domineering and destructive, Pope Francis stresses, “this is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church.  Although it is true that we Christians at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures… In our time, Pope Francis says, “the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings as if they have no worth and can be treated as we wish.”

While Pope Francis’ predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, affirmed the intrinsic value of non human creatures and exhorted us to respect the grammar of creation, in his encyclical Pope Francis incorporates respect for and protection of the whole of creation into the core of a Catholic approach to ecology (236). 

b) Scientific Perspective

At over 37,000 words, Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ is one of the longest encyclicals in the church’s history. This encyclical covers a lot of ground. Among the topics addressed are: banking regulation, gender theory, urban planning, Sabbath observances, Trinitarian theology, and the saying of grace before meals.

But Laudato Si’ will be read and remembered primarily from a scientific perspective as Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical. The sentences everyone was looking for arrive near the beginning, carefully qualified but unambiguous: “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.... It is true that there are other factors contributing to this phenomenon (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle, etc.), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants) released mainly as a result of human activity.”

With his exhortation, Francis officially puts himself on the side of the 97% of scientific consensus on climate change.

The research shows that virtually every piece of land ice on earth is melting, the sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, droughts and other weather extremes are intensifying, the global food system is showing signs of instability, and, if left unchecked the effects on agriculture, sea levels and the natural world will be devastating and impact on the poor disproportionately.

Third, for Francis, climate change is just one part of a larger ecological crisis that also involves the extinction of plant and animal species and the accumulation of waste. And this ecological crisis, he believes, is part of a larger ethical or moral failure that also involves the way we treat the poor, the disabled, and the future generations who will inherit the world we’re destroying. Extending a basic element of the church’s social teaching, Francis calls for “intergenerational solidarity,” as well as solidarity with other creatures. He calls on people in the developed world to put down their digital devices long enough to consider the effect of our choices—as consumers and citizens—on fellow creatures thousands of miles or hundreds of years away.”

The most important thing is to recognize the urgency of the problem, and to accept that the only way to solve it is “by our decisive action, here and now.” We cannot wait for the magic of markets or new machines to save us from our predicament. We will have to face it head on, by means of political engagement at every level—local, national, and international. Historically, democracies have been better at dealing with emergencies than with long-term problems like climate change. We must somehow correct that tendency, and learn to look beyond the next election, as well as the next profit report. Francis remains hopeful: human beings, he reminds us, are "capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.” That is all that is required, yet nothing less will be enough.

Hopefully, Pope Francis’ encyclical will be seen as an invitation to dialogue.  He is inviting economists, business people, public officials, environmentalists, inventors and religious leaders to come together for a conversation on how to protect the environment.  Anyone with a good idea is welcome.

The encyclical can also be a source of inspiration and ideas for activists, teachers, preachers, theologians and authors to echo, to critique and to develop the Pope’s urgent message.

Further, Pope Francis’ encyclical must be seen as a call to change in human behavior and human reason in a way that will require sacrifice from everyone, especially those who are benefitting from the fruits of the status quo: Big Business, Wall Street Financial Capitalism and The Industrial Complex dependent on fossil fuels: for example, car manufacturers, oil companies and coal-based electrical generation.

The Pope’s encyclical also demands personal sacrifices like cutting back on our own consumerism, recycling, using buses or car shares, turning off unnecessary lights, cutting back on heating and air conditioning, etc.

Doing what the Pope asks will require an extraordinary change in human vision and behavior to accomplish the peaceful resolution he calls for.  It will require sacrifice from everyone, especially those who are enjoying the fruits of the status quo.  Yes, doing what the Pope asks will not be easy but Francis encourages us to trust in a loving God and a powerful Spirit who can renew the face of the earth.

Let me cite 2 challenges involving climate change which we must monitor closely.  The first is at the Paris Conference.  Six years ago in Copenhagen, a promise of 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 was made to help the world’s poorest nations, especially, in places like Bangladesh and sub-Sahara Africa to adapt to the fallout from global warming.  But to date, as Christiana Figureres, the executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has noted, “there is no credible roadmap to the 100 billion.  Nations are having a hard time putting their money where their mouth is.

To be sure there is some progress.  France promised 5.6 billion by 2020 in climate-related assistance, up from 3.4 billion presently, and Britain has pledged to increase its budget for climate related development finance and the United States has contributed 12.8 billion between 2012-14.  So we’re at about 50 billion but something like 30-40 billion will still have to be realized between now and 2020.

There is also the danger that richer nations will repurpose or relabel other downpayment and assistance that happen to have climate related side effects.  But as a prominent UN official has pointed out, “while there is a lot of overlap in climate and development aid, they are not the same thing.  How will the 100 billion climate goal be reached!  This is something we must be prepared to monitor.

I would note in conclusion that Pope Francis has proclaimed September 1 to be an annual “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” – and has expressed the hope that this day would also involve other religious denominations – both ecumenical and interfaith – similar to the Days of Prayer for Peace at Assisi and last month’s Interfaith memorial Service at the 9/11 museum.  I would suggest this is something we could do locally or statewide as well.

Finally, as the Jesuit commentator Thomas Reese observes, “the Pope’s encyclical is remarkable in that it does not depend primarily on fear to motivate people to care for the earth.  Rather, Francis emphasizes love as a motivating force.  He invites everyone to get involved for the long haul.  Environmental change is not a sprint, it is a marathon.  It will require the participation of each of us,  motivated by the environmental crisis we embrace and our desire to protect future generations from an environmental catastrophe.

May all of us, then, in our own sphere of influence do what we can to insure that this potential devastating catastrophe never becomes a reality.  May it be so!

