Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It Takes a Village to Raise a Social Justice Organization

Parents know what it’s like to see your child one moment and wonder “How did she get so big, so strong, and so smart so suddenly?” As WIN’s founder, I kind of feel that way as we celebrate our 8th anniversary. How did an organization that started with a handful of people and enough donations to last four months become a powerful force for justice in our community?

    Although the exact way things turn out is always a bit of a mystery, what is clear is that you are the ones who have made WIN what is today: you—the active, generous members who have given of your resources and yourselves. God has worked through you to make WIN the place that workers struggling against injustice can turn to.

    Many times, people point to me and the other WIN staff members - Alfredo, Kyle, and James as the reason for our success. And I'll be the first to applaud our staff for their creativity, perseverance, and passion. But the truth is, just like it takes a village to raise a child, it also take a village to raise up a strong social justice organization. 

   So take a moment to celebrate some of the victories you’ve accomplished over the past eight years. And please add your memories, reflections, and hopes for the future - I really want to hear them!
  • June 2002: A handful of religious and labor leaders officially launched WIN this month (originally called the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice) so that people of faith would have a chance to take effective action to raise wages and improve working conditions for low-wage workers in Memphis. I started beating the bushes for interested people soon after, which is when I met many of you who showed up at a picket, sent in a donation, or opened your congregation up to learn about our work.
  • September 2003: The Memphis Living Wage Campaign is launched to press the City Council to pay City workers and contracted employees a living wage. Your action, from rallies to prayer vigils to fasting,    result in a city living wage ordinance being passed in 2006, and a county ordinance in 2007, raising the wages of thousands of workers.
  • February 2004: WIN members fill up the buses to Nashville to lobby against a proposed legislature bill that would have banned living wage ordinances in Tennessee cities, as well as any other local laws that raise workers' wages like prevailing wage laws for construction workers. You're successful in defeating it (and you defeated it again in 2009 when a similar bill was introduced).
  • February 2005: WIN joins forces with AFSCME Local 1733 and Grassroots Leadership in successfully rallying against an effort to turn control of Shelby County's Correctional Facility over to a private, for-profit company. 
  • July 2005: Fred’s warehouse workers win their first union contract, raising wages and improving working conditions after years of trying to establish a union. You helped send them to victory through a 40 Day Rolling Fast, picketing at Fred’s stores, and delegations of faith leaders to meet with management. 
  • September 2007: Ready to partner with some of Memphis’ most vulnerable workers experiencing wage theft and other violations of their basic rights, you enable WIN to launch the Memphis Workers’ Center. Today the Workers’ Center has partnered with 42 workers to recover more than $177,000 in stolen wages, workers’ compensation, and discrimination settlements.
  • April 2008: Action by WIN members leads the City Council to raise the wages of City of Memphis temporary workers from $10 an hour to $12 an hour, to make up for their lack of health care benefits.
  • April 2009: The Shelby County Commission passes a prevailing wage ordinance after WIN members join forces with the Memphis Building Trades Council to lobby for its passage. The ordinance ensures that workers on county construction projects are paid sustainable wages, and that the County receives quality work done by trained workers.
What are the significant moments that you think of in WIN's history, that led us where we are today? What lessons can we learn from our past that will help us do our work right now? What is it that drew you to get involved in the worker justice movement through WIN?


  1. Looking at memories, I think of the fast we did for the Fred's workers. Such a thing could be activated on a weekly basis or one day a month for everybody to show solidarity with the workers denied their just wages.

    Jerry Bettice

  2. I became involved with WIN just as the Living Wage ordinance was being passed - just in time to celebrate what so many others had worked on for so long! What drew me in was the simple, faithful idea that people should be paid fairly for the work they do. Watching the workers center grow and impact more and more people in our community is a real joy. Sometimes working for justice can seem like an overwhelming goal - but WIN offers so many easy, manageable ways to make a big difference. Support WIN with your money and/or with your time - either way your support will directly help workers ..... and absolutely come to the Labor Day Picnic. It's lots of fun! Peace, and congratulations to WIN on turning 8! Rev. Renee Dillard

  3. It's amazing and inspiring to think of all the success that WIN and its members have had in such a short time. I'm so grateful to WIN for making Shelby County a better, fairer, place, and for allowing me to more actively love my neighbor.

  4. One of my first memories of WIN was handing out flyers in Fred's parking lot and engaging a few souls in conversation. Most of the customers were wage workers themselves and a few turned around and didn't shop at Fred's! I also loved handing out flyers at The Happy Mexican Restaurant and having the manager settle the back wages on the spot!