Labor

Split SCOTUS Hands Win to Public Sector Unions

Image via  /Shutterstock

On March 29, public sector unions narrowly avoided a severe blow as the Supreme Court handed down a 4-4 ruling in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers’ Association. The split ruling in the case, which dealt with the use of “fair-share” fees by public unions to fund their collective bargaining on behalf of all employees (including non-union employees).

The split ruling means that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in favor of the teachers’ union and their use of such fees will stand, though no new precedent will be set.

Help End Domestic Slavery, Ratify Convention 189

December 2012 global day of action for ratification of Convention 189, the first global standard to protect domestic workers

North America is home to an estimated 1.5 million trafficked persons alone. Many of these people are domestic workers—an industry with a growing worth of $8 billion in profits every year.

Many domestic workers in the United States are hard working people who enjoy their jobs and have fair working conditions. But the private and unregulated nature of the job does make these workers vulnerable to exploitation and sometimes a destination job for trafficked women.

This is the problem that authorities grapple with: how to regulate a global industry where workers are so open to exploitation and abuse.

Enter Convention 189—a document that creates international law preventing the trafficking and exploitation of domestic workers like Erwiana. This new international law deals with much of the complexity of the problem while still allowing domestic workers to earn a fair living and bargain for their conditions.

National governments have begun to sign on to Convention 189, but the U.S. and other larger countries are lagging behind in its support for tougher global protections for domestic workers.

For many, these new global protections can’t come fast enough. We know that the more countries like the U.S. sign onto Convention 189, the more robust the law will be and the better the protection for domestic workers.

Occasionally our governments need reminding that the plight of some of the most vulnerable must become a priority. Join me in calling on the United States to support global protections for domestic workers by ratifying Convention 189.

A Theology of Labor

Namning and Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com
Namning and Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com

A theology of labor involves Genesis 2:15 – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

Labor is fundamentally a good thing and a theology of labor includes responsible stewardship of the earth’s resources. The first chapter of Genesis is obsessed with telling us that the world is good. As such, God calls us to labor for it, to responsibly keep and care for it.

Of course, labor often involves hard, back breaking work that doesn’t always feel good. Genesis 3 puts forth an explanation that God cursed the earth because of human sin, making labor much more difficult. Whatever we think about that explanation, the Bible is much more interested in a different curse when it comes to labor — how we humans curse one another.

Like everything in this good world, the goodness of labor can be exploited. The prime biblical example of this comes from Exodus, which describes how the Hebrews were exploited as slaves in Egypt.

They were forced to labor.

Pope Francis' Glaring Omission: Why Spiritual Leaders Must Champion Workers' Rights

According to Timothy King, chief strategy officer for progressive Christian advocacy group Sojourners, these are conditions which run entirely contrary to the intent of the Divine. “God is a laborer and part of what it means to be made in the image of God is that we are co-laborers,” he says, something that gives labor inherent dignity. Just as importantly, however, it is not solely work that bestows this dignity. “God labored for six days, God rested on the seventh. The idea of a ‘sabbath’ was radical at the time. [Everyone] had time to rest. Even the land was supposed to rest and be laid fallow every seven years. While there is dignity in work, it is not all we are created to do and be.”

Global Churches Alliance for Bangladesh Garment Workers

Mary Priniski wrote in the August 2013 Sojourners magazine about churches responding in solidarity with garment workers, disproportionately women, after the terrible fires in Bangladesh’s garment factories. Now, a global church alliance has been established. Ekklesia reports:

[The alliance] provides an action plan for grassroots campaigning, and a letter for consumers to send to their retailers demanding improvements to the pay and working conditions of garment workers. Real-life stories from garment workers in Bangladesh also highlight the oppression they face and the struggle to survive.

 

My Pilgrimage with Warehouse Workers

EVERY TIME I fly into Ontario, Calif., I see neat blocks of gleaming, low-rise warehouses surrounded by well-manicured trees and shrubbery. I now know that what goes on inside those buildings is not nearly so pretty.

