Labor

Newspaper Workers continue Protest

Continuing their two-year vigil, locked-out Detroit newspaper workers brought their protests in May to the Washington, D.C. area home of Gannett Company CEO John Curley. Gannett owns The Detroit News. Many community and religious leaders have supported the workers. The Detroit Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church began a boycott of the Detroit newspapers in 1996. During its annual meeting in May, the conference instituted an economic boycott against USA Today, Gannett’s flagship newspaper, “to protest the lack of progress in settling the dispute and to press for early resolution.” The conference called upon the entire denomination to join the protest. The denomination will decide on the resolution in spring 2000. The Detroit newspaper strike began in 1995; all workers offered to return to work two years later, but many of their jobs had already been filled. Currently 1,400 workers remain locked out of their jobs at the News and the Detroit Free Press, which is owned by Knight-Ridder. “We’re exploring new strategies and committing new resources to achieve justice....We’re not going away,” said Teamsters president James P. Hoffa.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1999
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More Than Pickets and Prayer

Across the nation, people of faith are seeking ways to strengthen their congregations’ ministry with and for workers—workers within and outside the congregation. Despite the booming economy, too many workers are not paid wages and benefits that can support families. Almost half of new jobs pay less than $16,000 per year. These jobs cannot move families out of poverty.

When workers attempt to organize a union to improve wages or benefits, they often face strong employer opposition. Eighty percent of private sector employers hire professional consultants to fight workers’ unions. Almost a third fire employees who actively help other workers join unions.

Congregations and faith-based organizations are on the front lines of providing soup kitchens and shelters. But increasingly, such groups want to be on the front lines of justice for workers so that people won’t need soup kitchens and shelters to survive.

Below are 15 concrete ways to strengthen your congregation’s justice ministry with workers and to help rebuild ties with the labor movement.

1.  Hold a service on the Sunday before Labor Day lifting up justice for workers. Labor Day is an obvious time to address worker justice issues. Use the entire service to focus on God’s desire for justice in the workplace. If there are labor leaders in your congregation, ask them to speak during the service. Or involve local labor leaders from the community in the service.

In 1998, 37 cities had "Labor in the Pulpits" programs in which labor leaders spoke in congregations. Similar programs will occur in many cities over Labor Day weekend in 1999. Labor Day worship materials are available from the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (see NICWJ address below).

2.  Form a Bible study group on God’s messages to workers and employers. Look carefully at what the Bible teaches about being a just worker and a just employer.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1999
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Left-Click for Justice

Looking for information on strikes, boycott lists, religious statements on worker issues, stories of labor movement heroes, or watchdog information on corporations? The Internet may have what you're seeking. Following is a sampling of sites related to labor and economic justice issues.

Labornet — http://www.igc.org/igc/labornet/index.html

National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice — http://www.nicwj.org

AFL-CIO National Boycott List — http://www.unionlabel.org/donotbuy/default.htm

Boycott Nike — http://www.saigon.com/~nike/

The Great Speckled Bird StrikePage — http://www.igc.org/strike/

Campaign for Labor Rights — http://www.compugraph.com/clr/

Corporate Watch — http://www.corpwatch.org

Economic Policy Institute — http://epinet.org/

Coin Operated Congress — http://bsd.mojones.com/coinop_congress/coinop_congress.html

United for a Fair Economy — http://www.stw.org/

Working Women Working Together — http://www.aflcio.org/women/

Farm Labor Organizing Committee — http://www.iupui.edu/it/floc/

United Farm Workers — http://www.ufw.org/

Cesar E. Chavez and His Legacy — http://clnet.ucr.edu/research/chavez/

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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Season of Conscience

Since its founding in 1994, the People of Faith Network has organized targeted campaigns to educate religious people about the conditions under which the clothes they buy are made. With efforts to publicize the Third World sweatshop conditions of affiliates of such U.S. corporations as Disney, The Gap, and Guess? Inc., as well as the famous Kathie Lee Gifford campaign, this national, multifaith coalition has been putting its faith into action.

David Dyson, founder of PFN, Presbyterian pastor, and former labor organizer, has raised the discussion of sweatshop conditions to a national level. Dyson argues that, in a global economy, only improving the situation for workers in other countries can preserve U.S. jobs and working conditions.

