Thursday, December 27, 2012

My justice resolutions

by Rebekah Gienapp

New Year's is the perfect time to reflect on what we want to be different in our own lives. But it's also a great time to think about what we want to be different in the world. As Gandhi is supposed to have said (but apparently might not have): "you must be the change you wish to see in the world."

Since I will soon be leaving the WIN staff and becoming a volunteer just like you, I wanted to make some social justice resolutions. After all, my passion for worker rights hasn't changed, just my job. 

Here are my resolutions:

1. I will go out of my way to show respect and gratitude to the people who do work on my behalf. Whether that's the waiter who brings me dinner, the postal worker who sells me stamps, and yes even the telephone support person I have to talk to who isn't allowed to bend the rules, I'll express my appreciation. After all, being ignored, disrespected, and having other people's mistakes taken out of them are all common experiences for these workers. 

2. I will spend more time in reflection and prayer, so I can better understand God's justice and what God asks of me. I'll be honest: directing WIN and raising an infant (while also moving into a new house) have led to a pretty pitiful spiritual life for me recently. But unless I know who I am and whose I am, I'll be easily distracted away from God's vision for my life and for our world.

3. I will respond to action alerts, even when I fear the cause may be hopeless. I'm specifically thinking of our state legislature, where things look bleak. But I have been surprised many times before. Terrible bills have been stopped because enough people raised their voices. I believe it can happen again, so I will pick up the phone to make that call and I will write that email, even if I fear the recipient of that email is destroying our democracy.

4. I will give my financial support to justice causes. My family is going to unfortunately have to trim some of our charitable giving since we're becoming a one income family. But we'll make sure to continue supporting groups that get down to the root causes of poverty, like Workers Interfaith Network (of course), Interfaith Worker Justice, Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, and Community Shares. Small grassroots groups like these know that while charity is needed, it's not enough.

Do you have any resolutions this year that will help you seek and create justice in our world? I'd love to hear them!

Monday, December 10, 2012

WIN is hiring a bilingual organizer for our Workers' Center

Help spread the word: we're searching for a bilingual (English/Spanish) organizer for our Memphis Workers' Center.

If you or someone you know cares about social justice and wants to organize alongside low-wage workers, this is the job for you!

The position will start March 1st. Right now, we're only gauranteeing the position through the end of 2013. It might become a permanent position after that time, depending on how other WIN staff positions are allocated for 2014.

Check out the job description and how to apply on our website.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What does wage theft look like?

       Wage theft has many different faces, and they're all ugly. There are so many ways that unscrupulous businesses are cheating workers. As we push the Shelby County Commission to pass a wage theft ordinance, I want to share just a few examples of what wage theft looks like.

       Take the example of Jenny Meyers,* a Rhodes College student who worked at the downtown TGI Friday' as a waitress. Her typical day as a server was, for the most part, pretty good. But then she began to notice something. Sometimes her paychecks had big gaps in them that didn't make sense. "I'd be missing $100, $150, and I had to make sure I scrutinized my check and kept up with everything," Jenny says. She started writing down all the tips customers left her on credit cards and keeping receipts. She later found out the payroll manager had been stealing her tips, along with those of other servers.

     That wasn't the only wage theft Jenny experienced at the restaurant. On nights when her tips didn't bring her up to the hourly minimum wage, the restaurant would claim that she received more cash tips than she actually did. That way they would not have to pay the difference between her tips and federal minimum wage, like the law requires restaurants to do. "I'd go in on a school night when I had a test the next day, come home at 2:00 am from closing, exhausted, with only $15," Jenny says.

     The experience of Jamal Jones* shows another kind of wage theft. He works as an oil change technician. At his current job at working for a shop in Bartlett that is part of a national chain, he's been asked by his manager to work on cars when he was on his unpaid lunch break.

    At another oil change shop where Jamal worked for 7 months, he was expected to work off the clock on an almost daily basis. Whenever there were no cars in the shop, his supervisor would tell him to clock out. But he had to stay on the job, and clean the shop while he wasn't being paid. As soon as another car would drive up, he was told to clock back in.

