Wednesday, December 23, 2009

IRS Tips for Making Charitable Donations

The end of the tax year is rapidly approaching, and lots of donors are making their final charitable gifts to their favorite charities. So many of you have shown such generosity to WIN this year, and I'm so grateful to each of you.

I thought it was a good time for a few reminders:

It's not too late to make a year end gift to Workers Interfaith Network. You can donate online through Dec. 31 and it will still be counted for this tax year. If you give by check, the check must be mailed no later than Dec. 31 (send to WIN, 3035 Directors Row, B - 1207, Memphis, TN 38131.

Your generous gift of any size will enable WIN to do the following in 2010:
  • partner with the growing number of workers to recover stolen wages from their employers.
  • press government agencies and elected officials at the federal, state, and local levels to do more to protect workers from dangerous working conditions and wage theft.
  • offer more training opportunities to low-wage workers, including safety training classes for construction workers and English as a Second Language classes.
Also, I thought folks might want to know a few things that the IRS wants you to know about making charitable contributions:
  • To be deductible, charitable contributions must be made to qualified organizations. Most organizations can tell you whether they are qualified. As a 501(c)(3) organization, WIN is a qualified organization.
  • In order to deduct your charitable contributions, you must itemize deductions, using Form 1040, Schedule A.
  • Generally, monetary donations are deductible, as well as the fair market value of most property donated to a qualified organization. Special rules apply for several types of donated property, including clothing, household items, cars, and boats.
  • If your contribution entitles you to receive merchandise, goods, or services in return - such as admission to a charity banquet or sporting event - you can only deduct the amount that is more than the fair market value of the benefit you received. Small items that have only a token value do not affect the deductibility of your contribution.
  • Regardless of the amount your donate, it is important to keep good records of contributions made. Cash contributions require a receipt. Keep cancelled checks or a bank or credit card statement, a payroll deduction record, or a written record from the charity that contains the date and amount of the contribution alsong with your name. (For donations to WIN, the thank you letter we send you contains all the necessary information you'll need, so be sure to keep it.)
  • Only contributions actually made during the tax year can be deducted. So if you pledged to give $500 to a charity during the year, but only gave $200 by Dec. 31, only the $200 is deductible.
  • Include credit card charges and payments by check in the year they are given to the charity, even if you do not actually pay the credit card bill or have your bank account debited until the next year.
  • For any contribution of $250 or more, you must have a written acknoweldgement from the organization to validate your donation. It must include the amount given or a description of property donated, and whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchnage for the gift. (Again, thank you letters from WIN provide all this information.)
  • To deduct charitable contributions of noncash items that are valued at $500 or more, you must complete Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, and attach the form to your tax return.
  • If you are donating a noncash item worth more than $5,000, generally you must obtain an appraisal.
More information is available from the IRS in Publication 526, Charitable Contributions.

Hope this helps as you finish your year-end giving!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Worker Friendly Gift Ideas

Exciting news! Workers Interfaith Network has just updated our Worker Friendly Shopping Guide, and posted it online for the first time ever. The guide has listings of union-made and fair trade goods and services, including gifts, food, books, candy, cars, hotels, sports, games, and more, as well as lots of everyday items you need year-round.

Here's a few ideas of how you can make your holiday more worker-friendly:

- Look for the union label. Buy goods made by workers who have union representation, who are much more likely to work under safe and fair working conditions than other workers. We  have lots of listings of union made items in our worker friendly guide. Some of our favorites from our shopping guide are cards and posters from Syracuse Cultural Workers, and jackets and scarfs from Justice Clothing Company. If you're travelling this season, be sure to find out which hotels have unionized workers, and which hotels workers are asking you to boycott.

- Buy items that are fair trade certified. There are several places in Memphis mentioned in our worker friendly guide that sell fair trade items, including the Global Goods Store at First Congregational Church and the Episcopal Book Shop. You can also visit the Fair Trade Federation for a list of their member stores, many of which have online stores.

- Consider making a gift to Workers Interfaith Network in honor of a loved one. We'll send a holiday card to your friend, family member, or co-worker, letting them know about your gift.

- If you cannot find the gift you need through a worker friendly source, consider using GoodShop for Workers Interfaith Network. GoodShop allows you to shop with most major online companies, with a percentage of the proceeds going to your favorite charity. Visit Goodshop and type "Workers Interfaith Network" into the box that says "Who Do you Goodshop for?" before selecting your online retailer to visit.