Bishop Howard Hubbard served as the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Albany, N.Y. until April 2014. He co-chairs the NY State Labor-Religion Coalition. He served in many parish and diocesan positions since his ordination in 1963. Bishop Hubbard also served in numerous national leadership roles, including Chairman of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Human Values, Marriage and the Family, the Catholic Campaign for Human Developmentthe Committee for International Justice and Peace and Chairperson of the Public Policy Committee of the N.Y.S. Catholic Conference.

Florida prison deaths spark call for federal probe

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A coalition of 14 human rights groups on Thursday called for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into Florida state prisons, contending that "immediate intervention" is necessary to stop the widespread abuse, neglect, torture and deaths of inmates in the Florida Department of Corrections.

In a letter to Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, the group cited a list of suspected criminal and civil rights violations against prisoners, including: torture and death by starvation, excessive use of force, medical neglect, misuse of solitary confinement, suicide, sexual assault and death and torture by scalding.

As examples, the letter cites 17 inmates who allegedly died under one or more of those conditions, as well as three others who continue to suffer as a result of violence and neglect suffered in the state prison system.

"Given the Florida Department of Corrections' pattern and practice of consistently failing to remedy these pervasive and egregious problems, only the Department of Justice can properly address these violations," the coalition wrote.

The group, headed by Florida's ACLU, expressed particular concern about the abuse and deaths of inmates who suffer from mental illnesses, citing several who have died in recent years under suspicious circumstances. One of those inmates, Darren Rainey, died in 2012 after he was left for more than two hours in a shower with temperatures in excess of 180 degrees.

Rainey's death is already the subject of a federal civil rights inquiry, as well as a state criminal investigation. Rainey, who suffered from schizophrenia, was allegedly forced into the shower by corrections officers at Dade Correctional Institution near Homestead and left there, as punishment, for bad behavior.

The Miami-Dade medical examiner has yet to release his cause of death, and the criminal investigation into his death is still pending.

Several other deaths at Dade Correctional Institution were cited, including Richard Mair, another inmate who suffered from mental illness who hanged himself at the prison in 2014. He had previously complained that he and other mentally ill inmates were being sexually violated, beaten and mentally abused at the prison. After his death, a suicide note was found sewn into his boxers that listed a number of abuses, and it contained the names of officers whom he claimed were regularly beating inmates or forcing them to fight each other for sport.

His death and the allegations he made has never been investigated by police or by the corrections department.

Other examples included Ricky Martin, a 24-year-old convicted burglar, who was killed at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution. He was beaten, stabbed and stomped on by a fellow inmate despite numerous pleas by him and other inmates to stop the killer, who had vowed earlier in the day to kill Martin because he was white. Corrections officers were warned, but ignored the pleas, according to more than a dozen inmates interviewed by the agency after the death. No corrections officers were disciplined.

Nearly all the cases cited in the letter were part of an ongoing series about corruption and violence in Florida prisons by the Miami Herald. For more than a year, the newspaper has reviewed thousands of documents, conducted hundreds of interviews and visited prisons where prisoners have alleged they've seen or they themselves have been mentally, physically and sexually abused. In most cases, few, if any, corrections officers or wardens were held accountable. And the circumstances surrounding the deaths were often covered up, according to witnesses.

In recent months, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) has made several reforms to try to improve prison conditions. More than a dozen corrections officers have been fired and arrested, wardens have been forced out and regional directors have been ordered to reapply for their jobs. Gov. Rick Scott and new prisons Secretary Julie Jones have ordered an overhaul of the agency, and some changes have already been implemented.

McKinley Lewis, FDC's communications director, said the agency is committed to ensuring the safety of Florida's 100,000 inmates.

"Many of the issues raised by the ACLU are the subject of past or present criminal and administrative investigations which involve multiple local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. FDC is confident that our ongoing reforms, and current leadership, will continue to move our agency in a positive direction that focuses on our vision of inspiring success by transforming one life at a time," Lewis said in a statement.

Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said those reforms are not enough to change the culture of the Florida's prison system, which is the third largest in the nation. Cover-ups are so ingrained in the prisons that far too many corrections officers are still able to harm inmates without impunity, he said.

"An appalling 346 people died in Florida prisons last year.it is the responsibility of the Governor's office to ensure the safety of the state's prisons. But under the leadership of Gov. Scott, conditions have deteriorated," Simon said in a statement.

He also pointed out that the agency has failed to investigate potential wrongdoing, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is handling some of the death cases, is taking far too long to give closure - and justice - to families of inmates who have died.

"Many of the FDC and FDLE investigations into instances of death and/or abuse of prisoners are languishing. The investigations have been ongoing for more than three years without any conclusion in sight," he said.

Gupta is in charge of the Justice Department's civil rights division and is the nation's top civil rights prosecutor.

The coalition's letter was also signed by Robin Cole, president, National Alliance on Mental Illness; Steve Wetstein, Stop Prison Abuse Now; Randall Berg Jr., executive director, Florida Justice Institute; Christopher Jones, director, Florida Legal Services Inc.; Rev. Dr. Russell Meyer, executive director, Florida Council of Churches; Adora Obi Nweze, president, Florida Conference of NAACP Branches; Jeanette Smith, executive director, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice...

View the full story from the Orlando Sentinel

Forum on economic inequality is Oct. 24 in Braintree

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Confronting escalating economic inequality in Massachusetts will be the topic during a free forum scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 24, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at All Souls Church on 196 Elm St. in Braintree. All are invited.

Among the issues to be discussed are campaigns for paid family and medical leave, a $15 per hour minimum wage, a statewide progressive tax to fund education and transportation needs, and equal treatment for women in the workplace.

Speakers will include Chuck Collins from the Institute for Public Studies, Lew Finfer from the Massachusetts Community Action Network, and Paul Drake from Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice.

Read the full story from Wicked Local Braintree