Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gov. Haslam must go farther in stopping living wage repeal

Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam stated in a national CBS story that he didn't think the state should be getting involved in local governments' decisions about passing living wage laws. But Haslam stopped short of saying whether he would veto a proposed legislature ban on local living wage ordinances.

Sign the petition to Gov. Haslam, telling him he should commit now to vetoing any ban or repeal of living wage ordinances in Tennessee communities.

What is this bill about?
For those of you who are new to the living wage fight here in Tennessee, here's some background. In 2006, the City of Memphis passed our state's first living wage ordinance, require the City's contractors to pay workers at least $10.27 an hour with health insurance, or $12.32 an hour without insurance. In 2007, Shelby County passed a similar law for their local government contractors.

The logic behind these laws is simple: workers on government contracts are doing work for the City and are paid by taxpayer dollars. Therefore, the City has a special responsibility to make sure its resources are not being used to create poverty jobs.

Ever since activists like you got these living wage laws passed, state legislators (including many who don't live anywhere near Shelby County) have tried to get these laws repealed.

What happened to local control?
While a living wage should not be a partisan issue, most Republican state legislators are not in favor of living wage initiatives. As the Tennessee legislature has grown a deeper shade of red the past couple of years, this has put our local living wage laws in serious jepoardy.

The ban on living wages would also mean other local governments in Tennessee would never be able to debate and consider their own living wage laws for their local government contractors.

Gov. Haslam stated in the CBS article that "he's not a fan of living wages." We're not asking him or state legislators to promote living wage laws.

We are asking them to uphold a principle that conservatives do say they support: local decisions should be made at the local level. Aren't our local elected officials in a better position to decide what to do with their own contracts than the state is? If the federal government had new requirements for state of Tennessee contractors, conservative state legislators would howl about big government interference in their affairs.

Gov. Haslam's statements are a good start to taking the momentum away from the living wage repeal bill. But we need more than just words: we need a commitment that he will veto this bill if the legislature passes it.

What you can do:
  • Sign our petition to Gov. Haslam urging him to pledge to veto the living wage repeal.
  • Spread the word among your friends across Tennessee that their signatures are also needed.  has easy to use features that allow you to share the petition with your Facebook friends, on Twitter, or by email.
Misleading comments from Sen. Brian Kelsey
    In the CBS article about Haslam's comments, Sen. Brian Kelsey, a sponsor of the anti-living wage bill, tried to claim his actions stem from a concern about the working poor. The truth is that Sen. Kelsey is trying to mislead people about what local living wage ordinances actually do.

    Kelsey claims that living wage ordinances cause unemployment among minority teens, presumably because companies paying living wages would no longer want to hire these young workers. His statement makes people think that living wage ordinances cover all businesses, when they are actually very targeted.

    Living wage ordinances only cover local government contractors, and only cover the jobs that are performed directly for the City or County. The jobs covered by our local living wage laws are primarily janitorial, security, and landscaping jobs worked during the school day. Teens would not be filling these jobs even if they paid the minimum wage. Furthermore, the Shelby County ordinance specifically exempts contractors from paying a living wage to persons under the age of 18 or those completing student internships.

Do you hear an outcry from businesses?
    Rep. Glen Casada, sponsor of the House version of the anti-living wage bill, complains that living wage ordinances are just too burdensome on businesses. In a Tennessean article, he said businesses just can't keep up with different wage requirements in different places.

    If this is true, where is the outcry from businesses in Memphis and Shelby County about our living wage ordinances? When these bills were being debated, I was present at each of the three City votes and County votes where the bill was heard. No business came forward to say that these ordinances would hurt them if passed. I've heard legislators like Casada claim to speak for these businesses, but I haven't seem local contractors going to the legislature, calling for the living wage repeal to be passed.

    The truth is, the living wage repeal is not being requested by businesses. It is a huge overreach by state government into local government affairs. And it hurts workers who have been taking care of their families for years now with the living wages they earn. We must let Gov. Haslam, and all our legislators know, that Tennesseans do not want this bill.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What's really going on with the Postal Service

If you watch the nightly news, you've probably heard that the U.S. Postal Service has had $20 billion in lost revenue. You've probably also heard some Congressional leaders suggest this means the Postal Service must be slashed to make it more "efficient." But the news stories are leaving out a lot of relevant facts, painting an inaccurate picture of the state of the Postal Service.

Once you've learned more, I hope you will sign this petition from America's postal workers to preserve Saturday delivery. (Scroll down past the petitions you can download, and you'll find an online version you can sign.)

What you need to know about the U.S. Postal Service:
  1. The Postal Service does not use any taxpayer dollars, and it has not for the past 30 years. All its funding comes from the sale of products and services.
  2. In recent years, the labor productivity of postal workers has doubled.
  3. Despite the recession, over the past four fiscal years, the Postal Service has earned a $611 million net profit delivering the mail.
  4. The $20 billion in postal losses you've heard about are not related to mail delivery. The real reason behind them is legislation passed by the 2006 Congress that has the ridiculous requirement that the Postal Service pre-fund its future retirees' health benefits for the next 75 years, and that USPS must do this within the next decade. You read that right - Congress is requiring the Postal Service have funding now for retirees who haven't even started working for the Postal Service yet. This is a burden that no other public or private business is required to meet.
  5. Lawmakers can fix this mess without taxpayer dollars by passing House Bill 1351, which would give the Postal Service access to the funding it has already set aside for these future benefits.
  6. The Postal Service also has tens of billions of earned revenue in surplus funds, which other businesses would tap into during a recession. However, the Postal Service can only draw on this money with Congressional approval.
  7. While cutting Saturday delivery represents a 16 percent cut in services, it does not save the Postal Service much money.
  8. If Saturday deliveries are eliminated, it will undercut the Postal Service's ability to deliver parcels, which is the fastest growing part of its business right now.
  9. Cutting Saturday delivery is likely to drive mailers away, making the Postal Service's financial problems worse.
Please support your postal workers by signing the petition today to keep six day delivery.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lord, when did I see you oppressed?