I hope these ideas help you celebrate with conscience this season.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

National Day of Action to Stop Wage Theft

Today, November the 19th is a National Day of Action to Stop Wage Theft. Thousands of workers in our city, and millions of workers across the country, face the theft of their wages by employers who pay below minimum wage, don't pay overtime, steal workers' tips, or don't pay workers at all.

Here's what you can do to take part in the national day of action:

1) See the results of our new wage theft survey. Today Workers Interfaith Network is releasing the results of our local wage theft survey of 141 low-wage workers in the Memphis area. We found that 2 out of 3 workers reported some form of wage theft. Some people assume that wage theft is only happening to Latino workers. What did our survey find out about whether race made a difference in rates of wage theft? Check out the results on WIN's website to find out.

2) Read Wendi Thomas's excellent column on wage theft that she wrote for The Commercial Appeal today.

3) Call your Congressional Representative and urge him/her to co-sponsor HR 3303, the Wage Theft Prevention Act. This legislation does away with a statute of limitation that only gives the Department of Labor 2 years to investigate a wage theft claim, and it lets workers file private wage theft lawsuits against employers while the Department of Labor is conducting its investigation. Right now too many workers' wage theft cases are being closed because the Department of Labor couldn't investigate them in time. This legislation would help change that.

Congressman Cohen can be reached at (202) 225-3265. Live in a different district, or aren't sure who your Representative is? Click here and enter your zip code to find out.

4) Make a donation to Workers Interfaith Network so that we can expand our wage theft work in the coming year.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Wild West of Wage Theft

First, please accept my apologies for not posting for a whole month. At Workers Interfaith Network, we've been so busy getting ready for an exciting new statewide collaboration kicking off next week that I let my blogging slide!

You don't want to miss the community hearing on wage theft and hazardous working conditions that are happening across Tennessee next week on Nov. 5 - 7th. We're calling it "Reining in the Wild West Economy: Bringing Back Tennessee's Labor Standards."

Why the reference to the wild west? Because for lots of workers in Memphis and throughout the state, there's fear all around. Fear that they won't be paid for all the work they do. Fear that they'll fall off a scaffold because their contractor hasn't provided a safety harness. Fear that if they complain, they'll be fired. Fear that when they do face wage theft or a job that makes them risk their lives, no one else will have their back.

The state of Tennessee's workplaces reminds us of the wild west because there's not many consequences for employers who cheat workers out of their pay and refuse to keep workers safe. Laws that protect workers rights in our state are weak. At both the federal and state levels, there's not enough investigators at government agencies to follow up on all the safety and wage complaints that workers file. And government agencies need to do a better job at cooperating with community organizations who have earned the trust of low-wage workers.

That's why WIN helped form the Tennessee Worker Justice Network, a new coalition of worker rights groups across the state. Together, we'll be campaigning to get the Tennesseee legislature and the Tennessee Department of Labor to do more to protect worker rights.

The first step is a series of community hearings next week. The Memphis hearing will be held Saturday, Nov. 7th at 1:00 p.m. at Gifts of Life Ministries, 1542 Jackson Ave. The Knoxville hearing in on Thursday Nov. 5th and the Nashville hearing is on Friday Nov. 6th (find details on all three events on our website.)

You'll hear first hand testimony about wage theft and hazardous working conditions from workers, union leaders, a pastor, and an attorney. You'll also learn what we'll be calling on our government agencies and the legislature to do specifically to uphold workers rights. And, most importantly, you'll learn how you can make a difference for workers who are facing a wild west economy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wage Theft Repeat Offenders All Too Common

This Thursday, WIN invites you to join in a picket at Ranger Construction Company. WIN members are gathering at 9:00 a.m. on October 1st outside the company offices at 6058 Raleigh LaGrange Rd.

Why? Because Juan Diaz and Juan De Dios Cano worked at Ranger and were not paid for the 29 hours they worked. This was in April, but it's not our first contact with Ranger. Last year, 3 Ranger workers also contacted WIN because they hadn't been paid. Pressure on the company caused them to pay up last year.

When my co-worker, Alfredo Pena, called up Ranger this time, a supervisor said "we're not in the habit of not paying our workers." The evidence suggests this isn't true. Like a lot of companies, Ranger seems to be using wage theft as one of its business practices.

Even as someone who works daily on wage theft, I was shocked at the level of wage theft a new study found. "Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers" surveyed more than 4,000 low-wage workers in the three largest cities in America - New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Here's just a few things that they found:

  • 1 in 4 workers had been paid less than the legal minimum wage in the past week. The minimum wage violations were serious. 60% of those who had been victimized were underpaid by more than $1 an hour.
  • Of those who had worked overtime (more than 40 hours in a workweek), a shocking 3 out of 4 were not paid legally required overtime wages.
And this is in cities where local and state governments take stronger action against wage theft than in Memphis! 