     Jamal knows of plenty of other employees at oil change shops who are asked to work while on break. Workers are often afraid they'll lose their jobs if they say no. "You're not being forced," he says, "but at the same time, it's a thing you can't do anything about. It makes you feel like you're being used, like you don't have rights."

     Jenny and Jamal's stories are just the tip of the iceberg. National research shows that 2 out of 3 low-wage workers experience wage theft. That's why we need a Shelby County wage theft ordinance now. Want to get involved in the campaign for the ordinance? We'd love to have your participation.

*name has been changed

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A big transition is coming at WIN

It's with very mixed emotions that I let you know I will be stepping down as WIN's executive director on January 15th. The experience of motherhood has changed my life, and I've decided that what's best for my family is to stay at home full-time with our son.

I can't tell you how many ways serving as WIN's executive director has blessed me over the past 10 years. The passion and generosity of members like you have allowed us to win victories I didn't imagine were possible when we started. The courage and persistence of so many workers who risked their livelihood inspired me to keep going even when the opposition was powerful.

Because I'm WIN's founding director, and I'm often the public face you see representing the organization, you might be wondering what's going to happen next.

I want to assure you that WIN will still be doing the same vital work of standing up against injustice with some of Memphis' most vulnerable workers. We're simply starting the next chapter in our work.

Alfredo Pena, who founded WIN's Workers' Center five years ago and has done an amazing job as its director, will be stepping up to become the interim executive director in January. I hope you'll read his letter introducing himself below. Next year, our board of directors will take the time needed to do a thorough search process for a permanent executive director.

While I'm often credited for our work, the truth is that the vast majority of our successes are because of other people: my amazing co-workers, our volunteers, and members like you. This work is so much bigger than one person - it always has been and always will be.

I'll still be a familiar face, just as a WIN volunteer rather than a staff person. I look forward to joining you, whether it's on the picket lines or at the Faith and Labor Picnic. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your director. Your trust, your support, your prayers, and your friendship have meant so much.

I know you'll show that same support to Alfredo and the rest of the WIN staff as we begin this transition.

I look forward to the many amazing things you'll continue to achieve through WIN over the coming years!


Rebekah Gienapp

As you and I know, farewells are always sad. Here at WIN, that seems to be the feeling as we get ready for Rebekah's departure from the organization. My coworkers and I support her decision and wish her and her familly the very best.

Even though we are losing our first director, we still have so much good work to do. We will continue to unite with workers seeking justice, and I ask you to continue supporting our work here at WIN. Remember, you are the reason we have been able to achieve so many victories with workers who face unfair wages and unjust working conditions.

As you might know, I have been helping workers organize themselves at WIN's Workers' Center for the past 5 years. I have heard many sad stories of how workers and their families suffer from the actions of bad employers. Before I came to WIN, I was even a victim of wage theft myself.

The abuse against workers never seems to stop, but this  has made me commit myself even more to organizing and standing alongside workers. As WIN's interim director, one of the things I hope to bring to the organization is increased leadership by low-wage workers, alongside the people of faith and other allies who have made the organization so strong.

I would like to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to be the next director. Together with your help, we can continue building alliances with workers to seek justice wherever it is needed, just as we have been doing for the last 10 years. You can continue to make WIN grow stronger, so that Memphis workers have fair and safe places to work.

Please email me if you have any questions about WIN's work or our future plans, or if you have ideas you would like to share with me. I can also be reached at (901) 332-3570. I look forward to working with you.

Alfredo Pena

Friday, August 31, 2012

Get your 10th anniversary tee-shirt at Faith & Labor Picnic

Maybe I'm biased, but I love our new 10th anniversary tee-shirts, featuring the "Justice Served" logo by Collins Dillard. They're union-made in the USA, and we have regular tee-shirts as well as ladies' cut tees. We've only ordered 100 and I expect them to go fast. They'll be available for $15 at the Faith and Labor Picnic on Labor Day, so be sure to bring your cash, check, Visa or MasterCard.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sneak preview of silent auction items at the Faith and Labor Picnic

Want to do a little early Christmas shopping? Or just get something for yourself? Take a look at some of the great items we'll have at our silent auction at the Faith and Labor Picnic on Labor Day.