A reflection on the lectionary gospel reading for Sunday, November 20th

    The weekend of November 19th - 20th, Workers Interfaith Network is encouraging Mid-South congregations to observe a wage theft sabbath. The following post is a reflection on the Christian lectionary text that clergy can use to incorporate wage theft concerns into their sermons or homilies.

     Many Christian churches will celebrate Christ the King Sunday on November 20th. The lectionary text for the day, Matthew 25:31-46, gives us an opportunity to reflect on just what kind of a king Jesus is.
    The rulers of this world often seek power and wealth for themselves. In Matthew 25, Jesus once again points toward the "upside down" kingdom of God. He does not ask the nations when they have amassed gold for him or gathered armies for battle. Instead he declares that our actions toward the most impoverished and vulnerable have actually been done to him.

    In reading Jesus' words about the hungry, sick, and imprisoned, we might assume Christ only asks us to meet the immediate needs of the poor. If we consider Matthew 25 in light of Jesus' many other teachings about wealth, poverty, and injustice, we quickly see that providing comfort alone is not enough.

    From Jesus' announcement in Luke 4 that he has come to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to his turning over of the moneychangers' tables in the Temple, it is clear that the kingdom of God includes economic justice. It isn't hard to imagine Jesus adding another criteria to his long list in Matthew 25. I can hear the nations asking him, "Lord, when did we see you oppressed, and we acted for justice for you?" Other nations might ask, "Lord, when were you a victim of injustice, and we stayed silent?"

    After all, hunger, poverty, and injustice are intimately connected. Seeking God's kingdom means both feeding the poor and asking why they are hungry. And for many of our brothers and sisters, their hunger and poverty is through no fault of their own. Some cannot find work at all, or enough work to pay the bills. Others have worked hard, and have been taken advantage of by an employer who refuses to pay them.

    There are few insults that sting as deeply as laboring for another person, and then not receiving the pay that has been promised to you. While it is shocking, wage theft is not uncommon. Recent research suggests that as many as two out of three low-wage workers have been cheated out of some wages that are owed to them.

    The bad news is that when people of faith and good will are silent, wage theft continues unchecked.

    The good news is that when people of faith speak up with victims of injustices like wage theft, bad employers are much less likely to get away with cheating their workers.

     This is another way that the church can feed the poor, in addition to our food pantries and soup kitchens. When wage theft is stopped, many of the hungry and naked can feed and clothe themselves through their own labor, as they desired to all along.

Find more resources and sign up your congregation to participate in the wage theft sabbath.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Speak out for a living wage on November 1st

     Some people would say it's crazy to call for a living wage in this economy. Maybe it is a little crazy. But I'll tell you something else - it's working.

     Because of the activism of workers, students, and community members like you, the University of Memphis has taken first steps toward a living wage for their workers. All of last academic year, the United Campus Workers union, Workers Interfaith Network, and the Progressive Student Alliance publicly pushed the University to move to a living wage for all U. of M. workers. Many of you wrote emails and postcards, made phone calls to the University. You lobbied the state legislature. You took part in a speak out on campus, a prayer vigil, and a rally to deliver the hundreds of postcards you gathered for President Shirley Raines.

    The result? After four years of no pay raises, the University implemented a raise of 3% or $750 a year, which ever was greater. The $750 option, called a flat dollar minimum raise, is important because it's especially targeted to low-wage workers. Many custodial workers and other low-wage workers ended up getting 3 times as big of a raise because of this new approach. And it was an approach raised by activists like you!

   The University has also just implemented a one time $1,000 bonus for most full-time workers.
   But before you assume that our work is done, I also want to stress that many current workers at the University still make far below a living wage. Plus, the University has not changed any of its practices or policies about what new workers are paid when they are hired. Many new positions still pay just above minimum wage.

    That's why workers need you to come to a Living Wage Speak Out on Tuesday November 1st at 6:00 p.m. in Brister Hall Room 220.

    At the Speak Out, you'll:
  • learn about what pay and working conditions are like for workers right now.
  • understand how the first steps toward a living wage were won last academic year.
  • get involved in efforts this academic year to push the University to take further steps to a living wage.
  • hear from activists in the successful Vanderbilt University campaign for a living wage.
    Directions to Brister Hall: Brister is located on Alumni Ave., near the intersection of Alumni and Patterson St. There are two ways you can enter the building. If you are entering from the Alumni Ave. entrance, you will already be on the second floor when you enter. If you are entering from Wilder Tower (which is attached to Brister Hall), you will need to turn left at the elevators and go up 1 flight of stairs to get to the 2nd floor of Brister Hall.

    Parking info: A few metered spaces are available for visitors in the lot at Mynders and Patterson. There are also metered spots available in the large parking lot across the railroad tracks on Southern. Garage parking is available for $2 an hour in the garage on Zach Curlin, next to Campus School. You may also be able to find free street parking along Walker or Zach Curlin.
   View a University of Memphis campus map.