Wage theft is clearly not just a few bad apples ruining the bunch. It's a widespread problem that's happening at the systemic level. And it's causing the suffering of millions of workers who can't make ends meet despite their hard work. 

If you're ready to tackle the problem, here are a few ideas:
  • sign up for WIN's action alert email list so you can make your voice heard when wage theft happens in the Mid-South. 
  • fight wage theft at the systemic level by becoming a member of WIN. Your membership will be used to advocate for better enforcement of wage laws at the local, state, and national levels. And, now through Dec. 15th, your new membership gift will be matched dollar for dollar by another WIN member!
  • speak up when wage theft happens to you. If you've been a victim of not getting paid overtime, pay below the minimum wage, not being paid for all your hours, or not being paid at all, contact WIN.

Friday, September 11, 2009

In Memory of Glenn Booth: A Photo Slideshow

I am mourning the loss of my dear friend Glenn Booth, who died on Labor Day weekend. Glenn and I became friends at church. It was clear from the start that even though Glenn was big on jokes and liked to have fun, he was very serious about the need for justice for people who were taken advantage of.

Glenn had an extradionary gift for photography, and carried his camera with his almost everywhere. Over WIN's seven year history, Glenn took hundreds of photographs of our prayer vigils, Labor Day picnics, rallies, and actions at City Hall. To honor the wonderful gift Glenn offered of his talents, I've created a slideshow of just a few of my favorite pictures that he took over the years.

Monday, August 31, 2009

10 Reasons You'll Be Glad You Came to the Faith and Labor Picnic

It's hard to believe another year has gone by, and it's time for the Faith and Labor Picnic. Held on Labor Day, this year's picnic is WIN's seventh one. Because of your participation and generosity, the picnic has grown from about 50 people the first year to more than 415 last year, and raising more than $25,000 to make Mid-South workplaces more just!

I hope you'll join me at the Picnic, September 7th, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church in Midtown, at the corner of Galloway and Evergreen.

On the fence about whether you want to come? Here's my 10 top reasons why you should:

10. Let's face it: cookouts just aren't as much fun when you have to be the cook. Save yourself the work and let us do the cooking for you.

9. We've got the fixins for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. Even your pickiest eaters will love the assortment of homemade cookies to choose from.

8. Everybody has just a little bit of aggression built up inside. The dunk tank is a great way to release it! If you know this year's dunkees - Pete Gathje, Jacob Flowers, and Brad Watkins - it's even more fun.

7. Danza Azteca Quetzalcoatl, the dance group we've added to our entertainment lineup this year, is amazing. Don't believe me? Check out this picture from the Commercial Appeal of their recent performance at the Native American Indian Association's Powwow.

6. Could you use a $25 gift card to Kroger? Like to have a beautiful piece of Frank D. Robinson's artwork or some handmade jewelry? How about a few boxes of Kellogg's cereal? You'll have the chance to win these doorprizes - and more - when you attend the picnic. About 50 doorprizes are given away, so you have a great chance of winning.

5. The picnic is your chance to hear Congressman Cohen speak about the Employee Free Choice Act and health care reform without a bunch of tea party hecklers trying to drown him out with their screaming.

4. When you buy a ticket to the picnic, you're raising critically needed funds for WIN's Workers' Center. You are making sure that workers have a place in Memphis where they can learn about their rights, and how to stand up for those rights.

3. Once you let your kids spend an hour jumping up and down in the Moonbounce, they'll pass out once you get home a leave you a peaceful hour to yourself.

2. Been curious about how you can plug into the progressive community in Memphis? Lots of groups besides WIN will have informational booths, including the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, Memphis Area Women's Council, and the Memphis AFL-CIO. You'll also have the chance to meet a number of candidates for local office - find out what their positions are on issues you care about!

1. You deserve to CELEBRATE what you have accomplished with WIN! Recovering more than $152,000 in unpaid wages, workers compensation, and discrimination settlements. Stopping a repeal of the city and county living wage ordinances. Educating more than 400 workers on their rights. These things are a big deal, and they happened because of your generosity and action! Come celebrate with other WIN members, and lay the foundation for future victories.