This fall, PFN is targeting Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world. Wal-Mart maintains a caring, community-oriented image, but its plants in the Third World have been linked to 10-to-12-year-olds working for 8 cents an hour in Bangladesh; worker beatings in Guatemala; and young women sewing hand bags for 13 cents an hour, seven days a week.

PFN's holiday efforts include the Season of Conscience Campaign, with the slogan "Children belong in schools, not sweatshops.ö PFN believes that most Americans, if informed, would not support companies paying starvation wages to children, and so wants U.S. corporations to abide by independent monitoring of Third World plants and full disclosure concerning conditions so consumers can make informed decisions.

To this end, PFN is organizing People's Right to Know Day on October 3 (which officially kicks off the Season of Conscience), and a candlelight vigil on Human Rights Day, December 10. For more information, contact PFN, Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church, 85 South Oxford St., Brooklyn, NY 11217; (718) 625-2819.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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Workin' 9-to-4

Time is a priceless commodity these days, as people try to pack more into each day while preserving "quality time" for their families. The sense of feeling harried is real. The increase in work hours for Americans over the last 25 years amounts to an extra month of work each year, according to Juliet Schor, author of The Overworked American. One in five Canadians works at least 50 hours a week.

Today's economic climate, with its lack of commitment to full employment, merely deepens a mindset that tells us to earn all we can today, for tomorrow we may be out of a job. Many people simply have no choice in the matter. The recent National Study of the Changing Workplace found that nearly two-thirds of workers would like to reduce their time on the job by an average of 11 hours a week.

On the flip side, at least 1.5 million Canadians, 8.4 percent of the workforce, are joblessùfar more if the hidden unemployed are counted. In effect, our society is polarizing into two groups, the overworked and the unemployed.

Buoyed by the success of shorter-work-hour efforts in Europe, an embryonic movement is insisting that it's time to share the available work more fairly. A 32- or 35-hour work week is a common demand, along with curbs on overtime, more use of sabbaticals, and family-friendly personnel policies. Many support shorter work hours as a way to create jobs. Others are excited by the vision of a radically different kind of life, marked by "graceful simplicity," freed from the work-buy-consume treadmill, with more time for families and creativity.

In Canada, some unions and labor leaders, such as Canadian Auto Workers leader Buzz Hargrove, are outspoken advocates of a shorter work week. A thorny issue, however, involves whether shorter hours should involve no loss

in pay, as some trade unionists argue, or entail a corresponding reduction in pay, except for low-paid workers.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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The Power of Alliance

Biblically, theologically, ethically, even pastorally, it is incumbent upon the church to stand with workers, to be with them in the struggle for justice, to join them in holding corporations accountable to human community.

The day before his death, in a prescient sermon now famous, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. urged pastors and laypeople to support the striking sanitation workers of Memphis, Tennessee, by turning to Luke's parable of the Good Samaritan. In summoning the congregation to break the court injunction by marching the day following, he detailed the risks of that biblical "bloody pass," the winding road from Jerusalem down to Jericho. He allowed that the priest and the Levite may have been simply afraid, warily wondering if the robbers still hovered about, or if the victim was himself a thief lying in wait in wounded disguise.

And so the first question the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?"..."If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.

The Brickmakers Local
Not long ago I heard Rev. Joe Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference preach at a striking workers prayer service, "The first labor negotiations in history took place between Pharaoh and Moses." Actually, Exodus portrays a pretty remarkable piece of negotiating (seven chapters worth), with offers and counteroffers, nudges and reversals aplenty.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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Resources and Organizations

  • Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice
  • (CLUE), 548 S. Spring St., Suite 630, Los Angeles, CA 90013; (213) 486-9880; CLUELA @Earthlink.net. CLUE, working with the Southern California Ecumenical Council, has developed a principle for Religious Institutions and the Living Wage. It calls on religious institutions to pay all of their employees—including full-time, part-time, or contractees—a "living wage" and urges regional and religious bodies to help their constituent members implement this through administrative training, religious education, and financial planning. (See also pages 34-36.)
  • Farm Labor Organizing Committee,
  • 1221 Broadway St., Toledo, OH 43609; (419) 244-1265; fax: (419) 243-5665. FLOC focuses on improving work and living conditions for farmers and former farm workers as well as developing just compensation for work through self-organization, public actions, collective bargaining, and advocacy. FLOC encourages legislation for those who are excluded from labor legislation. (See also pages 42-43.)
  • Highlander Research and Education Center
  • , 1959 Highlander Way, New Market, TN 37820; (423) 933-3443. Highlander is a private, non-profit popular education center with a unique program of assisting activists and communities that seek solutions to pressing social problems. In conjunction with Jobs With Justice, Highlander recently hosted "Building a More Powerful Movement for Social Justice: Labor-Community-Religious Coalitions," a training focused on the right to organize and rank-and-file activism within the context of building coalitions with the religious community.
  • Jobs With Justice
  • : A Campaign for Worker's Rights, 501 Third St. NW, Washington, DC 20001-2797; (202) 434-1106. Founded in 1986, Jobs With Justice is a