Help strengthen WIN's work for a living wage. Become a Workers Interfaith Network member today.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Encourage your congregation to join the wage theft Sabbath, Nov. 19th - 20th

To draw attention to the crisis of wage theft, and encourage people of faith to act, your congregation is invited to take part in a wage theft Sabbath during your regular worship services on November 19th - 20th.

There are many different ways that your congregation can participate:
  • Including prayers for victims of wage theft, and prayers for employers who are taking advantage of their workers, in your worship service.
  • Using our wage theft sabbath resource packet to develop a missions moment or sermon about wage theft.
  • Using a bulletin insert in the resource packet to educate your members about wage theft.
  • Inviting your members to fill out a pledge card to stop wage theft (found on the bulletin insert), and returning these pledge cards to WIN.
  • If you have low-wage workers in your congregation, holding a wage theft workshop before or after your regular service. WIN can provide a workshop leader to discuss what counts as wage theft and what workers can do if they're a victim. Just email me to request a workshop leader.
  • Taking up a collection to support WIN's work against wage theft.
I would love to be able to share with all of our members which congregations are participating, so if you plan to do one or more of the actions above, please send in the commitment form you can find in the resource packet.

Our wage theft sabbath resource packet is designed to make participating as easy as possible for your clergyperson or anyone else who helps plan worship. What's included?
  • A reflection on the Christian lectionary text for Sunday November 20th
  • A Jewish perspective on wage theft
  • A bulletin insert that includes a pledge card with many different actions people can take to stop wage theft
  • A responsive prayer
  • Suggested scriptures related to wage theft
  • Stories of two Memphis workers who have experienced wage theft
  • A more detailed description of what wage theft is, and answers to frequently asked questions about wage theft.
  • A commitment form you can return to let WIN know how your congregation plans to participate in the wage theft Sabbath.
    The wage theft Sabbath is part of a national week of action against wage theft that dozens of cities will be participating in. If you're located outside of Memphis and want to find out about activities in your area, contact Interfaith Worker Justice.

Want to take action with workers seeking justice? Sign up for email action alerts from Workers Interfaith Network at

Friday, September 23, 2011

Worker recovers $13,000 in stolen wages from Memphis restaurant

     Did you know that there are some waiters in Memphis who are getting paid nothing by the restaurants they work for, except for the tips you leave?

Fernando asked for WIN members' support as he fought to get his stolen wages from Mis Pueblos restaurant

     That's what happened to Fernando Santiago. Fernando was a waiter at Mis Pueblos restaurant. He worked 60 hours a week.  The law required Mis Pueblos to pay him $2.13 an hour. If customers' tips did not bring his pay up to $7.25 an hour, the restaurant was also supposed to pay the difference. Since Fernando was also working more than 40 hours a week, he was also entitled to overtime pay for the extra 20 hours a week he worked.

    Fernando wasn't sure what the law said about his pay, but he knew he was entitled to some kind of wages besides tips. He called one of our partner organizations, Latino Memphis, who referred him to WIN's Workers' Center.

    After Fernando sat down with WIN staff member Alfredo Pena, they figured out Mis Pueblos owed Fernando tens of thousands of dollars.

   After several negotiation sessions between Mis Pueblos and WIN, Fernando agreed to take a settlement of $13,000 in back wages.

    This is the most money that WIN has helped a worker recover, without having to involve an attorney, since our Workers' Center began four years ago. We could not have done it without the generous financial support and activism of WIN members like you!

   Reflecting on the experience, Fernando said "I feel good, and not that good at the same time, because they only paid me part of what they owed me. But it's good to know that no matter what, we all have rights here. What they were doing was stealing. Maybe this will make the manager start paying his employees like he's supposed to."

    Fernando also wants to share his appreciation to all the members of WIN for supporting his in his struggle to get his stolen wages. He's become a member of WIN's Workers' Center. He's already working to recruit more restaurant workers to get training on their workplace rights from WIN.

    I was also deeply moved by Fernando's decision to donate $2,000 of his wage settlement back to WIN so that we can support other workers' wage theft cases. WIN requires that all workers who win their cases donate 10% of their settlement back to the Center, but Fernando went above and beyond this. "I received help from WIN, and if I can help a little bit back, I want to do that," Fernando said. "The more we support WIN, the more WIN is able to help others."

Want to join Fernando in supporting WIN? Make a gift so that our Workers' Center can partner with other workers who are facing wage theft:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Preview silent auction items for the Faith and Labor Picnic

This year's Faith and Labor Picnic will include our first ever silent auction. You can preview the items below that will be up for bid on Labor Day. And don't forget to buy your Picnic tickets now, while they're still discounted! Remember, your ticket price includes all musical and dance entertainment, food, beverages, chance to win doorprizes, and a MoonBounce and facepainting for the kids.