The party won't be the same without you! See you on Labor Day, Sept. 7th at Trinity United Methodist Church (1738 Galloway Ave.) Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids ages 5 - 12, or a maximum of $30 per family.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Women and Work: Bridging Women's Struggles Across Borders

This Tuesday night, August 25th, you have the opportunity to hear the stories of four amazing women who are struggling for justice in the workplace. WIN is holding a forum called Women and Work: Bridging Women's Struggles Across Borders at 7:00 p.m. at Balmoral Presbyterian Church, located at 6413 Quince Rd.

What's it like to work in the banana plantations of Guatemala as a woman? How do you work with your union to defend your rights, and get your union to focus on protecting women from violence? Carmen Molina knows. Carmen, the first woman to be on the negotiation team of her banana workers' union in Guatemala, will be our featured speaker at the forum. She is touring the United States through a great organization called STITCH, which connects the struggles of women workers seeking justice in Central America and the United States.

What was it like to be the one of the first women sanitation workers in Memphis, and to help cafeteria workers at Memphis City Schools establish a union? Brenda Sheilds, chief steward for the Service Employees International Union Local 205, will share her experiences at the forum.

What are the challenges that immigrant women workers face in the United States? How can we support women's struggles for justice at work? Cristina Condori, a domestic worker orginally from Argentina, and a leader in WIN's Memphis Workers' Center, will also speak at the forum.

Finally, Dr. Keri Brondo, an assistant anthropology professor at the University of Memphis will help us make connection between women's struggles in low-wage workplace. Keri's research includes studying women women's struggles for justice in Central America.

Come talk with the amazing women who are organizing for justice, and find out how you can be part of the struggle! Join us Tuesday, August 25th at 7:00 p.m. at Balmoral Presbyterian Church. For more information, contact me at (901) 332-3570 or

Friday, August 7, 2009

Reform, Not Raids

It's not hard to see that the current immigration system discourages undocumented workers from speaking up for their rights in the workplace and encourages employers to take advantage of immigrant workers' rights. Even though laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, which guarantee workers the right to the minimum wage, cover all who work regardless of their immigration status, in reality many immigrant workers are afraid that if they speak up about stolen wages, they risk deportation. Several workers who came to WIN after not getting paid for their work have told us their employer threatened to call immigration if they asked for their pay again.

As this article in The American Prospect demonstrates, union organizers can tell story after story of how, once union organizing drives began, ICE raids begin to talk place at a company to try to intimidate workers from organizing.

And of course, immigration raids tear apart mothers and fathers from their children. For people of faith, immigration policy must be about protecting the human rights of all and ensuring hospitality for our neighbors.

We must fix our broken immigration system with real reform that includes a path to citizenship for workers already in this country if we want justice in our workplaces. Many of us working for immigration reform had high hopes for the Obama administration changing the misguided immigration policies of the Bush Administration, but a series of actions by DHS Secretary Janet Nopalitano have advocates seriously concerned that the administrations action and rhetoric are not matching up:

- the decision to expand the controversial 287(g) program, which deputizes local police to be immigration agents. Davidson County (Nashville) Police participates in the program, which activists say encourages racial profiling of Hispanics, and has a chilling effect on immigrants willingness to report when they've been the victims of crime. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has criticized the program for not rooting out violent criminal, the supposed purpose of the program. The most disastrous example of the 287(g) program abusing immigrants' rights is in Arizona, where Sherriff Joe Arpaio has arrested thousands of Latinos, many on traffic stops, which has led to lawsuits accusing the department of racial profiling.

- expansion of the E-verify program, an electronic database employers are supposed to be able to use to verify the employment eligibility of new hires. Secretary Nopalitano has announced that all federal contractors will be requiring to use E-verify beginning this fall. Organizations including the National Immigration Law Center have criticized the database for being riddled with errors that would bar many citizens from being able to work.

- ICE continues to carry out harsh and frightening raids, often devastating entire communities like Postville, IA. Raids give the illusion of addressing the immigration crisis without addressing any of the causes of illegal immigration.

It is encouraging that ICE announced last week that it intends to reform the nation's immigration detention system. Human rights organizations have criticized the deplorable conditions of some facilities, and the denial of due process to immigrants detained there. A hunger strike by detainees in a Louisiana facility began last week over unsanitary conditions, and being denied the right to speak to family members.

For those of who care about the rights of immigrant workers, now is the time to lift our voices and call upon the Obama administration to focus on real reform, not raids and other misguided enforcement measures. Change will only come when we push our leaders to live up to their promises.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Working labor into our worship

It's hard to believe, but Labor Day is just a month away. For those of us who to help others understand the connection between faith and work, Labor Day weekend worship services are an ideal time to teach our fellow congregations members and help them to find ways to act for worker justice.
Congregations all across the country have found ways to work labor in their worship services. Here are some of the best ideas I've come across:

1) Encourage congregation members to wear their regular work clothes, and/or bring symbols of their work with them. If it's appropriate in your tradition, invite people to bring those symbols to the altar area as a symbol of offering their entire lives to God.