As a board member of People of Faith United for Worker Justice, a local faith-rooted worker justice organization, I have seen the dismal working conditions inside several of these warehouses and have heard the testimonies of workers who have been seriously injured on the job. Eighty-five percent of the warehouse workers in Southern California earn minimum wage and receive no health benefits, even though their jobs entail unloading and reloading heavy boxes.

Since many of these workers are hired through temp agencies, which are often located inside the warehouses, workers’ rights are routinely abused. When someone is injured, instead of being cared for, he or she is simply not called back to work the next day. When workers complain about poor working conditions—such as a lack of breaks, access to bathrooms, or having to lift heavy boxes into freight trucks in 108-degree temperatures—the managers tell them it’s not their responsibility because the workers are employed by the temp agency. The temp agencies in turn claim they are not responsible for conditions in the warehouses because the agencies are separate companies.

These warehouses are a critical link in a global supply chain that begins in Chinese, Cambodian, and Bangladeshi sweatshops. The goods are shipped to the Port of Los Angeles, unloaded, and hauled out to these warehouses where they are repackaged, loaded onto trucks and trains, and shipped off to Walmarts, Targets, and Home Depots across the U.S. From there, the merchandise ends up in our households.

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An Invocation for May Day

Editor's Note: The following is the text of an invocation being given at the May Day Rally in Madison, Wis.

When we gather at a place like our State Capitol, there are people here from all sorts of religious and non-religious backgrounds.

There are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, Hindus and and Bahai, Humanists and people who are pretty sure they believe something, but don’t know exactly how the heck to describe it.

What connects us all this day is a spirit of hospitality, a spirit of compassion and a spirit of justice.

At their worst, religious and other beliefs can isolate us in little camps where we see outsiders as threats. At their best, they call us to hospitality, not only to those we know, but to the strangers in our midst – those who come from other places, speak other languages, seek a new life. At their best, they call us to embrace those who seek to be part of our community.

Come With Me Into the Fields

BREAKTHROUGHS ON immigration reform will make life easier for some Latino immigrants, but in the sweltering, often-toxic fields where farm workers toil each summer from Maine to California, conditions can still be dehumanizing and dangerous. There is a silver lining, however. With the burgeoning growth of the nation's Latino population, there are more advocates than ever working to improve the plight of the men, women, and often children who do hard labor on our nation's farms.

With a mostly young, deeply committed staff, the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is doing solid grassroots work to make life better for workers in the state's tomato industry. With cooperation from 11 food retail and food service corporations, CIW has implemented the Campaign for Fair Food, which has brought modest wage increases, worker protections, and grievance procedures to farms that produce 90 percent of the state's tomato crop.

Using a worker-led administrative structure and significant public pressure, CIW has brought companies such as McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and KFC into its program that asks corporate partners to kick in an extra penny per pound for the tomatoes they buy. That premium is passed on to growers to increase worker pay.

Elbin Perez, 23, a farm worker from Guatemala, has been working in the U.S. for six years, sending part of his wages back home to his parents and five siblings. As a CIW member, Perez leads "worker-to-worker education programs." Those trainings educate workers about CIW's code of conduct, which growers have agreed to uphold. Reforms include use of time clocks, guaranteed minimum wage, and water and shade breaks.

Perez said prior to the implementation of CIW's reforms, he witnessed many hardships in the fields, including wage theft, unsafe conditions, and sexual harassment of women workers. Perez told Sojourners it has "made an enormous difference to be part of the coalition."

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Woe To Those Who Make Unjust Laws

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Union members rally at the Michigan State Capitol on Dec. 11. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

“We firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers for organizing.”

My brother bishops and I wrote that more than a quarter-century ago in our 1986 letter Economic Justice for All.  Regrettably, it rings true still today. 

The right-to-work legislation that was passed by the House and the Senate in Michigan just this month is designed to break unions. It is designed to prevent workers from organizing. And we must oppose it as firmly as we did during the 1980s. 

May Day and the Occupation

May Day workers' event in Bordeaux, France. PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/GettyImages.
May Day workers' event on May 1, 2012 in Bordeaux, France. PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/GettyImages.

Today is May Day – an historic day of protest and action for the working class. This year, in light of the Occupy movement, many are hopeful of the resurgence this day can bring in the fight for national against economic injustice. 

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