JUST AFTER LUNCH, Eulalia Francisco shows Molly Hemstreet two pieces of white elastic bands, one of them slated for use as waistbands in a batch of woolen children’s pajamas being cut and sewed by the North Carolina-based, worker-owned cooperative Opportunity Threads.
Francisco, who had just two years of formal schooling in her native Guatemala, has noticed the elastic recommended for the sewing job is not the best choice for these pajamas. She recommends another elastic band.
Francisco is “our master sewer,” says Hemstreet, founder of Opportunity Threads, who agrees with Francisco’s suggestion and immediately orders the correct elastic.
After four years together, Francisco and Hemstreet, both worker-owners of Opportunity Threads, have a strong, trust-based working relationship. Hemstreet, an Episcopalian, earns the same wage as the other worker-owners and sees Opportunity Threads as having a spiritual component. “Before I met my husband, I thought deeply about going into cloistered work,” Hemstreet says. “I think of that whole thing of prayer and work, and that’s how I come here every day. We’re not making icons, but we’re doing work, and we do things in a joyful, prayerful way.”
The co-op grew from humble beginnings. After completing degrees in Spanish and Latin American studies at Duke University, Hemstreet moved with her husband, Francisco Risso, back to her hometown of Morganton, N.C., to open a Catholic Worker House. The local chicken plant hires many Latinos, but the work is hard and tedious, the pay not nearly a livable wage. So Hemstreet, with no formal training in business, explored the world of cooperatives, thinking it might be a good path to more meaningful and dignified employment for the Latino community.
On the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., dozens of faith leaders are calling for the U.S. presidential candidates to include a “living wage” for low-income workers in their political agendas.
For my privileged, perhaps overly comfortable children, something as trivial as our Internet being down constitutes a crisis. When we do our “gratitude inventory” (aka, a way to get them to reflect and pray), they rattle off things as a matter of routine that many people would only dream of.
So how do I explain something as alien and complex a state as being part of the working poor in a way they can have a at least a chance to internalize?
This was part of my goal in taking on My Jesus Project, a year-long endeavor to more deeply understand what we mean when we talk about following Jesus: to move from ignorance to empathy, which can only be achieved sometimes through direct, personal experiences.
For a month, I was assigned by one of my “Jesus Mentors” to go out of my way to walk and/or take public transportation to get places, with the intention that I would come into contact with people I might otherwise miss or overlook. As I did it, I realized my kids could benefit from it as well.
The first sign that they needed such an experience was that when I announced to them we were taking the bus and train to do our family activities one weekend, they were excited. It was a new experience for them, rather than a necessity. As for the mile-long walks to get from place to place when the transit system didn’t get us exactly where we were going — they were a little less thrilled with that. And yet, we slowed down more, spent more time talking, and while on the public systems, I noticed we looked each other in the eye a lot more, rather than all facing forward (with the kinds inevitably with their faces fixed on a screen) in the car.
My son, Mattias, who is on the high end of the autism spectrum, is a keen observer, and I suppose a natural byproduct of that is that he asks questions. A lot of questions.
“Dad,” he said, after jumping off the final leg of the bus route one day, “why were some of the people sleeping on the bus?”
The only way to win the “war on poverty” is for liberals and conservatives to make peace — for the sake of the poor. That would be the best way to mark the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in his January 1964 State of the Union address. Making peace means replacing ideologies with solutions that actually solve the problems of poverty. With both Republicans and Democrats speaking out on poverty this week, and the recession slowly receding this should be an opportunity to find the focus, commitment, and strategies that could effectively reduce and ultimately eliminate the shameful facts of poverty in the world’s richest nation.
For any proposal, the basic question must be whether it helps more people and families rise out of poverty and realize their dreams. This means setting aside political self-interest and thinking beyond our too often inflexible ideologies.
WASHINGTON — “All labor has dignity.” That’s what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said 50 years ago, and it’s still as true today.
Yet too many working men and women are unable to live with dignity in a world where the fastest-growing jobs are the lowest-paying ones. Just and living wages are a moral imperative, and workers must earn enough to afford the basics for themselves and their families. That’s why we have come together to support those fighting for a living wage.
As it turns out, the largest low-wage job creator in the country isn’t Wal-Mart or McDonald’s — it’s Uncle Sam. Through federal contracts, loans, and leases, the federal government employs about 2 million low-wage workersacross the country — sewing military uniforms, cleaning the bathrooms at Washington’s Union Station, serving Big Macs at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and hauling federal loads on trucks. Too many of these workers can’t even afford rent and food, they work without any benefits, and often are forced to rely on economic safety net programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and Section 8 housing vouchers to meet their basic needs.
Making matters worse, many of these workers are not compensated for overtime work and are actually paidbelow minimum wage. It’s illegal, but it happens. As faith leaders, we have visited with many of these workers and have asked President Obama to meet with them too.