With these nesting "plarn" bags, you can be a double environmentalist. They're knitted from plastic bags, so they're super strong. Take them to the grocery store, the beach, or anywhere else you need to haul stuff.

Have a child in your life that you want to share Bible stories with in a way that's easy for them to relate to? Check out Elaine Blanchard's book and CD Help Me Remember: Bible Stories for Children.

Several artisans have donated some beautiful jewelry, including this Swarovski pearl and sterling silver necklace, earrings, and bracelet made by Anne Walton Garrison.
And this handblown glass "dream" pendant by Marjorie Levy.
Marjorie has also donated a beautiful pair of glass earrings.
I know I'm always a little stumped about what to give to the guys in my life. This handmade walnut pen and case made by Ken Burnette might be a good choice!

I love the Majestic Grille, and was so excited when they donated a $50 gift certificate.
By now you've problem seen the fabulous 10th anniversary "Justice Served" logo that Collins Dillard designed for our new WIN tee-shirts and our Picnic flyer. He'll be donating a framed print of it for the auction.
Do you (or a lady in your life) love Avon? Christine Booker has donated this Avon basket full of bath items and a jewelry set.

Potter Melissa Bridgman donated a honeypot last year, but I think this year's is even cuter! It includes a wooden honey dipper.
For all you hardcore Midtown folks, Jaime Winton has donated this Midtown Memphis print, along with matching notecards. All the letters are made from pictures she took in Midtown.
If you're a WIN activist, you might be interested in this photo book I made about our last 10 years.

Bring a little fair trade home with you with this set of 2 mugs, coffee, and chocolate from the St. John's United Methodist Church Artisan store.

If that's not enough coffee for you, we'll also have a $25 Starbucks gift card.
If you've heard John Kilzer perform at last year's Picnic or around town, I know you'll be interested in the three CD set he's donated: The Way Live (just released!), The Journey, and The Travelling Cokesburys.
If you see something you're interested in, be sure to bring some extra cash, your checkbook, or your Visa or MasterCard to the Picnic.
And just a reminder: this Monday, August 27th is the last day to get your discounted Picnic tickets on our website.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ways you can make the 10th annual Faith and Labor Picnic a success

This year's Faith and Labor Picnic will be like no other because it's WIN's 10th anniversary and our 10th Picnic! I'm so excited about celebrating your successes in upholding workers' rights, and about where your Workers Interfaith Network is headed in the next 10 years.

Here are some things you can do to make sure the Picnic raises the funds - and fun - that our movement for worker justice needs.

1) Become a Picnic sponsor. Whether you sponsor at the $1,000 or $10 level, your gift will support workers who are organizing to win living wages and to stop wage theft. If you want your name to be included in our Picnic program guide, we must receive your Picnic sponsorship by August 20th. You can sponsor online, or call (901) 332-3570.

2) Volunteer the day of the Picnic. From running the MoonBounce to serving food, it takes a lot of volunteers to keep things running smoothly. Contact me if you're willing to volunteer.

3) Get your tickets today, and get a 15% discount. Advance tickets are just $10 for adults, $5 for kids, or a maximum of $30 for families. Discounted tickets are available online until August 27th. You can can also buy discounted tickets from a WIN volunteer.

4) Bake WIN a batch of birthday cupcakes. We'll be celebrating WIN's birthday with cakes and cupcakes. If you can make homemade cupcakes for the Picnic, please contact me.

5) Have a gift card you don't plan to use? Donate it to WIN for our auction and doorprize give-a-ways at the Picnic. Mail your gift card to WIN, 3035 Directors Row, B - 1207, Memphis, TN 38131. Also, be on the lookout for our auction preview, which I'll post the week before the Picnic. This year we'll have a bigger variety of items to bid on.

6) Post a Picnic flyer at your congregation, union hall, business, or community organization. You can download an English flyer here or a Spanish flyer here.