Friday, August 27, 2010

UT Health Science Center Refuses to Allow Clergy, Laid Off Workers to Enter Administration Building

   In the eight years that I've been director of Workers Interfaith Network, I've been part of numerous clergy delegations that have attempted to talk to managers and owners about working conditions and problems in the workplaces. In a number of cases, we have managed to talk to a plant manager or similar person. I can think of only one occasion in which a company in a small town, which was notoriously unsafe and discriminatory in their practices, would not allow our delegation to even enter the building.     
   I certainly expected that when a delegation of clergy joined workers laid off from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) yesterday to talk about the layoffs, that we would be able to speak to someone from the Chancellor's Office. Instead, we were greeted by a security guard and a police officer (we must have looked like an intimidating group!) who would not allow us to enter the lobby because we did not have an appointment. When a representative of the United Campus Workers asked if security could call the Chancellor's office to let them know we were there, because he had already made multiple attempts to make an appointment, the security guard claimed he did not have the phone number of the Chancellor's office. I wonder how we would have contacted them if we had an appointment if he doesn't have the phone number? I guess I am naive, but I expected that a state institution would behave at least as well as the many union-busting private companies I have visited over the years.
   The refusal of UTHSC officials to return letters and calls from workers and the union, as well as their refusal to allow us to set foot in the lobby of a state building, are signs of much more serious concerns. Even though UTHSC has received over $30 million in stimulus money from the federal ARRA and state MOE funds, that money has not been used to save jobs. Thirty-three workers were laid off this month, including long-time employees like Michele Burrell, who has posted a you tube video outlining workers' concerns about the way that were laid off, severance, and recall rights. 
    Two of the laid-off workers I spoke with on Wednesday are single mothers who were making very modest salaries, leaving them totally unprepared for a layoff. Since workers did not get any advanced notice of the layoffs, not even one day, how could they have prepared? One of the women has a disabled son that she does not know how she will care for; the other asked where she could get health insurance after September 30th because there is no possible way she can afford COBRA. 
    The demographics of who was included in the layoffs is also of concern. While Chancellor Schwab is paid $550,000 a year by UT, many laid off workers were making less than $25,000 annually. When 18 of the laid off workers are African-American women, 10 are white women, and 5 are white men, you have to wonder if gender and racial discrimination could have been at work in decisions about who would be laid off. Because UTHSC has not disclosed what methods they used to decide on layoffs (such as seniority or performance reviews), there is no way to check for possible discrimination. 
   What do workers want?
1. UTHSC should use recovery money to stop additional layoffs.
2. Laid off workers should have recall rights for new positions that come open, and/or placement into currently open UTHSC positions.
3. Workers deserve severance pay that is equal to that of other laid off state of Tennessee workers. UTHSC workers received less than six weeks severance (with no notice of layoffs) while other state and higher education workers have received up to four months of salary and up to two years of tuition assistance. Because the current severance package only goes through September 30th, workers will not be eligible for any possible bonus money the state may give.
4. UTHSC should fully disclose how layoffs were conducted to verify there weren't irregularities or discrimination based on race, gender, or age.
    You can support laid off UTHSC workers by calling Chancellor Schwab's office at 901-448-4796. Urge him to use federal stimulus money to save workers' jobs, and call on him to meet with laid off workers to hear their concerns. You can also send an email on United Campus Workers' website.
   UT needs to know that the Memphis community wants stimulus funds to be used for their proper purpose: preventing layoffs in a time where it will be incredibly difficult for workers to find new jobs. 


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Vote in the Faith and Labor Picnic Contest for the Chance to Win a Free Family Ticket!

It's week two in our contest for two free family tickets to the Faith and Labor Picnic, coming up in just two weeks on Labor Day! Six people responded to my invitation to post their best reason for coming to the Faith and Labor Picnic. Now, you can enter the contest for a free family ticket to the picnic (worth $30) by voting for your favorite reason.

How to enter the contest:

1) Read the six reasons below and decide which one gets your vote.

2) Post a comment with your vote and your full name. (For example: My vote is for reason #4, Rebekah Gienapp). If you are not on the WIN email list, please also post your email address so I can contact you if you win. You can choose to post your comment using the "anonymous" profile, but you must include your name to be entered in the contest.

3) One winner will be drawn at random from all those who vote. The other winner will be the person whose reason gets the most votes.

Reason #1
I love the picnic because of the way it brings together good-hearted folks of different faiths, colors and ages. Every year when I look out at the crowd, I feel I'm getting a glimpse of God's kingdom.

Reason #2

I think going to the picnic would be wonderful experience. I would meet and learn so much for regulars. I usually volunteer to help others but it will be a great experience. I'm very interested in helping other get the wages they need in order to support their families. I think having picnic will unite so many different backgrounds to a common goal.

Reason #3
The best reason to attend the picnic is to interact with others who have experienced discrimination in hiring, pay, and job loss. The more people that share their experiences, the more of a 'working force' we become.

Reason #4
Last chance to show off your white summer sandals.