Item #1: Memphis Grizzlies basketball signed by Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Sam Young, AJ Mayo, Marc Gasol, Greivis Vasquez, Coach Lionel Hollins, and more

Value: $250
Minimum bid: $85
Donated by: Coach Lionel Hollins, Memphis Grizzlies

Item #2: "God's kingdom is right by your doorstep" 16 x 20 inch painting

Value: $200
Minimum bid: $75
Donated by: Jaime Winton

Item #3: Pottery honey pot

Value: $30
Minimum bid: $18
Donated by: Melissa Bridgman

Item #4: Glass jewelry pendant with tree of life

Value: $25
Minimum bid: $15
Donated by: Marjorie Levy (her jewelry is available at the St. John's Artisans store)

Item #5: Signed paperback copy of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Value: $15
Minimum bid: $10
Donated by: Gretchen Rubin

Item #6: $25 Target gift card

Value: $25
Minimum bid: $18
Donated by: Judy Bettice

Item #7: Swarovski crystal pendant on 18 inch sterling silver chain

Value: $30
Minimum bid: $18
Donated by: Anne Walton Garrison (her jewelry is available at the St. John's Artisans store)

Item #8
$25 Kroger gift card

Value: $25
Minimum bid: $18
Donated by: Communication Workers of America

Want to take one of these items home? Come to the Faith and Labor Picnic on Labor Day, September 5th to place your bid. We will be accepting cash, checks, and Visa or MasterCard. Bidding will be open from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Get a 15% discount on your Faith and Labor Picnic tickets by buying them by Thursday, September 1st. Advance tickets are available from WIN's website, by calling (901) 332-3570, or by purchasing them from a volunteer in your congregation or organization.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Top Ten Reasons to Come to the Faith and Labor Picnic

Each Labor Day, Workers Interfaith Network throws the ultimate party with a purpose: the Faith and Labor Picnic. More than 450 Mid-Southerners come together for fellowship, fun, and to raise the funds we need to stand up for worker rights all year round. I can think of dozens of reasons you'll want to buy your tickets today, but I've narrowed it down to a top ten list:

10. If you get your tickets before the Picnic, you get a 15% discount! Go to our website to buy tickets before the event, or buy them from a ticket seller in your congregation or organization. Advance tickets are just $10 for adults, $5 for kids ages 5 -12, or $30 for families.

Note: if you use our website, the top part of the form is for Picnic sponsorships. You don't have to sponsor in order to buy tickets. Just click on the button that says "no thank you" under Picnic sponsor, and then fill out the ticket portion.

9. Did someone say doorprizes? With 35 doorprizes to give away, there's a good chance you'll walk away with something. Could you use an Itunes or Target gift card, a couple of boxes of Kroger cereal, a basket of Avon goodies, or a beach bag made from plarn?

8. The dunk tank is a great way to release your pent-up agression. We've even heard that a County Commissioner may agree to get in the dunk tank this year. Start practicing your throws!

7. Incredible music and dance performances. Danza Azteca has been a highlight of the Picnic for the last 3 years, and favorites from last year Alicia Washington and Esteban Alexis will join us again this year. New this year: a performance by John Kilzer, who you can check out in this video from Channel 3's Live at 9 (at the 2:45 mark is where John performs.)

6. A Labor Day cookout is fun, as long as you're not the cook. So leave the hamburgers, hotdogs, veggie burgers, baked beans, chips, and veggies to us. Oh, and did I mention the homemade cookies? You don't want to miss the taste - or the joy of not having to turn on your oven.

5. Kids bouncing off the walls? Let them bounce in the Moon Bounce instead. We'll also have facepainting for the kids.

4. We're going green this year! All our plates, napkins, and utensils will either be made from recycled materials or will be compostable.

3. Are you a Grizzlies fan? This year, we'll have a small silent auction for several items, included a basketball signed by Grizzly star players (AJ Mayo, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay, and more), pottery by Melissa Bridgman, jewelry by local artists, and a signed copy of The Happiness Project. So be sure to bring your checkbook or some extra cash in case you see something you just have to have!

2. Connect with other progressive causes. Curious about what else is going on in Memphis and how you can connect? Lots of other nonprofits and unions will have booths at the Picnic. The Picnic is also a great chance to check out candidates for office, since many usually attend.

1. You'll celebrate the victories you've made possible, and raise the funds we need to win even greater victories. Workers Interfaith Network wants to say thank you in person for partnering with University of Memphis workers to get their first raise toward a living wage, and much more.

     Have I convinced you? Buy your discounted tickets by Thursday, September 1st, because prices will be higher at the door.

     We look forward to seeing you on Labor Day, September 5th from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church, 1738 Galloway Ave. in Midtown.

Have you liked WIN on Facebook yet?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Labor Day Weekend Worship Resources

    Are you a clergy or layperson who wants to help your congregation make the connection between faith and work? Your Labor Day weekend worship service is an ideal time to do this. Workers Interfaith Network and our national organization Interfaith Worker Justice have prepared a number of resources to help you plan your service.
    You can view a complete list of resources here, but I want to highlight a few things for you:
  • Looking for a scripture for your sermon that relates to work and justice? See our list. If you can think of another good scripture to use, tell me in the comments section.
  • Need a prayer or a responsive reading? Here are a collect and a responsive prayer you can use.
  • City of Memphis workers are facing a crisis as the City has cut their pay, in violation of collective bargaining agreements the City already signed. Use our bulletin insert to share about their situation, and let members of your congregation know how they can help.
  • Interfaith Worker Justice has a number of prayer and responsive readings about the unemployment crisis.
  • If you'll be celebrating the eucharist on Labor Day weekend, you can use our Great Thanksgiving for Labor Sunday.
   Of course, if you're in the Memphis area, we hope you'll also be inviting members of your congregation to attend the Faith and Labor Picnic on Labor Day. The Faith and Labor Picnic is the best way to celebrate the true meaning of Labor Day with 450 other people who care about justice for workers.

   Do you plan to do something special in your worship service to connect faith and work? Let us know what your plans are in the comments section.

Partner with workers seeking justice: become a sponsor or buy tickets to WIN's Faith and Labor Picnic. Buying your tickets before the Picnic gets you a 15 percent discount!