If, through broader networks of power, injustice is linked, it is no less true that injustice is encountered locally in neighborhood markets, schools, churches, and even corner fast-food joints. Today it is useful to begin not with the unseen oppressive power networks in our society but with their effects on those closest to us. Just ask the single parent serving dollar ice cream at a favorite fast-food hangout if he or she would like better hourly wages.
While fast food CEOs average a daily salary of $25,000, workers at fast-food companies in New York City make only 25 percent of the money they need to survive. Single parents earning the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour are, as Jillian Berman of the Huffington Post describes, not able to survive even in America’s cheapest counties. The Wider Opportunities for Women estimates that women are 50 percent more likely than men to earn the minimum wage. Compound this with the status of single motherhood and the needs of the household intensify exponentially.
Dependent on minimum wages are children, who like any other child in the U.S., deserve access to healthy food, clothing, affordable shelter, and descent education. Within the current reconfigurations taking place in the U.S. economy, the new modes of production continue to privilege those like the CEOs of fast-food companies. Yet, as Isaiah’s ballad reminds us, these wider realities have a local impact on the everyday friend, who routinely rises every morning to try and make ends meet on meager wages. The current vineyard of the fast-food industry has not stopped producing sour grapes, which is the massive sale of cheap empty calories at the wage of $7.25 an hour.
When I think of weavers, what comes to my mind are the ladies in the back of the knitting store in my Southern California hometown, the ones who hang out on weekend afternoons with their handlooms – weaving cloth shawls, blankets, or the occasional modern tapestry.
Here, weaving is, by and large, a pastime. Some would call it an art form. The ladies in the back of the knitting shop are craft weavers. We might consider them "artisans" and laud them for mastering the truly ancient craft.
In the West, machines do most of the commercial weaving, not people. In Ethiopia, and elsewhere in the developing world, handloom weaving is most often an occupation for men and one that isn't usually heralded for its artistry. Weaving isn’t a prestigious job and, by and large, those who weave are the working poor.
Employee rights activists Mary Kay Henry and Christine L. Owens write for CNN:
Over at The Atlantic, Jordan Weissmann asks whether it is time to raise the minimum wage:
Fight global poverty, invest in agriculture. ~ Growers First
As the winter winds bite at our collars, a hot cup of coffee is a perfect antidote for healing. But what you might not consider when you sip a mug of dark roast is the economic injustices that many coffee growers around the world face.
Coffee is one of the largest cash crops in the world – the U.S.D.A. Foreign Agricultural Service reports that last year 15,689,340,000 pounds of coffee were distributed worldwide. Yet, indigenous coffee growers see only a tiny fraction of its revenue.
These are some of the reasons why fair exchange programs such as Growers First got into the coffee business — to tip the scales of economic and social inequity that has become a way of life for many coffee farmers globally in a more just direction.
Even more importantly, Growers First exists to transform lives. The non-profit based in Laguna Beach, Calif., has a powerful story of action, conflict, struggle — and ultimately hope.
I believe that there is a basic human dignity inherent in work. In fact, the Bible even makes special provisions to provide jobs for those who otherwise wouldn’t have one. But, when it comes to the messy legislative process, no one can claim God’s special favor on a particular bill. It is, however, appropriate to discuss what kind of moral principles legislation should try to promote.
In St. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he writes, “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat." Paul goes on to warn about those who are idle and the negative effect they can have on a community. It was essential that every person work for their own well-being and for the health of the entire community.
Hard work was praised by early Christians, but so was ensuring that every person was provided for. Acts 2 says “All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.”
These passages could be pitted against one another. One side argues for strict capitalist principles in which the lazy starve. The other models a communal society that shares and redistributes private property. But understood properly, they actually work together.
Where has all the sanity gone?
I, for one, never expected in my wildest dreams to pine for the days of Ronald Reagan. But I'm there.
And for everyone who is blaming "everyone" on this debt ceiling debacle, you're just dead wrong. The Democratically controlled House and Senate in the 80s did not hold President Reagan hostage when he had to raise the debt ceiling. And that is exactly what is happening. And the problem is that this is a train wreck that has been months in the coming. The only thing that we don't know is how bad the carnage will be.
After months of good-faith reforms and patience, the drama is back in Egypt's Tahrir Square as protesters are preparing for a potential showdown with the state's military rule. The movement, among other things, is demanding an end to military rule -- a more radical call that reflects both the frustration with the status quo and the hope for a better way.
Two weeks ago, at the "Day of Persistence," Egypt saw its largest resurgence of public protest since former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February. The nation-wide protests show Egyptians camping out in Cairo's Tahrir Square, staging sit-ins and blocking traffic in Alexandria, and threatening to shut down Suez's tunnel access to Sinai. So why are the people confronting -- albeit nonviolently -- an interim government that has promised elections and a new constitution? A glance at the collective demands drafted in Tahrir Square make clear that the movement's demands -- both political and economic -- have not progressed much under the military rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.