Reason #5

This will be my eighth (8) year of having a freedom holiday, free from labor such as cooking for my family. They all know that on Labor Day nothing is being served at my house, I have attended every Faith and Labor Picnic since its inception. I encourage them to attend also, and most do attend each year. By doing so, they are supporting a very worthy organization, Workers Interfaith Network. The picnic is its most effective fundraiser each year. WIN is consistently working to improve the conditions in which many low wage workers have to endure in their struggle to provide for themselves and their families. I don't know of a more hardworking group of people than the committed Staff and Volunteers of Workers Interfaith Network.

What great fun my family and I always have at these family oriented picnics, there are activities for children, good food and fellowship, door prizes and even entertainment for the whole family. Don't pass us this opportnunity to serve other while you are being served. I encourage you to come see for yourself and leave the cooking to someone else.

Come out and support WIN, and you will be glad that you did.

Reason #6
It is a fun way to support WIN who helps those in need--"one of the least of these."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Contest: Win a free family ticket to the Faith and Labor Picnic

What's the best reason to attend WIN's Faith and Labor Picnic, coming up soon on Labor Day, September 6th at Trinity United Methodist Church in Midtown? Since this is our 8th picnic, we figure those of you that have been joining in for years know best what makes it a great event. So we're holding our first ever picnic contest to get your feedback.

We'll be giving away two family tickets to the Picnic. Here's how it will work:

1. In the comments section on this blog entry, tell us what you think is the best reason to attend the picnic by Monday, August 16th at 5:00 p.m. Providing a reason to attend the picnic will get you 5 entries in our contest for a free family ticket (worth $30). Please include your first and last name in the comment so we can follow up with you if you are the winner. Remember, the more creative your reason, the more likely you are to get votes from your fellow WIN supporters! If you need some ideas, check out my list of reasons from last year.

2. Next week I'll write a new blog post with all the reasons to attend the picnic that all of you have come up with. An email will be sent out to the WIN list, inviting people to vote on what they think is the best reason to attend the picnic. Each vote will get 1 entry into the contest for a free family ticket.

3. One family ticket will be awarded to the person who got the most votes for the best reason to attend the picnic. Another family ticket will be awarded at random from all the entries made by posting a reason or by voting for a reason.

And while you're thinking about the Picnic, why not become a sponsor? Our goal is to raise $4,640 from individual sponsors this year, and we're only $770 away from reaching that goal. Make a difference for Memphis workers all year round by sponsoring the picnic today. You can also buy tickets to the picnic on WIN's website.

If you'd like to volunteer the day of the picnic, we'll need lots of help setting up, serving food, running games, taking tickets, cleaning up and more. Please contact Picnic chairperson KC Warren if you would like to volunteer, or Picnic committee member Joanne Rhea if you are willing to bake homemade cookies for the picnic.

I look forward to hearing all of your great ideas about why the Picnic is not to be missed!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Living Wage Would Make Huge Difference to U. of Memphis Workers

      Can the University of Memphis afford to pay its workers a living wage? With state budget cuts, it's certainly a legitimate question. It's interesting how when low-wage workers, who need a raise the most, call for a living wage, people ask about the cost. But can the University really afford to pay Athletic Director R.C. Johnson $307,500 (which is even more than President Raines earns)? His pay is 21 times higher than what some janitorial workers at the University make, and I don't hear a lot of questions about his pay.

      I'm not saying that janitorial workers at the University and Director Johnson or President Raines should all be paid the same salary. But I do believe that the University has a moral obligation to make sure all its workers earn at least enough that they aren't forced to live in poverty. Or work two or three jobs to make ends meet, and therefore can rarely spend time with their children. Or have to apply for Food Stamps just to put groceries on the table. Until all workers at the University are paid a living wage, perks like company cars and entertainment budgets - only available to a handful of top-paid people - should be put on hold.

     Unlike some town-gown relationships, the University of Memphis shows real concern for the problems like poverty and crime that so many people in our city struggle with. One example of that concern is two living wage studies that the University of Memphis' Center for Research on Women produced in 1999 and in 2002.  These studies helped WIN determine the living wage rate for the City of Memphis and Shelby County living wage ordinances. Now the University has the opportunity to set an example for all employers in our community by paying a living wage to its own employees. You can help press the University to do this by signing WIN's petition to President Raines.

     The benefits of a living wage to workers are pretty obvious. Not having to worry about whether you can pay the rent, buy enough groceries, and get the school clothes your child needs is just one benefit. If you've had to work a second job to pay the bills, quitting it gives you time to spend with your children, become more involved in their education, or be active in the community.

     But there are significant benefits to paying a living wage for employers too. For example, when the San Francisco Airport began paying a living wage, turnover among security screeners dropped from 95 percent to just 19 percent. Less turnover means more experienced workers, and less time spent on recruitment and training. A study of the Los Angeles living wage ordinance found that absenteeism among workers went down after the living wage was implemented, boosting productivity.

    I'm glad that so much research demonstrates that living wage is good for both employers and employees. What's most important, is that businesses, including the University, recognize their moral obligation to their workers. The workers who make the University's success possible should be rewarded with wages that are at least enough to keep them out of poverty. If you agree that a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay, please sign the petition to President Raines today.