Monday, July 18, 2011

What inspires you to seek justice? Interview with Alfredo Pena

   The three of us who are privileged to work at Workers Interfaith Network all share something in common with each other and with you: a passion for seeking justice.

    As I've gotten to know my co-workers better over the years, I've been continually inspired by their stories of what brings them to this work. Then I thought, why not share these stories with you?  Today's story if from Alfredo Pena, WIN's Worker Rights Director. Maybe it will inspire you to share your story with us. Tell us in the comments section why you are an activist for workers' rights.

    Alfredo has worked at WIN since 2007, when he launched our Memphis Workers' Center project. The Workers' Center frequently partners with workers who have had their wages stolen by their employers. As Alfredo shares, he's been no stranger to wage theft in his own work life.

  The warehouse Alfredo talks about in the video is just one of the companies that stole his wages. He also worked at an oil change shop, where they made all the workers clock out when they didn't have customers. "I hoped if I went along with it, one day I would get a promotion. When I would get my paycheck and it would be very low, I would think 'I need to get more hours.'"

   Working at WIN, Alfredo has realized "this is why I was put here on this earth - to help other workers."

   It's painful to hear the many stories of explitation that workers share with him. But Alfredo is also encouraged by the workers who report back to him that they've been able to solve a problem. "Workers tell me, 'I want to thank you for listening to me. Because of what you said, I pushed forward. I didn't keep quiet. I stood up.' After a long day at work, a call like that keeps me going," Alfredo says.

  In the nearly four years since Alfredo started the Workers' Center, he has seen more workers take on leadership in the Center. Earlier this year, seven workers were elected to serve as a Steering Committee for the Center. He looks forward to the day when "the Workers' Center will be self-sustaining, from the support of our worker members."

    Share what inspired you: I would love to hear your story of where your passion for justice comes from. Tell us your story in the comments section below!

Get your advance discounted tickets for the Faith and Labor Picnic now:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Honor their struggles, take up their unfinished work

    There are several people I think of as "justice giants." They are people who gave themselves whole-heartedly to the struggle for labor justice. I think of people like T.O. Jones and Rev. Henry Logan Starks, a sanitation worker and pastor who gave leadership to the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis.

    I am awed by what these leaders accomplished. But I would be doing them a dis-service by just admiring them. That's why I try to continue their unfinished work - just as you do - with my involvement with Workers Interfaith Network.

    I invite you to honor the work these justice giants have done, and continue their work, by becoming a sponsor of WIN's 9th annual Faith and Labor Picnic. Each sponsorship level honors a different "justice giant" who has been steadfast in upholding the rights of workers.

    How does your sponsorship continue the legacy of these workers? Your sponsorship gift will allow WIN to keep campaigning with University of Memphis workers until all of them are paid a living wage. WIN will soon be launching a new campaign against wage theft, which your sponsorship will also make possible.

    You might not realize it, but $1 out of every $7 raised for WIN this year will come from the Faith and Labor Picnic. That is, if folks like you will help us reach our goal of raising $24,500 from the Picnic. The majority of funds raised come from sponsorships from individuals like you, labor unions, community groups, and businesses.

   Wondering which justice giants your sponsorship will honor?

Your $10 sponsorship honors Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers union in California.
Your $25 sponosrship honors Alzada Clark, a pioneering union and civil rights activist who organized workers throughout the Mid-South.
Your $50 sponsorship honors A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a leader of the March on Washington.
Your $100 sponsorship honors "Mother" Mary Jones, a travelling labor crusader who was arrested many times for her support of strikes in the early 20th century.
Your $250 sponsorship honors Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers union.
Your $500 sponsorship honors T.O. Jones, the Memphis sanitation worker who spear-headed the 1968 strike by AFSCME.
Your $1,000 sponsorship honors Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement in the mid-20th century.
Your $2,500 sponsorship honors Rev. Henry Logan Starks, an AME pastor who provided critical support to the 1968 Memphis sanitation strikers.

    If you are as inspired by these women and men as I am, please help us continue their legacy of uniting workers and people of faith into a strong voice for justice by becoming a Picnic sponsor today.

Have you "liked" Workers Interfaith Network on Facebook? When we reach 1,000 fans WIN will give away a VIP Faith and Labor Picnic prize package to one of our fans.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mayor Wharton and City Council Dismantle Workers' Rights, Threaten Living Wage