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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Restoring 'movement' to the labor movement

The Detroit-based monthly newsletter Labor Notes has emerged as the networking center for the labor reform movement. Under the slogan "Let's put the movement back in the labor movement!" Labor Notes carries news of what's best and what's worst in the unions and this year sponsored a school on how to fight for union democracy (some called it "reform school"). A biannual conference draws around 1,200 readers to workshops where they share face to face what they've learned in their own struggles. The Association for Union Democracy also puts on workshops designed to help budding reformers avoid the pitfalls set by intransigent incumbents.

Labor Notes can be reached at 7435 Michigan Ave., Detroit, MI 48210; 313-842-6262; labornotes@labornotes.org. Ask for a free sample copy. The Association for Union Democracy is at 500 State St., Brooklyn, NY 11217; aud@igc.org. Teamsters for a Democratic Union is at P.O. Box 10128, Detroit, MI 48210; tdudetroit@igc.org. —JS

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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When You're Through Reading

This special issue on the church and labor provides a vehicle for both groups and individuals to engage with the issue of worker justice, unions, and the labor movement from a faith perspective. Because of the nature of the labor issue in general, and the call to establish bonds contrary to our individualistic culture by joining together for mutual goals, the material's effect is multiplied when used in a community setting. Since a Christian spiritual perspective underlies each article, it may be most effective to use the material in connection with parishes, congregations, religious orders, Christian colleges, or other faith-based organizations.

This magazine can be a guide both for educating people and inviting them into potential and existing religion-labor connections. Using the articles and the accompanying questions, as well as the resources on the next page, many activities could be considered:

  • Organize educational gatherings in your faith community, focusing both on the history of the labor movement as well as its current activities and struggles.
  • Seek to integrate economic justice into worship services and liturgies.
  • Sign up for campaigns, write letters, and voice concerns about worker justice through the available media.
  • Contact the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice or Jobs With Justice to locate religion-labor committees in your area.
  • Form coalitions with pro-worker justice organizations.

Most important, make it a priority to reach out to other workers within your community, since it is in talking with one another that we gain a clearer sense of how different kinds of workers are being treated in their jobs.

Questions

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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Teaming Up With Labor

At recent nursing-home-worker rallies in Minneapolis, collar-wearing clergy walk among placard-carrying workers and slogan- shouting organizers. And that is just where they should be, according to some Twin Cities area religious leaders who believe that economic justice and the rights of workers are cutting-edge religious issues.

"Religion and labor together creates a kind of synergy," says Stephen Van Kuiken, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Apostles in Burnsville, Minnesota. "I'm excited about the coalitions that are developing, and that we are seeing the natural connections between religion and labor. We are both justice-minded people." Mary Rosenthal, field director of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, agrees. "There is a growing awareness and appreciation for the links and overlaps between religion and labor," she says.

Van Kuiken, Rosenthal, and other local clergy and labor leaders are at the forefront of expanding partnerships between religion and organized labor in the Twin Cities area. Two years ago, in November 1996, the first religion-labor coalition in recent memory was founded.

The Religious Alliance for a Just Global Economy (RAJGE) quickly became active in local labor issues, especially in developing religious support for organizing efforts of nursing home workers in Minneapolis. When workers at the Nile nursing home faced managerial opposition, for example, clergy attended rallies and 10 ministers signed a letter outlining rules of conduct for employers whose workers are organizing a union. Nile management is currently negotiating with Service Employees International Union Local 113.

Van Kuiken, a co-founder of RAJGE, says that his motivation to get involved came out of his faith-based commitment to justice. "I am concerned about fair labor and economic justice because of what I read in the Bible," he said.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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