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!