    In case you missed it, the budget agreement passed by the Memphis City Council last week slammed the City's rank and file workers hard. 125 workers are going to be laid off. Sanitation workers will be offered buyouts, with the goal of reducing the department (which is currently contributing to the city's general fund) down to half its size. Death benefits were taken away from workers, though the City announced yesterday some of those benefits would be restored. Twelve of the thirteen paid holidays workers had were taken away.
    In their haste to pass a budget package - which is still not in writing, by the way - the Council ignored Councilman Joe Brown's assertion that workers' paid holidays were guaranteed by a City ordinance. Now that Mayor Wharton's administration has realized Councilman Brown was right, they're telling the City's rank and file workers they will have to accept a 4.6 percent salary cut.
   This salary cut comes after all the city's unions already negotiated pay and work agreements with the City this spring. In those agreements, workers went without any raises and agreed to absorb health insurance premium increases themselves. The unions upheld their responsibility to negotiate with the City in good faith, and now the City is trying to undo the agreements they've already come to with their workers.
    The agreements between the unions and the City are called memoranda of understanding. They include a procedure for dealing with situations of fiscal emergency. This procedure requires Mayor Wharton's administration to show their books to the unions to prove that a real hardship exists. So far, Mayor Wharton has been unwilling to do this. Instead his administration has urged the unions to "come to the table," without having key knowledge about what the City's financial situation really is.
    Furthermore, the Mayor's proposed 4.6 percent salary cut endangers the living wage resolution that the City Council passed in 2006, in which permanent City workers are to be paid at least $10 an hour. In 2007, the City Council passed another resolution promising temporary City workers at least $12 an hour because they do not receive any kinds of benefits. There are very likely workers being paid right at $10 and $12 an hour right now, and the pay cuts would violate the promise to pay a living wage.
     It's time for the citizens of Memphis to call on Mayor Wharton and City Council members to act in good faith with their workers.
    Here's how you can help:
  • Call Mayor Wharton's office at (901) 576-6000 and the City Council office at 576-6786. Tell them a pay cut for the city's rank and file workers is unacceptable. Urge the City to neogiate in good faith with workers' unions.
  • Come to the City Council meeting this Tuesday, July 5th at 3:30 p.m.
    No matter what happens in the next couple of weeks with the budget, this attack on the hard-working people who keep our city running is not over. We're working on long-term plans to address this attack, so keep your eyes open for more news from us soon.

   Special thanks to Brad Watkins of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center and Chad Johnson at AFSCME Local 1733 for their monitoring and reporting on all the budget developments with the City Council. I am drawing heavily on their work in this post.
Want to take action with workers seeking justice  and keep up to date on what's happening with City workers? Sign up for email action alerts from Workers Interfaith Network at

Monday, June 27, 2011

University of Memphis Raise Announcement: First Step to a Living Wage

    I'm excited to announce our first victory in the living wage campaign at the University of Memphis! On Thursday, the University of Memphis, along with other Tennessee Board of Regents, announced salary increases for fiscal year 2012. The proposed raises are 3 percent, or a minimum of $750 per full-time worker. Part-time workers will get raises in proportion to the hours they work. The raises must still be approved by the full Board of Regents.

U. of M. workers, students, and WIN members made this victory possible through many actions, including delivering 1,000 living wage petitions to President Raines' office.
     This is the first raise that higher education workers have received in four years, and it wouldn't have happened without the outcry from members of Workers Interfaith Network, United Campus Workers, and the Progressive Student Alliance. Thank you to everyone who rallied, sent emails, participated in vigils, and made calls to the University!

    You can be especially encouraged by the Board of Regents' decision to include flat dollar minimum raise of $750. About 2,500 workers at Board of Regents schools will be affected by the flat dollar raise. The United Campus Workers have been pushing this approach for years because it can move workers up to a living wage much faster than a percentage pay raise would. Rest assured, it is the living wage campaign carried out by workers, community members, and students that convinced the Board of Regents to use this approach.

    Of course, the University of Memphis has many more steps to take to bring all its workers up to a living wage. We look forward to hearing from President Raines about what the University's concrete plan and timelines are for implementing a living wage on campus.

Want to take action with workers seeking justice? Sign up for email action alerts from Workers Interfaith Network at

Monday, June 13, 2011

Practicing What We Preach: Why WIN Employees Have a Union

by Rev. Rebekah Gienapp, executive director   
    When workers decide to form unions, often their employers go on the rampage. Holding lengthy meetings with workers to talk about the evils of unions, threatening to close the business, and illegally firing union supporters are all too common. But here at Workers Interfaith Network, I welcomed the opportunity for our employees to form a union, even though I am the "manager" around here.

WIN employees celebrate the signing of our first union contract.
   Two weeks ago, WIN signed a union contract with the St. Louis Newspaper Guild, Local 36047 of the Communication Workers of America. Why do we see this as a good thing for our organization and for our employees? Here's a few reasons:
  • Our employees deserve to have a voice in decisions made around here. This includes decisions about how their work should be done. A union contract provides a framework for that kind of collaborative decision-making.
  • It's not healthy for one person in an organization to have all the power. Everyone has biases, including me. Having a set process for disciplining employees helps limit that bias. And, if an employee, feels like I have made an unfair decision that doesn't follow our union contract, we have a way to work out that dispute.
  • The contract makes clear to our employees our commitment to pay living wages and provide health and retirement benefits. These are the things we advocate for every day for workers throughout Memphis. We want to provide the same kind of good jobs we advocate for here at WIN. We were already paying living wages and providing benefits before the contract was signed. But now we can't arbitrarily change those things without negotiating with our employees.
  • We're now a formal part of the labor movement, which has done so much for all workers - not just union members. We can thank unions for so many things - the minimum wage, the 8 hour work day, the end of child labor, and much more. Our employees' union membership is a small way to strenghten this important movement.
  • Union membership gives WIN access to quality health care and retirement plans at a reasonable cost. Because we're now part of national plans through the Communication Workers, our health care premiums are much lower than they would be otherwise.
    Too many employers see any gain for their workers as a loss for their organization or business. Here at WIN, we see things differently. Treating our employees the way we want all workers to be treated brings integrity to our work. It helps create an atmosphere of loyalty, where WIN employees stick around for the long haul to organize for justice. And as a supervisor, the presence of a union reminds me to check my own actions with employees for fairness. Because I don't know about you, but I always find room for improvement in myself!

Want to take action with workers seeking justice? Sign up for email action alerts from Workers Interfaith Network at

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I want to answer your questions - what are they?