2) Use prayers and litanies that cry out for justice for workers. This year, WIN's national organization, Interfaith Worker Justice, has made a number of resources on both health care and wage theft available.

3) Offer a special adult education class that weekend that teaches what your faith tradition or denomination's contribution is to the struggle for worker justice. Not sure what that might be? Interfaith Worker Justice is another great place to find out. They have kits specific to Methodists, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Buddhists.

4) Educate your congregation about wage theft by including an insert in your bulletin. WIN has put a half page insert together that offers a reflection on one side, and action steps on the opposite side. I know some clergy just hate putting in inserts, but people need something to read when they get to worship early! The insert is available in a version appropriate for Christian congregations, and one for Jewish congregations.

5) Set up a letter writing table where people can write short, handwritten postcards or letters to their members of Congress. When you've helped people connect faith and work, they're going to want to do something about it (well, many of them are!) If you'd like a sample letter on wage theft or raising the minimum wage, contact me and I'll draft one for your congregations.

6) If you have low-wage workers in your congregation, Labor Day weekend is a good time to provide them with some education about their rights. WIN can provide resources in English and in Spanish, or we can schedule a speaker for your congregation. Contact my co-worker Alfredo Pena for more information.

7) If you have a mid-week study group or an adult education class looking for a topic, what about showing a film related to workers' rights? A good one is Made in LA, which tells the story of three immigrant women in the garment industry struggling for their rights. Organizers have even made up a special kit for people of faith who want to host screenings.

8) And don't forget to invite folks to come to WIN's Faith and Labor Picnic on Labor Day! It's a blast and if our one annual fundraiser for the organization.

I'd love to hear what other ideas you have too about how to help congregations make the faith and labor connection this year!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wage theft robs workers of normal life

Wage theft happens with alarming frequency in Shelby County and throughout the nation. Workers Interfaith Network (WIN) gets new calls each week from workers who were cheated by their employers. Some are getting paid below the minimum wage, some never see overtime show up on their paychecks, while others just don't get paid at all.

A common theme in these cases is that workers have been robbed not only of their wages, but also of the ability to lead a normal life. Rabbi Mordechai Liebling has written that being paid less than a living wage is "also a theft of [workers'] dignity, [because] their hard work is not good enough to support themselves." This is even more true of wage theft.

Take the example of Sharon, a daycare worker who contacted WIN in May because her employer, New Horizon Children's Academy, has not paid her her final paycheck. Sharon took the job there for $6.55 an hour after leaving a situation of domestic violence, determined to build a new life for herself and her two children. But she soon found her employer didn't keep a regular paydate, and she often had to wait days to get her pay. Fed up, she quit her job, and she has still not been paid $373 for her last week of work. $373 may not sound like a lot to you, but to a worker like Sharon, that's money for her basic necessities she doesn't have.

WIN tries to always offer employers like New Horizons the high road first. We contacted the owner, explaining the federal and state laws they had broken, and offering to negotiate a payment plan to restore Sharon's wages to her. Because they have failed to respond to negotiation attempts, WIN will be holding a prayer vigil outside New Horizons (514 N. Manassas) on Thursday, August 6th at 9:00 a.m. Please come out and support Sharon in her struggle for justice.

Workers' Centers like WIN's are fighting wage theft all across the country, primarily using community pressure and worker organizing to win back wages. For example, take a look at this video series on the wage theft work of Arise Chicago.

But to make a real dent in wage theft, government agencies have to do their jobs too. That's why worker rights organizations across the country, including WIN and our national organization, Interfaith Worker Justice, are pushing Congress for reforms in the Department of Labor. Last week, an important first step happened when Rep. George Miller introduced legislation that freezes the statue of limitations on wage theft complaints once workers complain to a government agency about not being paid. The legislation came about after the Government Accountability Office report found that the Department of Labor often failed to investigate wage theft cases in a timely manner, especially when employers deliberately dragged their feet so that the statue of limitations would be reached.

More is needed - there should be tougher penalties against employers who are repeat offenders. Workers need to be provided pay stubs so they can see if they've been paid for all their hours. And workers need to be protected from retaliation by their employers if they go public with their situation of wage theft. For those things to happen, workers and their allies will have to push for them. That's what WIN is here for - please join us in the fight.