      If you clicked on WIN's "Frequently Asked Questions" page, what would you want to be sure you could find out?

    Thanks to the generosity of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis - and the matching gifts that you made - WIN will soon have a new website. Because many people first learn about WIN through the website, I want to be sure we answer their most pressing questions about our work. But to do that, I need your help figuring out what questions to answer.
   You - or someone you've talked to about WIN - might have questions about:
  • the specific issues we address, like wage theft, living wages, or the right to organize a union. For example, would you want to know how much a living wage is in Memphis right now?
  • what rights you have as a worker. Is there something going on at your workplace that seems fishy? What is it?
  • how we use your donations.
  • whether we do more harm that good. You (or other people you've talked to about WIN) might have skeptical questions about us. For example, doesn't workers having a union just make it more likely the company will have to close down because it's so expensive?
  • something I haven't thought of at all. Just tell me what it is!
    I really want this Frequently Asked Questions page to be useful. To be useful, I need to know your honest questions - or the ones other people have asked you. This includes the questions that you didn't want to say out loud because you thought they sounded too negative. After all, if people have those kinds of questions, I sure want to answer them.
    So please, take a moment to jot down the question(s) that pop into your head when you hear the name Workers Interfaith Network. You can leave your questions in the comments below, or on WIN's Facebook page. Thanks in advance for your help. I look forward to revealing the new website to you this summer!

Want to take action with workers seeking justice? Sign up for email action alerts from Workers Interfaith Network at

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gutting the union Dr. King died to establish

    With the City of Memphis facing a large budget deficit, City Council members are considering all kinds of proposals to generate more revenue or cut expenses.
    One proposal that is sending chills down the backs of workers rights and civil rights activists comes from Councilman Kemp Conrad. In recent budget hearings, he has repeatedly brought up the idea of privatizing the City's entire sanitation department.

    These are the same workers who spent three months on strike in 1968 to win the right to a union - the workers who Dr. King died supporting.
    It isn't even clear if privatization would save the City money, since contractors would need to make a profit. What is clear is that long-time sanitation workers would be jobless. The companies that replace them will likely oppose workers having a union, pay low wages, and offer workers few benefits.
    Please join the hard-working people who keep our City running in rallying to stop privatization and severe job cuts:

Rally with City workers to stop privatization and cuts
Tuesday, June 7th
2:00 - 3:00 p.m.
CORRECTION: Rally starts at 3:00 p.m.
in front of City Hall, 125 N. Main St.

Want to take action with workers seeking justice? Sign up for email action alerts from Workers Interfaith Network at

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tennessee Legislative Wrap-Up: One for the Record Books

     The Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on Saturday, after months of attacking workers rights from many angles. The glimmers of hope: our local living wage laws withstood attempts to repeal them, and state workers got their first raise in four years. But the bad news is pretty awful: teachers' rights to collective bargaining were largely shredded; local governments can't prohibit discrimination; and all employers will have to use an incredibly flawed e-verify system to check job applicants eligibility to work.

Rev. Mary Edwards was one of dozens of WIN members who raised her voice for workers at the state legislature this year.

Here are the details on some of the most important bills affecting workers:

Teachers' Collective Bargaining
    Originally, anti-teacher forces tried to take away teachers' collective bargaining rights entirely. At the last minute, a compromise was arrived at that greatly reduces the role that teachers' unions can have in influencing teachers' working conditions.
    School districts are no longer required to engage in collective bargaining in districts where teachers have voted for union representation. Instead, teachers will elect committees of people to represent them. Union representatives can run for positions on these committees, but others will be included as well. The end result of negotiations will be memoranda of understanding, which cannot be legally enforced in the same way that a union contract can. And, while negotiations can include pay, insurance, and benefits, the committees will have no say over job assignments, bonuses, and other issues that are supposed to be related to student achievement.

    Fortunately, consideration of an Arizona copypcat bill was delayed until 2012 because of the giant price tag to implementing the bill. So for now, local law enforcement isn't charged with enforcing federal immigration law.
   However, another misguided attempt by the state to take on immigration did pass: requiring employers to use the federal e-verify system to check job applicants' eligibility to work. While this may sound harmless, the Social Security's e-verify system is riddled with errors. It's also possible that the broader use of e-verify could lead to more wage theft. WIN has already seen employers who hire workers and wait to use the e-verify system until after they've done days or weeks of work. Federal law requires employers to pay these workers for the labor they've already done, even if they don't have proper work authorization. But plenty of employers will refuse to pay workers, using e-verify as an excuse.
    Tennessee employers will have to begin using the e-verify system in 2012.

Pay raises for University workers
    The budget passed by the legislature includes a 1.6% for all state workers, including University of Memphis employees. This is a step forward since the vast majority of workers haven't had any raise in four years.
    But if this very modest amount is distributed as a percentage amount, low-wage workers like U. of M. custodians could see only a $10 raise per pay period. As a WIN member, you've been pushing the University administration to distribute the raise as an equal dollar cost of living increase to all employees, so that it makes a real difference to workers who aren't paid a living wage. The University has not yet announced how the raise will be distributed, so we are still hopeful they will listen to the community outcry on this issue.

Criminalizing labor unions
    House and Senate committees passed a terrible bill that would allowed injunctions to be issued again unions for any violence committed by their members, even if the union did not condone the violence. The bill includes “intimidation” as “unlawful violence.”  An employee or employer could claim that asking someone to sign a petition in support of collective bargaining or even a political candidate constitutes “intimidation.” The bill only addressed violence by unions, and deliberately did not address possible violence by company officials against workers.
    Fortunately, this misguided bill was not passed on the House and Senate floor, and instead was sent back to committee for next year.

Repeal of Memphis and Shelby County living wage ordinances
    This bill, which would have invalidated large parts of the living wage ordinances you worked so hard to get passed, has been sent to summer study committee. Bills are often sent to summer study when there is not enough support to pass them. WIN will be monitoring the study committee, but it may be that the bill is not even brought up for discussion over the summer.

Special access to discriminate act
    All people have the right to work, regardless of their sexual orientation. But this bill takes away local governments abilities to stop discrimination among contractors who are funded by taxpayer dollars.

    The special access to discriminate act prohibits local governments in Tennessee from telling their contractors not to discriminate against workers because of their sexual orientation. It revokes an ordinance just passed by Nashville Metro Government which bars discrimination by the city's contractors.
   The bill passed both the House and Senate and has been signed into law by Governor Haslam, but a court challenge by opponents of the bill is expected.

Want to take action with workers seeking justice? Sign up for email action alerts from Workers Interfaith Network at

Monday, May 23, 2011

Workshop on Christian faith and immigration June 4th

Are you confused about how our current immigration system works?
Have you wondered why more immigrants don't just "follow the rules" and immigrate legally?
Do you want to explore what Old and New Testament scriptures teach about immigration?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you're invited to "Who is My Neighbor? a Workshop on Christian Faith and Immigration" on Saturday, June 4th from 9 a.m. to noon. The workshop will be held at Mid-South Christian College, 3097 Knight Road. It is sponsored by Christian Memphians for Immigration Reform and Workers Interfaith Network.

At the workshop you'll have the chance to explore the scriptures with other thoughtful Christians, learn more about the immigration process, and discuss possible responses to the challenges of immigration in our country and community.

For more information, contact Lisa Watson ( or Rev. Rebekah Gienapp ( 

Want to take action with workers seeking justice? Sign up for email action alerts from Workers Interfaith Network at

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

State Legislative Update: Your Action Still Needed

     Here's your update on worker rights bills in the Tennessee Legislature. Workers still need you to sign a quick petition or make a short phone call on some of these bills.

     While this has been a very tough legislative session, you've shown that when Tennesseans act together, we can stall, and sometimes defeat, bad bills that attack workers' rights.

Taking away teachers' collective bargaining
     This bill takes away the right that Tennessee teachers have had for other 30 years to sit down with school boards to negotiate their wages and working conditions. Educational reform does not have to include taking away teachers' rights.     
Latest update: This bill has passed the Senate and was expected to pass the House yesterday. But a surprise amendment meant the bill has to go back to the Education committee again. This could mean that the votes are not present to pass the bill.                                                                                        
Action needed from you: Sign WIN's petition on which will go to all legislators urging them to oppose this bill.

On March 15th, more than 1,000 Tennesseans raised our voices for workers' rights at the capitol. Your voice is needed again!
Fair raises for state higher education workers
This bill proposes a $2,000 flat dollar pay increase for all state higher education workers, who haven't had a raise in four years.
Latest update: While this bill is unlikely to be acted on, Gov. Haslam has proposed a 1.6% pay increase for state workers. It's important that this cost of living increase be distributed in a fair manner that benefits low wage workers the most. We are urging University of Memphis President Shirley Raines to distribute the raise as an equal dollar amount because this will help low-wage workers' paychecks the most.
Action needed from you: Call President Raines' office at 901-678-2234. Tell her that you are a community member who wants to see all University of Memphis workers earn a living wage. Ask her to take the first step toward the living wage by implementing an equal dollar cost of living increase for all employees.

Repeal of Memphis and Shelby County living wage ordinances
Good news! This bill, which would have invalidated large parts of the living wage ordinances you worked so hard to get passed, has been sent to summer study committee.
Latest update: Bills are often sent to summer study when there is not enough support to pass them. WIN will be monitoring the study committee, but it may be that the bill is not even brought up for discussion over the summer.
Action needed from you: Give yourself a round of applause for stopping this misguided bill that would have lowered workers' wages!

Anti-immigrant Arizona copycat bill
This bill requires that when police have "reasonable suspicion" that a person does not have legal immigration status, that law enforcement verify the person's immigration status. It will undoubtedly lead to racial profiling, and the fiscal note on the bill estimates state and local governments will have to spent nearly $5 million the first year alone to implement the bill.
Latest update: In the House, the bill has been delayed a couple of times in the Finance subcommittee. In the Senate, the Judiciary committee will not consider the bill until their last meeting of the session (probably 2 - 3 weeks from now.) This could be a sign that support for the bill is weakening.
Action needed from you: Our friends at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition have a petition you can sign in opposition to this bill and other anti-immigrant bills.

Special access to discriminate act
This bill prohibits local governments in Tennessee from telling their contractors not to discriminate against workers because of their sexual orientation. If passed, it will overturn an ordinance just passed a few weeks ago in Nashville which bars discrimination by contractors of Metro Government. All people have the right to work, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Latest update: This bill has passed the House. The Senate State and Local Government was supposed to hear the bill this week, but has delayed it one week.
Action needed from you: Call Sen. Mark Norris, who sits on the State and Local Government committee at (615) 741-1967. Urge him to vote no on SB 632 because it takes away control that local governments should have over their own contracting process.

Want to take action with workers seeking justice? Sign up for email action alerts from Workers Interfaith Network at